August 5, 2010

On Having Hope

I started reading a few new books on instructional practices, and I've been flipping through some of the older ones on my shelves. I'm feeling a little more optimistic that I know what I'm doing.

Well, actually, maybe I don't know everything, according to my self assessment on how to teach literature according to Fresh Takes on Teaching Literary Elements. However, reading this book made me realize that I have a lot of tools (I've done a lot of things suggested in the book), my goals for the students are right on track, and with a little tweaking here and there, I can easily pump up my instruction. Oh! And maybe I can make reading more interesting to the students, too.

Please, let me hold on to my dreams about students enjoying reading and writing.

Sometimes it's frustrating for me when I don't have all the answers. I've been teaching long enough that I should not have to work so hard at helping the students learn. In my last post, the parts that make it hard seem to be forces at work against me. Now that makes me sound all paranoid, like there's a conspiracy theory out there sabotaging teachers in their quest to educate the world's children. Crazy, isn't it?

So besides being cranky, now I'm paranoid. I'm well on my way to being an eccentric teacher! (That's a long-range goal.)

But in all seriousness, when I start reflecting on myself as a teacher with ideas, strategies and pedagogy from other educators, it actually makes me feel more hopeful about who I am as a teacher and what I can do to foster learning in the environment of my classroom. Oh, there I go again being verbose, but these are some key ideas.
  • Who am I? I read a lot about what other teachers have done, but I can only go with my own strengths and experiences. I cannot exactly copy what another teachers does. There's room for stretching and tweaking, but the more I know myself as a teacher, the better I can hone my skills. (And protect my weak underbelly!)
  • How do I foster learning? Don't we spend the majority of our time designing lessons and units? This is the heart of what we do. How do I get the knowledge into the students? How do I engage them? How do I get them to think? This is the area where I have so many tools in my toolbox, and although many of the tools work regardless of how old they are, some of them are like a cheap new can opener that won't cut the lid no matter what. Oh, and this changes from year to year depending on students. I suppose an important bullet point might be to know your students. If you don't believe students make a different, I can refer you to numerous posts about how my alternative high school students like to destroy every good idea I have ever had.
  • How is the environment of my classroom going to enhance learning? I would say that most teachers spend an inordinate amount of time planning how their classroom looks before the students arrive. It's a pretty big deal because how the furniture is arranged and where the pencil sharpener is sets up important structures that show students how learning will take place. (Only teachers are nodding their heads right now. Non-teachers are likely thinking, "What does it matter where the pencil sharpener is?") In the first few weeks, teachers work even harder setting a tone with the students, too. How do we treat each other? How many shenanigans can students get away with? How much will they be expected to be responsible for their own learning, that is, will they be able to just sit and get or will they be required to think and speak?
Whoa. I was just talking about reflecting about who I am and where we're going, and the next thing you know, I'm knee-deep in getting ready for the year.

This teaching gig is hard work, and it takes a lot more of behind-the-scenes planning than many might think it would. Whether you are a newbie or a veteran, as especially if you are in that 3-5 year range when things are really coming together for you in the classroom, take time to dig around in your books and files, seek out other bloggers (search their archives, too!), and have some conversations with colleagues. Afterward, Take some time to reflect. You don't have to have all the answers. In fact, the questions are probably more interesting.

Now, this is important--don't let that reflection get you down, like it did me earlier this week. Let that reflection give you power and hope that although you know more than enough to be a good teacher that there is still room for growth for you, too. Stretch yourself, just as you ask your students to do all the time, and tweak or add a few new things this year. I know that I'm not giving up hope on teaching until there is nothing else for me to learn. Or until I get my 30 years in.

3 comments: said...

Thanks for articulately stating all those great points. I was just thinking today that I KNOW I learned some things over the years that now I've probably forgotten. I guess if I don't use it immediately, it's lost in the shuffle.

I agree with you on the reflection aspect. It shows we're trying and growing and improving from where we are right now ... and that we care enough to put in the effort. ... And here's to future crotchety old ladies giving little teenagers the what's what.

Ms. Cookie

happychyck said...

Cheers, Ms. Cookie. May we live long to be the best crotchety teachers EVER!

Clix said...

Have you read Brendan Halpern's Losing My Faculties? I don't know if he came up with the saying, but he certainly illustrates it - that teaching is one of the easiest jobs to do BADLY, and one of the HARDEST to do WELL!