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March COTM: Teaching?

March 5, 2014

If you are new here, every month we princesses all opine on a single question or issue.  This month we are talking about teaching!  Pretty much everyone knows a teacher– or, in the case of Cinderslut, is one– and we all have our own opinions on what it takes to be a good teacher.

sleeping booty tileOh man, I love everything about being a teacher except the actual teaching part. Give me children of any age, some craft supplies, summers off and I’d be set for life, but ask me to lecture for an hour or think of a lesson plan or, heaven forbid, grade papers I’ll straight up cry in your face. Why can’t there be such thing as a kindly, advice-giving, hobby facilitator that kids all have to spend ten or so hours a week with?

As a soul searching 20-something with a degree in mathematics and no career plan to speak of, my teaching ability is questioned daily. I’m not exaggerating when I say that in the last two weeks I’ve been told at least 5 times that I should consider being a teacher, and I can’t deny it’s enticing when an overwhelming percentage of the people I’ve met on this adventure so far are teachers of some sort, taking advantage of their breaks to explore the world.

The life of a teacher is rewarding, I saw that when I coached high school basketball and my girls stepped up to make the difficult choices, and entertaining, I still laugh to myself at the jokes the kids told me when I taught science summer camp a few summers ago, but it’s also incredibly difficult, asking you to say goodbye on a regular basis and sometimes makes choices on whether or not a child can be taught.

I know I’ve gotten off subject, but the thing is I do know what makes a good teacher and… I think I have it. I care about the success of others, I enjoy learning and creating and sharing. I’d enjoy the changing seasons and I’d thrive as an afterschool coach/club director/school supporter, encouraging all subjects and all career paths. I read other people fairly well, and don’t push over when I really believe I’m right. I even love the idea of making my own grading scale – think of all the possibilities!

As for my teaching style I know I’m very hands off; I like to let people make their own decisions and then help them understand what worked and what didn’t. I don’t want to tell a kid what the main points of a novel are, I want him to tell me and prove to me why; I don’t want to teach someone the correct way of solving the problem, but give her options and let her choose which makes the most sense.

I know I’d love being a teacher, and though right now I lack the confidence and authority to actually become one, one day I’ll probably end up there.

snowwhore tileWhen I think about the best teachers that I’ve ever had, one thing comes to mind. Passion.  A good teacher is one who is passionate about the subject matter, and is able to so effectively communicate that passion that it becomes your passion as well.

I have never been a fan of math. I excelled in my math classes growing up, but only because I was a goody two shoes and worked really hard because grades meant everything to me.  However, I loved Calculus. I looked forward to that class, and genuinely enjoyed doing it. Why? Because my teacher was passionate and amazing.  He cracked jokes, and read us Dave Barry articles, and took the time and effort to break down the equations as much as we needed until we had a comprehensive understanding.  I still don’t like math, but I loved Mr. Johnson’s calculus class.

However, when I think about passionate teachers, I know that I have the two best examples right at home.  My mother teaches elementary music and my dad is an elementary librarian.  They put everything into teaching because they know how important it is.  They never do anything on autopilot, and they never take the easy way out. Most music concerts in elementary schools feature the kids on stage standing in rows and singing. But not my mother’s concerts.  She has a full set of marimbas that she teaches the older kids to play, kindergartners are given rhythm blocks and tambourines, and every Christmas she also puts on a full musical, sometimes they are ones she has written herself.  And my dad is the same way in his library. He has costumes and puppets that he uses to do full productions during story time. He creates his own unique curriculum to teach the kids everything they need to know about every computer program and lets them do their own primitive graphic design projects and PowerPoint presentations.  He has even created his own superhero called Captain Read Right, who rollerblades around the school making the different classrooms compete to see who can read the most.

Passion makes all the difference in teaching. That’s what my parents showed me every day growing up. I still have people who come up to me in my hometown and tell me how my mom or dad was their favorite teacher. They will always be my standard for judging excellence in educators.

cinderslut tile (2)Well, in about 8 weeks I will hold a Master’s in Teaching degree, so it follows that I should know a thing or two about this topic. That being said, although I’ve spent the better part of two years of my life pursuing this degree, and I’ve read up on plenty of pedagogy, I know I won’t truly be a “Master” teacher for many more years. Teaching is something you can only learn to do by doing it.

Still, if I had to pick one thing that makes a teacher great, I’d go with engagement. This educational buzzword really is the key to everything, because if you can’t keep your students interested, they won’t learn a thing. And if they don’t learn a thing, you haven’t actually taught anything. In college I had a couple of truly awful classes in which the professors (tenured, of course) spent hours talking at us, but never really engaged us with the material. They may have had advanced degrees and been knowledgeable experts in their subject, but today I cannot remember a thing from their class, other than how deeply, deeply I despised being there. They were terrible teachers, because they didn’t bother to pursue engagement.

Last year, teaching high school English, I mostly BSed my way through the year, but I was still successful, and I attribute that not to my Master’s degree, my own knowledge, or anything else but the simple fact that I kept things interesting, mixed it up, played games, let the students make choices, listened to their opinions, and they bought in. They engaged.

The really great teachers do a lot of other things too, but I think it all starts with engagement. And in my experience, bringing chocolate-chip pumpkin cookies for the class never hurts, either.

little merskank tileA few weeks ago I was asked to read a book called Learning to  Teaching in Higher Education—and it accomplished its goal:  it got me thinking about teaching.   However, I found that I somehow found something disagreeable in the approach of the book.  It was very modern and stressed the importance of teaching ‘learning’ over ‘information’.  On the surface I agree with this distinction, yet when I thought about it more I realized precisely how important ‘information’ can be. Sometimes think that in our rejection of old fashioned teaching techniques we have effectively thrown out the baby with the bath water.  Of course, none of us likes the paradigm of rote memorization of tables and figures, but it is a problem I think if the facts and figures are never learnt at all.  I see this particularly in modern language study where important grammatical concepts are glossed over or not addressed, to, I believe, the ultimate detriment of the student.

Of course, the ideal is to convey both information and promote learning in an engaging way.  Now, for me, when I think about teaching I think about teaching at the university—which is I think something fundamentally different than teaching at high school, which is what the other princesses have mostly written about.  At the high school level (or earlier) the teacher is very much is the facilitator between the student and the material.  However, at the college level when you are teaching adults, and I feel like the student’s interest and participation has to be somewhat their own responsibility.   To some degree, I think that at the university level good teaching is as much about not inhibiting the student as it is about helping them—it is about letting them think independently, not confining them to certain sets of opinions or approaches, and letting them learn freely.  In practice, some students need more help than others, and there has to be a grey middle ground—but ultimately, I would say that the best teachers give students the tools to do their own learning.

And what about you reader?  What’s your teaching philosophy? 

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