When I got to school this morning there was an email waiting for me from a parent. She had something to tell me but preferred to speak rather than type about it, and asked me to call at my earliest convenience.
What did I screw up this time?
Well, I called during my prep period, and she was pleased that I responded so quickly. Then she told me the problem, and it's a biggie: her kid senses that I get frustrated whenever he/she asks a question in class.
The bad part is, I know what mom's talking about. It relates to my deepest, darkest fear about teaching--that I'm not doing it well enough.
Yes, I know there are times that everyone in class won't understand something. Yes, I know that I have a sign on my wall that says "I can teach it to you, but I can't understand it for you." Yes, I know that students have the lion's share of the responsibility for their learning.
But when one of them--especially a very bright one--doesn't understand something, can I honestly say, every time, that I'm 100% sure that I've done the absolute best possible job teaching? Have I lived up to 100% of my responsibility?
I know the answer isn't always "yes". There are times when I know there must be some better way of explaining a topic, but I don't know what that better way is. I admit to being a knowledgeable, competent teacher, but not a Superteacher (like these). My fear is that it's my fault a student doesn't understand the material, that if only I were a better teacher, everything would be fine.
And that's what frustrates me. And that frustration is what the student in question is picking up on. My frustration isn't directed at the student, though. Far from it, I'm frustrated at myself. Why am I not explaining this well? Why can't I get this point across?
Why can't I teach this better?
I explained this to the student today, and apologized for giving the impression that I'm frustrated with the student. The student graciously accepted my explanation--but still doesn't understand the recent material.
So I'm right back where I started. What can I do better?