Linda Darling Hammond
Interview With Dean Eastman
Dean Eastman is a social studies teacher in Beverly, Massachusetts.
Q: What do high school students gain from studying history?
If I'm teaching history, or government, or history of Beverly through primary research, you have a lot of different things that you can do, but the ultimate is that I think that all students should become their own historians. It's one thing to read or memorize something from a book, but if you're really going understand it, with history it takes detachment and it takes objectivity, and there's truth in history. You just don't write history or read history to make people feel good about themselves; there has to be a process that they go through. So I believe in letting students become their own historians and kind of going through the methods that it takes for research. And through this they'll understand interpretation or perspective and what's valid and what isn't and, in most cases, we try and do original scholarship.
Q: Why do you think it's important to teach your students about civic virtue or civic responsibility?
Well, first I think that citizenship skills are very important. The idea of civic virtue. The idea that in a participatory democracy we have to be informed and we have to be involved. Tocqueville said back in the 1830s that one of the cornerstones or one of the backbones of our democracy is the idea that we get involved, we have voluntary associations, we don't have to rely on the government. And I think that it's very important that students learn that there are responsibilities of citizenship.
Q: How do you get students to appreciate the value of getting involved in their community?
The students don't understand what it takes to be a citizen. They're used to being spectators. They're used to sitting on their couch. They're used to being assaulted with all kinds of sensory type of excitement, rather than getting out there and doing it themselves. So they've become a nation of spectators. They can't go to the playgrounds; their parents say, "We don't know who hangs out there; there could be strangers out there." We've lost a sense of community. So what I'm trying to do is just try to restore it. And the best way that I can do it is through local involvement. We have a volunteer program with most of the local candidates where the students actually participate in the campaigns, whether it be signs or phone surveys, or just folding leaflets, they get involved with that. They get to meet who some of these candidates are. They also have a student-initiated debate where they bring in the various candidates for state office or for local office, and they have a debate in front of the students and the students are the forum, they're the panel that ask questions.
Q: How do you motivate students?
A lot of students need structure. Everyone wants to succeed, but a lot of them don't know how and a lot of them don't have any discipline or structure in their lives. So what I try to do is, there have to be repercussions if you don't do what's expected. So I keep them after school. It's amazing. If you keep students after school, more people do their homework. And if they can see meaning -- these aren't busy work assignments, these are pretty rigorous assignments that take a lot of critical thinking -- but if they know that there's going to be some repercussions if they don't have it done, they'll get in the habit, they'll have the discipline to do it. We get up early in the morning and go on field trips. We don't go 4:00 in the afternoon; we don't go 10:00 in the morning; we usually go at 6:00 in the morning. In addition to that, its the best time to do it for us so we can get more done. It also teaches discipline, and I think that's very important. If you have passion in what you're doing, and you can share that passion with another student, they'll get involved. They might not all be historians, and they're probably not going to be president of the United States, but they know that they have some knowledge that other people don't have. They have some skills. They're going to have a lot better appreciation for their surroundings. And I think once you get that type of attitude, you're going to feel better about yourself, and you're also going do more to help your community. So, I do my best. I really feel bad, when I drive home, if I've lost a kid for the day; it blows my mind. If a kid drops out of school, I'm going do my best to get that student back.
Q: How do you motivate students?
A lot of students need structure. Everyone wants to succeed but a lot of them don't know how and a lot of them don't have any discipline or structure in their lives. So what I try to do is, there have to be repercussions if you don't do what's expected. So I keep them after school. It's amazing. If you keep students after school, more people do their homework. And if they can see meaning -- these aren't busy work assignments, these are pretty rigorous assignments that take a lot of critical thinking -- but if they know that there's gonna be some repercussions if they don't have it done, they'll get in the habit, they'll have the discipline to do it. We get up early in the morning and go on field trips; we don't go 4:00 in the afternoon, we don't go 10:00 in the morning, we usually go at 6:00 in the morning. In addition to that its the best time to do it for us so we can get more done, it also teaches discipline, and I think that's very important. If you have passion in what you're doing, and you can share that passion with another student, they'll get involved. They might not all be historians, and they're probably not gonna be president of the United States, but they know that they have some knowledge that other people don't have. They have some skills. They're gonna have a lot better appreciation for their surroundings. And I think once you get that type of attitude, you're gonna feel better about yourself, and you're also gonna do more to help your community. So, I do my best. I really feel bad, when I drive home if I've lost a kid for the day, it blows my mind. If a kid drops out of school, I'm gonna do my best to get that student back.
