Are You A Thief? Consider Teaching

Are You A Thief? Consider Teaching
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Have you ever been busted for stealing cookies from the cookie jar?  Luckily in my family we seemed to have few limits on how many cookies a person could take.  Still, I can resonate with the feeling that comes from being caught red-handed.  Do you know this feeling?  When was the last time you got caught right in the middle of something you shouldn’t have been doing?  Don’t worry I won’t make you confess in the comments below (but also won’t stop you).

My very first job as a teacher, was as a long term substitute for a 9th grade government class at a large public high school in Minnesota.  I was hired a few days after the school year started as coverage for a maternity leave, and without too much preparation, was thrown into the fire that is 9th grade.

Large Classroom - Are You a Thief?

That time you taught a class so large, a student got trapped by desks in the back. Yeah that has happened.

Unfortunately, between starting late, teaching average class sizes over 34 students (yeah 34 9th graders!!), and working in a social studies department with at least 20 or so members, not too much support was provided to me.  To make things more unique I taught my classes in two different classrooms, while the other teacher was off.  The other teacher and I taught the same class, but for some reason she always kept what she was doing in her class a secret.  She wouldn’t share ideas or collaborate.  (I later found out it was because the school was only going to be able to retain one of us in the following year…I think she was trying to take me out)

One day, I arrived to my assigned classroom to find that this teacher who normally was in the classroom was with her class at the library.  As I walked around the room preparing for my next class I found an activity that had been copied for her students, lying on the teacher’s desk.  Now I don’t remember the exact activity, but I remember thinking that it was pretty good.  It was something I wanted to use with my students, but with the other teacher’s poor collaboration tendencies, what was I to do?

Suddenly, there was a bang against the door and some commotion in the hallway.  The class was back.  At once the door handle began to turn, and as the door began to slowly open, I grab the handout and quickly stuffed it inside my jacket.  Lifting my gaze to the door, I saw the other teacher suspiciously staring at me.  Feeling I might be caught, I quickly grabbed my bag said “hello,” and left for the teacher’s lounge to wait for my class to begin.  Ok, yeah, not my greatest moment.  Perhaps, I could have handled the situation a little better.

Later that day I received a message from the department head asking me to come see her.  As nonchalant as I had tried to appear in the classroom, my hands were red and it was time to come clean.  After a brief talk, an apology was my punishment.  However, looking back I see that the biggest problem wasn’t that I “stole” the handout, it’s that somehow the teacher and school had created an environment where collaboration was a nuisance and stealing was good practice, I just happened to get caught.  (If you’re curious how this point applies to our students take a look at my blog (Is Cheating the New Life Skill?)

Luckily, I’ve moved on from that school.  Since then, I’ve learned that the very best teachers are the biggest thieves.  In fact, no good idea can be kept safe from the prying eyes and fingers of great teachers.  You might ask, “ok, i get it, but shouldn’t teachers give credit to the original creator?”  Sure, why not, but is that really that important?  Yes, don’t plagiarize, but more importantly teach well!

What do you think?  Still not convinced.  Then I have some homework for you.  Take a listen to the this podcast from the TED radio hour challenging the idea of original ideas.

Or if you’d rather watch something this check out this TED Talk by Mark Ronson (yes, the same Mark Ronson who produced Uptown Funk).

Or this TED Talk by Kirby Ferguson who encourages us to Embrace the Remix


The point is, if we’re all building off each other anyway, don’t let some silly defunct collaborative culture stop you from doing what’s best for learning.

 If you’re new to Learn[ed]Leadership and you like interesting stuff then make sure to sign up for our free monthly (or so) newsletter by clicking here or in the fancy box to your top right.  Or if you want immediate updates on all things Learn[ed]Leadership Like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

And now that you’ve made it to the end of this post.  Take a second to share your thoughts in the comments or at the very least rank this post out of 5 stars back at the top of page.  Also check out our first freebie in our last blog How Three Questions Can Change the Way You Lead.  By the way if you didn’t take a minute to take a look at my mission questions posted in my office, check out this picture on our Facebook Page.

Author: Andy Aldrich

Andy is a founder of Learn[ed]Leadership as well as a school administrator at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. In addition to pontificating on ideas in education, Andy stays busy chasing after his daughter and impressing his wife with his big muscles.

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