How Teaching is a Noble Calling

I’ve got a roomful teachers everyday that help me do my job.


I used to think teaching was a job.  And then I thought it was a profession.  And now I’m of the opinion that it’s a calling.  It’s a very noble calling.  You’re a manager when you’re a teacher. You’re managing a lot of disparate personalities all under one roof and they’re doing many different things at once and they’re working on many different levels and they’re interacting.  So you have so many variables at play.  If you’re good at it, and stay with it long enough, you become a pretty good manager in chaotic or unknown situations.

You also become good at maximizing the best in people to bring out their greatest assets.  And you’re teaching them to deal with chaos in unknown situations themselves by supporting them in exercises that allow them to explore the unknown.  So I think teachers have in some ways an advantage in managerial training.  

In the film World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements there’s a scene where the students are all frantically racing about the room and having negotiations and conferences at the top of their voices.  And the question I ask about that scene is who’s in charge in that room? I’m sitting down and sort of uninvolved, it appears.  But what is happened is the students are allowed to have the power over their own learning.  It’s not prescribed and given to them what they must do.

Certainly there are things teachers must accomplish.  We're handed mandates and dictums and we have certain things we must accomplish by certain times.  So what I do is I turn to my students and say, "Okay boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, we have this that we must accomplish.”  A mathematics goal or a language arts goal. And I say, “And how should we do this?  What’s the best way to do it?  What are the best ways?”  And so immediately there’s engagement.  Because suddenly a teacher is offering them control and power over what they must do.  They know they have to do it, and there is lack of control there, but the power to be able to sculpt it and design it in their own way - that’s the exciting part.

And so they set to work brainstorming.  They come up with all kinds of ways of getting information, often based on their own passions which then drive the learning even harder.  And then I ask them, “Okay now I’m going to ask you what can go wrong?  How many different ways can we fail?  Let’s discover them now.”  And we do.  We brainstorm everything that could go wrong.  And we troubleshoot for that before we even start.  So if we encounter more problems, of course we’ve already had practice in dealing with them because we did that upfront.

And then we also brainstorm the assessment. How will we know that we really deeply and truly understand that we know what we think we know?  So we build the assessment together.  I, as a teacher, might have certain things I have to assess but I open up that tool chest to them and say, “Let’s go at it together, rewire this thing and make it so it works for you.”  And that kind of ownership I've seen excites a student so much that they look at me wondering "Is this man seriously giving us control over our classroom, our learning? What’s going to happen to us?  We have control over that now?"

And so it’s an amazing moment to see the startled look on some of the new students faces when they realize they have the power to actually help and be co-teachers in the classroom to help us learn together.  So that I think is where what looks like giving away control is actually in a greater larger sense gaining more power.  Because I now have the power harnessed of 25 or 30 students along with my own power.  I’m just one individual but if I’ve got 25 or 30 other minds, no matter the size or how many years they’ve been here on the planet, those minds harnessed to a common goal, a common causes that they’re excited about that they care about and they bring creativity to and they bring an open fresh sense of wonder to.  How much better of a teacher can I be with that kind of help and support?  Because I’ve got a roomful teachers everyday that help me do my job.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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