The vanishing teacher

Jane Healey is Becoming Invisible In My Classroom, she writes on TeachThought. Since she “flipped” her middle-school classroom, her students ”

are learning without seeing me teach, hearing me teaching or even knowing I am teaching.”

In an innovative classroom, observers might see a teacher wandering around from student to student answering questions about writing a paragraph. Or, they might watch a teacher leaning over students’ shoulders pointing at the “About us” button on websites to check credibility. Or, they might catch the scene of a teacher kneeling next to a table guiding a group trying to solve a math problem about a pyramid made of pennies.

What they won’t see are the hours of prep work finding a “problem that matters,” creating LibGuides for safe web crawls, and setting up the Question Formula Technique for students to create essay questions. They also won’t see the hours of assessments based on rubrics the teacher coached students to develop.

When she’s not talking in front of the classroom, she’s still teaching, writes Healey.  Her “voice and ideas and coaching” are “in different places than they were before.”

About Joanne


  1. I’m always intrigued when I see descriptions like this. When I taught labs at CCs, and at the homeschool co-op where I teach, multi-station setups don’t really seem to work like this. What usually seems to happen is that the students start off at their group stations, trying to work through the directions or look up the subject or whatever. I’ll circulate, and one of 2 things happens.

    Either one group has a question, leading to an interesting mini-lecture or set of give and take questions, in which half of the class eventually gathers around…and then I wind up repeating it for the other half as they start overhearing…at which point, I have 2 large groups instead of 5 small ones.

    The other common situation is that I might miss interacting with a particular group at a particular station. As I work with the next group, they turn out to be very confused. As we clear up their problem, they either say that they were working off of what the preceding group had told them, leaving me to track down the group and fix their misunderstanding, or the previous group overhears what I’m saying and realizes that they missed something, and they come back to get it right.

    I’m not disputing the value of hands-on learning (I’m taking play doh tomorrow so that they can build a model of the lac operon, letting the repressor block the RNA polymerase) and I’ll probably set up my 5-station DNA models again (an organic chem model of DNA so that they can see the backbone, 5′ and 3′, etc, a video of mitosis on a tablet, microscopes with mitotic cells, pipe cleaner models, and felt board models of DNA replication), but I’m finding that often a short amount of old-school lecture or assigned reading can set everybody on the right path and save a LOT of wasted time. This frees me up to actually answer questions instead of chasing down students to clear up misconceptions.

    It’s easy to forget how the obvious (to us) wrong answer can seem obviously correct to somebody who doesn’t yet understand what they’re doing, and I struggle to catch all of these when the students work without being taught first.

  2. It takes some gall to describe one’s own classroom as “innovative.” It takes some kind of doublethink to define for others what an innovative classroom looks like. Wouldn’t innovation defy or transcend a prescription of this sort?

  3. I had to laugh when reading an article in our local paper touting exploratory, group discovery learning when they quoted the teacher proudly saying that concepts that used to take 10 minutes to teach via lecture (cue the boos) are taught now over a 2-3 week period.