Voices of Concerned Educators: Steal [Marcy Webb]

Marcy Education, Jose

Ocean Swim

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” – Ryunosuke Satoro

Why is it that in teaching, ideas have to be stolen?

In April of 2009, a colleague observed one of my “Twosies” (Spanish Two) classes. She observed the first 45 minutes of an 85 minute block. During the time she observed, I performed a game with the students called, “Pass the Envelope”. Like many of the activities I use, it is not original – i.e. not created by me. I glean from many different sources, as most teachers do.

First, allow me to explain the objective of “Pass the Envelope”: an envelope is filled with whatever it is the students need to review, and the students pass it as music – in my case music of the Spanish-speaking world – is playing in the background. When the music stops, the student holding the envelope must take out a sentence strip, and translate the sentence. On this particular day, the students reviewed the preterite. On strips of paper were sentences, in English, using regular and irregular verbs. The objective was for the students to translate the sentence, using the correct form of the verb, in the preterite.

The students enjoyed the activity, as did my colleague. The following week, when she and I had some time to decompress what she had observed, she said, “I liked that activity with the envelope. I’m going to steal it.”

I know I had that look on my face – the one my mother says I wear that lets everyone know exactly what I am thinking. I responded matter-of-factly, “Ideas are for sharing, and, if you feel it can help your students learn, please, feel free.”

My colleague’s choice of word – steal – troubles me, even nearly one year later.   How did we teachers get to the point where ideas are stolen, and not shared?  In fact, why didn’t my colleague simply say, “I would like to borrow your idea”, or, “Would you mind sharing that with me?”

You, the reader, are probably saying, “It’s a matter of semantics. Why are you being so sensitive?” But, I happen to think it is a matter which runs much deeper, one which in part formulates the psychology of teaching and of teachers.

Perhaps it is because so many of us work in isolation, cut off from each other, despite the fact that a colleague from the very same department may be teaching in the classroom next door.

Another thought is that each teacher feels the need to be better and do better than the next, because tenure and job preservation are reliant on us keeping the proverbial cards close to the vest.

Regardless, such a mindset will lead teachers to sink their own ship before anyone or anything else will.