Big Question #3 is Teaching Truth #7

I was sitting in my car on my regular commute – well not-so-regular in that I was going home early enough for the commute to last about 30 minutes instead of 65 – but I digress. Anyway, I was sitting in my car, thinking that maybe Cruel Shoes needed to go on hiatus over the summer when it occurred to me that I actually still had something to say this year which would actually be very timely right now.

Recently, as the school year ends, I’ve heard a lot of reflection from the teachers in my network. Now, one of the most important things a new teacher can learn and do is reflection. If we get too immersed in what we did and not on what we accomplished in the doing or what more could be accomplished in the revision, we become ineffective teachers (in my opinion). I’ve also heard from several teachers who, like me, have decided to leave the teaching field (or have they? – but that’ll have to be another post).

I read an entry on Teaching in the 408, which is a great blog by a teacher who was very effective and a great teacher, but who didn’t think, at the end of the day, that he had been the teacher he wanted to be. This set off a little bell in my head, reminding me of how I felt during my last weeks of teaching as I reflected on my performance. What had been my goals? What goals had I succeeded in attaining? In what goals had I miserably failed?

Seeing the world through my own eyes, I always thought I had been an ineffective teacher. I felt like I had set out to be a teacher who could make a difference in a kid’s life. I felt like I had set out to be full of information and excitement and could pass that on to my students. I felt like I had dropped the ball – opting for classes where I would follow the questions of my students into a territory not planned for, though just as scientifically relevant as what I HAD planned for. If my students came in asking me about what alcohol does to their brain, then I spent a class (or two) having frank discussions with all my students about what it really does to a teenage brain, peer pressures, parent misconceptions, etc. Did that follow the state-prescribed formula for a successful science student? No. Because of this, I constantly felt like I was a fraud and that if someone walked into my classroom when I was showing a video of a girl crying about how she’d lost a friend to a drug overdose, I’d be booted out because it wasn’t on the TEKS (stands for Texas Wants You To Teach This) for the science I was teaching.

I also keep remembering an episode of Twilight Zone that had a retiring teacher on his last day reflecting on what a miserable teacher he had been. Former students long gone and deceased (usually because of some heroic action) miraculously appeared in his classroom to tell him all the lessons learned in his class that had made them the heroes they became. We can’t truly know how we did until years later, if ever.

Now that I’m out of the classroom (or am I?) I realize how much I WISH education could be about discovering new things because we WANT to. About finding out what makes a student’s brain engage and catering to that miracle to stimulate them into lifelong learning, rather than cramming enough information about many things into their brains in the hope it will stay with them long enough to pass a test.

What is Teaching Truth #7?  Good or bad isn’t in YOUR eyes, it is in your students’ eyes.

Listen to what your students say. Listen to what other teachers tell you your students are saying about you. Don’t worry so much about what the state has to say, or even what your administration has to say. Teach like you mean it.

Why did I call this a Big Question? Because I want to hear from you. What do you think makes a good teacher or a bad teacher? Help all of us to understand where we stand.

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2 responses to “Big Question #3 is Teaching Truth #7

  1. 1. A passion for learning that you actively pursue both as a model for your students and with your students. This way, you show them the worth of being in a school day in and day out when they might not see it.

    2. The highest standards you can have for your students. Combined with #1, your students will soar because they will see you learning too and they will see that you think they can achieve great things. I have never had a student tell me that they wish I did not have such lofty goals for them. Do they struggle to reach them at times? Yes. But do they ultimately wish I didn’t have the goals? No they don’t. They might ACT like they do, but hey, what are teenagers for if not for acting like something they really aren’t?

  2. Susanne,
    You make a really good point about students and your goals for them. Teenagers think they have to act like they don’t like your plans for them, but it doesn’t take much to catch that hope in their eyes that you really do want them to succeed.
    – Elaine

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