The Need to Create

What I’ve always found most energizing about teaching are two things. First, is that moment when a student “gets it.” Their face lights up with recognition and understanding when they finally achieve a goal—that first “A” on a paper, or maybe simply finally understanding a difficult concept. The second part of teaching that most energizes me is the creativity involved in creating curriculum. Thinking of and then creating new experiences for students, and then seeing them play out and work, which then leads back to the first most energizing thing for me in teaching. When I am in a teaching situation in which I don’t get to create new ideas, activities, assignments, and so on, quite simply, I get bored.

I was at a conference this weekend with many other educators and at one point the conversation shifted to talk about the impact standardization of curriculum and standardized testing has had on teaching. In short, it is killing the creativity. However, as much as I want to blame bad policy and ill-informed policy-makers (which certainly is not hard to do mind you), I want to also point a finger back at us teachers.

Having recently done some work to align a biology curriculum to Minnesota state standards and the Next Generation Science Standards (created by the National Science Teachers Association) it dawned on me that as much as we teachers want to complain about not having enough time to do more project-based learning, more innovative teaching in our classroom because of the standards, much of this argument doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Before we proceed. Make no mistake, I still strongly believe that the standardization of curriculum and standardized testing are having disastrous effects on education in this country. Now to continue. After reviewing these standards, what I found was that the content in the standards is the same biology I learned in school, which was pre-standards and largely dictated by what was in the textbook being used at the time. So here’s my challenge to the teachers. Yes the standardized testing is having very negative unintended consequences on education. But set that aside and quite operating out of a fear of failure and instead operate out of an anticipation of success. Set the standards aside when planning curriculum (they just say what we’ve always agreed upon as important information to be taught) and create. Create challenging questions for your students to answer. Create engaging presentations to excite their curiosity. Create fascinating project ideas for them to pursue. Create opportunities for them to ask their own questions. If you do this, they will learn, and they will pass the standardized tests.

When I get in this mode in my teaching and start creating, not only does my teaching improve but I have also found that when I am in a teaching situation that requires a great deal of effort and creativity this then spills into other areas of my life–writing, music, art, and the like. It must have been quite a challenging and creative year for me. Now for the shameless plug. I have recently recorded a CD of original music, and will publish my first book this spring. I hope you will check them out by going to my website,

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