Thursday, February 3, 2011

Musings on Learning to Teach

January 11, 2011.

I have spent the last week subjecting my student teacher to a trial by fire.

Whether it was due to sheer enthusiasm, self-protection, generosity or simple ignorance of the task ahead, he chose to begin the semester by taking on the instruction of all five sections of my classes, and all three preps. That means he took on the burden of planning and instruction for three different courses, and over 140 students, a few of whom trickle in and out of class each day for the first couple of weeks as schedule changes happen through the counseling office.  Jumping in with both feet was far beyond what his program expected of him.

I have been offering support in the form of taking attendance, making copy room runs, tracking down books, doing online research, trotting down to Chocolate Iguana, suggesting active engagement strategies and making my old handouts and files available. I have also spent some time organizing my online bookmarks, checking my Facebook page, shoveling out my desk areas, and reminding myself of exactly how intense these early days of teaching can be.

And it is not only the squeaking of the chalkboard that is hard to witness. He is doing fine, even better than fine, and we both agree that the greatest blessing at this point is that the students do not hate him. They are still puzzling over this new adult who has a small part of their fates in his hands. They are figuring out what he has to offer, categorizing him in various ways through their observations, bringing their prior experiences to bear on their impression of him.

He has the benefit of having spent hours observing and helping out in the classroom last semester, and the benefit of an open nature and a sincere desire to help the students have a better future and find personal meaning and significance in the work they do at school. And yet still, the sheer task of developing, and more importantly, manifesting a vision for three classes... it is not something I think that anyone would be able to walk into from day one and execute flawlessly. 

I remember a colleague at Foothills telling me years back that parents would complain when the school would try innovative new curriculum or have student teachers, not wanting their children to be guinea pigs.  Well, sorry to break it to you all, parents, but your children are always going to be guinea pigs.  They are still my guinea pigs after 16 years, and they will always be the guinea pigs of student teachers.  Nobody knows what works before they step foot into any given room on any given day with any specific group of children.  Now, our instincts and our repertoire of strategies do get better with experience and training.  But really, we are all apprentices if we go about our jobs the right way.  The question is often whether we can survive those first intense weeks of overwhelming demands, and the clash between our visions and the realities and limitations of daily life-- the often surprising gulf between what we believe that we assigned, and the results of our students' efforts.  Teaching is the story of our developing relationships with our students, coming to accept and push up against the many places where we will fall short, and allowing ourselves a few moments to celebrate successes.  And then of course there is the problem of trying to go home with something left for ourselves and our families.

So I applaud my student teacher this semester, and luxuriate in my extra time not planning and grading at home, and apply for grants and make big plans for fourth quarter.  I celebrate his successses, and allow myself to enjoy this interlude before I am once again pulled in all directions. 

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