Q: Kids today bring many of their own family problems and social problems into the classroom. How do you make sure they stay on task?
I know that in my life, when I walk into a room, I have to compartmentalize, that outside of this room nothing exists, and that's the only way I can teach successfully. So after every single class I walk around for a while and I come in and I try to go as fast as I can as hard as I can with as much enthusiasm as I can. And I try to teach students to do the same thing -- that when you're in this classroom you have to take everything from the outside and just throw it away. It might be for 42 minutes, it might be for 84. But if you let things get to you, then you're not going to succeed. It's very easy in life to make excuses. We live in a victimization society. And I tell them, if you become a victim -- for whether it's race, gender, social economic group, disabilities, home life -- once you've become a victim, it's giving you a rationalization for defeat. You will not succeed because you can always use it as an excuse. So if you want to succeed you have to learn to overcome. Those are the ones that really are the successes later in life.
Q: What if a student asks for help with personal issues or his home life is clearly affecting how he does in your class? Do you try to help that student?
I'm certainly not qualified as a psychologist, or a sociologist for that matter, but if you see students that have problems, just out of human compassion you want to do your best to help them. Sometimes I can and sometimes I can't. We have to stay with students that may have some baggage, that may have some imperfections. But that's why we're here. So that's what we have to do. We have to encourage students to reach their fullest potential, and if we have to be sociologists or coaches or motivators or stern taskmasters, whatever the role takes to have a student succeed, that's what we're looking for. And hopefully I can fulfill in many of those capacities.
Q: We hear a lot about teacher burn-out. You've been teaching for a number of years. Why haven't you burned out?
We have teachers that are burnt out, and I can see why, because it's a high energy job, and it's one that has a lot of disappointments. But it's also one that has tremendous satisfaction. I think that one of the reasons that I haven't burnt out is that I have high enthusiasm, I know that I belong in what I'm doing, so I'm very happy in what I do. But also I have a creative type of atmosphere here. I'm not afraid to do things that are a little bit different. I don't teach the same way and the same material in the same way year in and year out. I enjoy the energy from my students. I look at things in different ways. I'm taking courses myself that I can apply. So I think that I'm a lifelong learner, and I learn from both my students and what's around me, and I'm not afraid to try things that are somewhat different and maybe unorthodox. But I think that's what's kept me going, because I certainly don't have monotony. And I think monotony breeds burn out. I'm sure not bored.
Q: How would you like to see teacher education changed or improved?
I think that what happens in education is that ed schools sometimes concentrate on lesson plans, and concentrate on right hemisphere of the brain and left hemisphere of the brain. But content has always been lacking, and I mean content in the specific subject, how a specific subject should be taught. What should be taught. So what I've tried to do is contact scholars. After the first couple of years you know if you're a good teacher or not. We don't need any more help with lesson plans, or making sure that there's a median and there's an average and the tests are reliable and valid. What are you testing? If you don't understand history, if you don't understand content, you're wasting your time. You're spending all this time in this process; there's nothing to do with what's actually transmitted to the students. So I really think that its important in education that we align ourselves with scholars, and there should be a bridge.
Q: Only A Teacher poses the question: Is teaching a profession? What do you think?
If we were really professionals, we would have, number one, some type of an admission test to be a teacher, like a doctor would have, or a lawyer would have. We would have some type of peer review, we would have other teachers deciding who should get rehired. We don't have that. We also would have some control over our universities. Law schools, doctors, they have something to do with the accreditation. We have no power over ed schools, so we're not professionals. If we were under those type of criteria, we would have less teachers, and with supply and demand, we'd have better teachers and we'd be making more money. So I think that eventually…I don't know if the union is going to be necessary for us. Hopefully, if we take control of our own quote profession, and we have professional criteria, like doctors and lawyers have, that we can take care of ourselves.