Why You Should NOT be the one Driving Your Classroom.

The Bus Driver Teacher

Do you measure your success as a teacher in the following ways?

  • I am efficient and organized.
  • I know exactly what I should teach, and when I should teach it, and plan my lessons for weeks in advance.
  • I have identified a lesson that has proven effective year after year and use it to teach each of concepts.

If so, you might be a bus driver teacher.  Bus driver teachers see their role as moving students from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible.  They know what the student should be able to do when they enter their classrooms, and they have mapped a route to get them where they need to be by the end of the school year.  While bus driver teachers seem professional and prepared on the outside, the problem is that teaching students is not as simple as picking them up at one stop and delivering them to the next.

Every single student in your classroom comes in with a different skill set, with different understandings, and with different strengths.  In other words, they are not all at a common bus stop.  If you are lucky, most of the students will be near the same stop, and some students may even be able to run and catch up to the bus stop if you start off slowly and slow down occasionally when they seem to fall off the bus, but more than likely, they all won’t make it on the bus.

Most students start off the school year with the best intentions, but those that don’t make it on the bus soon get tired of chasing it, and end up only a little farther along from where they started, and much more disheartened.  For these students, as each year passes, they end up farther and farther behind, never quite making it on the bus.

The Limo Driver Teacher

Perhaps you measure your success as a teacher like this:

  • I make sure that the lessons are fun for the students.
  • I use learning games so the students want to learn.
  • Students always want to come to my classroom because they enjoy themselves.

If so, you might be a limo driver teacher (or chauffeur if you want to be fancy).  A limo driver teacher realizes that for students to learn, they need to be engaged.  Limo Driver Teachers understand that learning should be fun and school should be enjoyable.  Limo driver teachers often receive rave reviews from students, parents, colleagues, and administrators.  These teachers always go the extra mile to make sure their students enjoy themselves at school.

For many years, my goal was to be a limo driver teacher.  And after my first year of teaching, where all I did was survive, I would even admit that I was a pretty darn good limo driver teacher.  I wrote grants to design and build a life-sized playhouse with my students in math class. In science, we played with roller coasters and made edible ‘rocks.’  We did skits in social studies, and made PowerPoint presentations and dioramas in reading.  My students always had fun. And I was even selected as my school’s Teacher of the Year in my third year of teaching.

However, just as the bus driver teacher fails to see how each student is unique, so does the limo driver teacher.  I failed to realize that learning is not the same as having fun.  Because not all students arrived in my classroom at the same place, by planning lessons targeted to transport my class as a whole, I was guaranteed to miss some.  After reflecting on those years of teaching, I can see that I did.

In a limo driver’s classroom, the students are more likely to try harder to keep up because who wouldn’t want to take part in the fun.   My students were some of the most motivated students in the school, which made me proud. These students will persevere a little longer, but inevitably, even in a limo driver’s classroom, will get disheartened and will fall behind their peers.

While I noticed that despite these fun learning opportunities, some of my students were still not making progress, I blamed this lack of success on other issues, such as a difficult home life, or a learning disability. After all, most of my students were successful, and I believed that I could not help the fact that some students came into my class below grade level.

The GPS Teacher

But the longer I taught, the more I was bothered by the lack of success of these few students.  I could see so much value and potential in each of these “at-risk” students, yet they struggled to keep up with their peers.   I also realized that some students had the potential to travel beyond their peers, but were content with staying in the limo with everyone else because it was fun.   That’s when my goal changed.

My eyes were opened to the realization that a limo driver teacher is nothing more than a glorified bus driver teacher.  I realized that instead of driving my students, I needed to let them be in in control of their learning. My role is NOT to transport the students, but to be their GPS, allowing them to take control of their own learning.

A GPS teacher has a big picture view of the learning that needs to take place for each student.   He understands the route behind and ahead of the students.  He discerns the location of each student as she enters the classroom, and immediately begins to provide guidance to help the student travel along her own personal path to learning.  Every learning experience for every individual is carefully chosen for a specific purpose.

And the beauty of being a GPS teacher is that your students can travel at their own pace.  Some students will travel a little slower than others, some will inevitably take a wrong turn, but that is all part of the learning process.  We simply need to be there to help them re-calculate the route.  And those speedy students will have the opportunity to excel beyond what was otherwise possible.

Is this an easy task? No way!  In fact, I would dare say that there are many days that I feel overwhelmed and scattered trying to be a GPS for all my students.  But when I finally have the opportunity to slow down and reflect on each student’s progress, I am able to see a marked improvement in each student’s self-esteem, self-awareness, and motivation (oh, and academic achievement too!) proving that my attempt to drive my students is never as successful as guiding them while they drive themselves.

Are you willing to put forth the effort necessary to be a GPS teacher?  In your opinion, is it worth it?

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4 Comments

Filed under Teaching Styles

4 responses to “Why You Should NOT be the one Driving Your Classroom.

  1. Jan

    This entry brought tears to my eyes. Your illustrations are very clear. What an inspiration to all teachers who strive to be a “GPS” for their students. Sometimes, we teachers feel compelled to stay in the driver’s seat of the bus or the limo due to the pressure of state tests, but it is important for us to look at the long term goal. Is our over-riding goal to insure our students make adequate yearly progress on the state assessment so we can check that off our list of accomplishments, or do we have a larger vision: that our students have the foundation they need to continue to gain skills and strategies throughout their schooling so they are successful and happy adults?
    I love your blog!

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Jan! I agree that the testing pressure compels us as teachers to take on the role of a bus driver or limo driver teacher. I strive to make it a priority to focus on the ultimate goal: help all students reach their fullest potential. (And then cross my fingers and hope it was good enough for the test- lol!)

  3. Marsha

    Good analogies. I strive to be a GPS teacher, but you are so right when you say it is difficult. Pinpointing the location of each student is always an overwhelming task. However, it is worth the effort when you finally can sit back and look over the the “paths” they travel. In the middle of the journey it is often hard to tell if they are meeting expectations. Indeed, one really has to ask, “what expectations are realistic and truly important in the long run?” To me teaching is more about questioning than anything else…

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