Monday, February 6

Money Motive Can Revitalize Classrooms

Steve Mariotti left his import/export business to become a New York City teacher. He has taught at some the city's worst schools. At first he says he was a horrible teacher who often lost control of his classes.

One day he asked the kids what was wrong with his teaching style. One kid said, "Well, we did it because we can't stand you. You are boring." He replied, "Well was there ever at time when I was a good teacher, when I touched you or taught you something that had any value?" The same young man said, "The only time you really had value to us, to me, was when you told us about your import/export business. And you'd bring ladies shoes in from Agra, India, add $1 on for insurance and freight, take it down to the Lower East Side and sell them for $7, and your income statement would be $126,000," Mariotti recalled.

The student had remembered that story from the beginning of the term. "Here was a guy that had been defined as - as brain-damaged, emotionally upset. People were afraid of him. And he'd re-created in total a Harvard Business School income statement," Mariotti said.

It is not just about the "greed" (making money), but also about a good story that has real impact. People, no matter what age, must see a learning moment as relevent and important. If that teaching or training moment has no real impact on the learners' lives, then why should they bother to remember it? While it may seem logical for one to learn math, our emotions have more much more impact upon us because they personaly inform us as to what is really important in our lives. And good stories, like Mariotti's, work because they are able to draw the learners in, rather than simple tell them something.

Full 20/20 story, to include a short video, at ABC's site.


jay said...
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jay said...

Great story. We learn what we deem relevant to our success and well-being. I'm still at a loss to identify the relevance of trigonometry to my life.

Godfrey Parkin said...

The importance of emotional connection in learning is so often ignored. I know from my own schooling that I became enthralled by math, physics, chemistry, and literature not because my teachers were good teachers but because they were passionate about their subjects. They saw themselves as mathematicians, scientists, writers -- not as teachers.

The math teacher who ran the chess club did not teach me how to play chess, he taught me to love chess. The learning was a by-product of the passion.

A lot of what you are taught in school is like being introduced to people at a cocktail party. An enthusiastic introduction makes you stick around for a conversation that may lead to a connection, a friendship or a long-term relationship. It's unfortunate that the way schools are set up right now it takes several years to introduce you to anything.

Peter Isackson said...

Godfrey has hit on what I've always considered the key point: we learn through unconscious processes of identification guided by emotion, and more fundamentally by the project of building our public persona within perceptible social networks. Very few people identify with "teachers" (qua teachers) but they may be guided by the teacher's relationship with the subject being taught, if such a relationship exists (alas, often it doesn't!).

So shouldn't we work on how to get future teachers to identify with their subject rather than simply know things about it?

Godfrey Parkin said...

Peter's comment, "So shouldn't we work on how to get future teachers to identify with their subject rather than simply know things about it?", is very relevant to organizational learning.

Many teachers become teachers because they want to teach, not because they love their subject matter. Many corporate trainers have a similar motivation. While not universally true, my impression over the years has been that a non-trainer who is either an enthusiastic SME or an experienced practitioner has a greater impact than a trainer who is simply teaching someone else's course. (Ideally, of course, you want the hybrid).

That's one of the reasons informal learning is so effective -- you naturally go to the person who is going to provide the most relevant, insightful, incisive help. That tends to be the enthusiastic practitioner.

Ed Provencher said...

I had a professor who didn't strike me as being passionate about her subject (ie. not oozing the subject from her bones or enthusiastic in her presentations), so I asked her what she was passionate about and she said "teaching." Rather than priding herself on being a content expert, she prided herself on being a process expert. That being the process of facilitating learning.

This made me think about what makes for excellent teaching. Is it passion for a subject(personal, emotional involvement) or is it passion for designing learning moments (outside-in approach)?

By the way, I'm not sure how the title of the post fits the post. Anyone care to explain?