Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Teacher Meme

I saw this over at Coach Brown's (see A Passion for Teaching and Opinions in the blogroll at left) and decided to try it here myself. My guess is that some of my answers will surprise some people--because I'm honest.

1. I am a good teacher because: I'm competent in the material and can convey it to most students in a reasonably efficient manner.

2. If I weren't a teacher I would be: in manufacturing again, probably. I've been a manufacturing manager and a projects manager, and I was pretty good at those jobs. May as well play to your strengths, I say.

3. My teaching style is: relaxed, but authoritative (as opposed to authoritarian). I have rules, I enforce them, and I don't think there's any doubt who's in charge in the classroom (that would be me!), but the atmosphere is fairly relaxed. There's joking and needling overlayed on a veneer of calmness. You don't have to be tense (or intense) to learn math, and I'd rather we all got the mission accomplished while enjoying ourselves in the process.

4. My classroom is: an island at school. Only one wall has any student work on it, another wall has some math-oriented comics on it, there are non-math-related quotes on different walls, rules exist there that don't exist in any other classroom, and the politics are right-leaning. Even though there are desks in rows as there are in every other classroom, that's where the similarity ends.

5. My lesson plans: are copied from last year's and modified where needed (I made notes on them last year to guide me this year). I know that's anathema to some people, but why reinvent the wheel? If a lesson went wrong last year, I already know what to do to fix it this year. If it worked last year, why do something different?

6. One of my teaching goals is: to cover all the state math standards. That can be difficult in Algebra II, as the standards are fairly ambitious, but it's what I'm paid to do. I take standards and accountability seriously; considering those to be hallmarks of a professional. Helping students achieve the standards they're supposed to achieve makes me more professional.

7. The toughest part of teaching is: trying to figure out how to teach students who don't "get it". When the vast majority of students understands a topic, and I've exhausted all the different ways I know of to get information across, what do I do with the kid who still doesn't understand? Speak louder and more slowly, like many Americans would to a foreigner? Or just repeat what I've already taught, hoping that this time they'll understand, if only through repetition? The toughest part of being a teacher is admitting that there are no silver bullets, no sure-fire ways to guarantee that everyone will learn what you're trying to teach. Some methods are clearly more effective than others, but that only increases your odds--it doesn't ensure a win.

8. The thing I love most about teaching is: the time it gives me to spend with my own son. In fact, that's why I became a teacher. As I tell parents at Back To School Night, my child is my first priority--their's is my second. I like having time off to take him places and do special things.

Now that I've had some time to reflect, that answer above is more like the answer to "The thing I love most about being a teacher is...." Question #8 is about teaching, not being a teacher, so I'll answer the actual question now. Honestly, I like seeing students at that moment when they understand something new, when they know something that they didn't know moments before--and knowing I had a part in creating that moment. Because I care about students and their success, I can share with them the joy of their own accomplishments.

9. A common misconception about teaching is: that teachers are dumb. Who among us hasn't heard the tired saying, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach"? Granted, I've encountered a couple of dumb teachers. Honestly, seriously, dim bulbs. A couple of them. On the other hand, I've been overjoyed with the quality of the people I've worked with over the last 9 years. I recognize that not everyone can be a 9/9 Genius =) , but I've worked with some quality people. Politically, many are dumb as rocks (those would be the lefties)--but non-politically, I've encountered too many intellectually-gifted teachers to accept that we're all dumb. There are dim bulbs in every profession, and for some reason people like to point fingers at teachers--probably out of jealousy that we get "all that time off" for which we don't get paid! Fortunately, I just haven't seen that many of these rocks if they do, in fact, exist.

Just remember: Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, teach P.E.!

P.S. Even some of those rocks may make good teachers, depending on how much they know about their subject matter. The rocks I've known, I don't know if they were competent teachers or not. They were/are just dumb in general, but perhaps they knew/know enough to teach students. Again, though, the number of these people is extremely small in my experience.

10. The most important thing I've learned since I started teaching is: that rapport can be as important as content knowledge. The smartest kids are going to learn whether they like or respect you or not, but the not-so-bright ones need a reason to keep struggling. Some distant "you may need this someday" isn't good enough, they need something more immediate. That something is respect for the teacher, whom they don't want to let down. Be that teacher, and the student will work hard for you. Having been in charge of people my entire adult life, I don't know why it came as a surprise to me that children operate the same way as adults do in this regard. Thankfully I relearned that lesson quickly. Had I not, my answers to numbers 1 and 3 above would be very different.

So that's my teacher meme. As you can see, I'm no SuperTeacher; my approach is very practical. Honestly, I hope I haven't disappointed anyone.

4 comments:

rightwingprof said...

"The toughest part of teaching is: trying to figure out how to teach students who don't "get it". When the vast majority of students understands a topic, and I've exhausted all the different ways I know of to get information across, what do I do with the kid who still doesn't understand? Speak louder and more slowly, like many Americans would to a foreigner? Or just repeat what I've already taught, hoping that this time they'll understand, if only through repetition? The toughest part of being a teacher is admitting that there are no silver bullets, no sure-fire ways to guarantee that everyone will learn what you're trying to teach. Some methods are clearly more effective than others, but that only increases your odds--it doesn't ensure a win."

Yeah, I still struggle with those moments when somebody doesn't get it, and you can't figure out WHY they don't get it -- because if you can't figure out WHY, it's nearly impossible to figure out a way to get it across to them.

EllenK said...

I teach a very different subject, art. But I think one thing I have in common with other teachers is I like finding a kid who thinks he can't draw or paint and proving to them that they are capable. For every kid that I have written up and sent to the office, there are five more who are majoring in architecture or art history or painting. Now that I have been here six years, they are starting to come back and tell me what they have learned. It still gives me chills when a girl whose best friends moved to Georgia tells me that her friend learned to love art history and is now majoring in it at Georgia Tech. Or the kid who was just taking art to fulfill a graduation requirement, who painted almost photorealistically from scratch and is now at OU majoring in architecture. Or the girl in California majoring in animation. Or my senior who is getting ready to send her portfolio off to the Chicago Art Institute. These were all kids who thought they had nothing to offer and I helped them find their gift. And that's really why I teach. That's why I deal with the paperwork and crap and annoying students and political nonsense.

rightwingprof said...

I can't even draw a stick man, er, stick person.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Honest, Darren, I didn't even find your answers to the Teacher Meme until after I posted mine. I read Coach Brown's first! Really! Besides, what do a farmer and manufacturer have in common anyway, huh? :-)