Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Emotional Whiplash of Teaching

Part of my break was spent reading Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach which is a book that just makes me happy. Primarily it makes be happy because Palmer gets at some interesting aspects about teaching — namely the extent to which teachers teach who we are — while admitting that he sometimes feels like an utter failure as a teacher. His words leave me feeling less alone and wanting to be a better person. [as a sidenote, a while back I asked two folks I greatly respect if they ever had days when their classes just crashed — a not so subtle plea for sympathy and commisseration — and both responded with 'no'. Talk about a self-care strategy that completely backfired]

Yesterday, the Monday after break ended up giving me instances of feeling like a pretty good teacher and instances of feeling like I probably should have dedicated my career to something like data entry. Of course, the fact that I teach 4 classes on Monday's is part of it. Due to a series of events, my initial (and quite beautiful schedule) was destroyed and replaced with what is, at best, a less than ideal schedule.

I left my first two classes feeling pretty good about things. Students seem to leave class having learned something and not disliking me or the material. The second two classes kinda tanked. Part of the problem, I think, is that the second two classes are upper level classes and I find upper level classes so much more difficult to get going than the lower level classes. In particular, with these two classes yesterday we were discussing material that I find absolutely interesting, fascinating, world-altering.

Unfortunately, classes spent on this sort of material rarely goes well and I think it's because I go into the class assuming that everyone's going to have found it as fascinating as I first did and conversation will just take off of its own accord. And, well, frequently the unimaginable happens and the students don't find the reading nearly as amazing as I did and I spend much of class time just being puzzled at the difference between my response and theirs. And, class doesn't going well. Not a huge surprise.

So, I really need to start spending more time thinking through very specific tacks to take to get students engaged even when I think that their engagement is pretty much guaranteed by the intrinsic fabulousness of the article.

AND, I need to start working on helping students to develop the skills to really look for what's cool and interesting in the reading and meet the text part way. Why is it that I can read just about anything and find something interesting in it to connect to something else and help me better understand things that aren't in the reading, but my students can't? What is it that I'm doing without even thinking about it that I need to be making explicit to my students so I can walk them through the process?

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