Friday, April 1, 2011

A New Approach

Having been away from my computer for a few days, I've had time to think about what I've been posting online and about why I'm doing it. I can hear those of you reading this groaning at more personal reflection, but I'm afraid that this is what I do: I reflect a lot. The path to improving anything is to reflect on what has been done and in so doing look for places that are lacking a certain degree of polish.

My first few posts have been a nostalgic look back on the first term of being a full-time teacher, but they haven't been particulary helpful to anyone. Even if I stick to my guns and follow the fact that I said I was writing this for me, it makes no real sense to go through my methods for planning terms or for structuring classes. What would be beneficial to everyone involved would be for me to reflect, so that is what I will try to do more of. You may lift your head from the desk now, I have (hopefully) finished with all this philosophical blog guff.

What I had originally wanted to look at during my previous post was to go over what had worked and what hadn't worked during the English lessons I taught this term. Off the top of my head, I've identified the following major issues I have with my teaching:

1. Teacher Centered-ness

I'm very lucky in some regards in that I'm quite good at getting kids to laugh, either by making jokes or simply at my ridiculous antics. I have the philosophy that if I make a fool of myself in the class, my students will be less scared to try things that may seem weird, because they can't possibly look more stupid than I do. This has worked to a certain extent in that I know that my students aren't scared to voice their opinions in my lessons. I do also encourage proper engagement, but I'll get to that later.

The problem that this particular approach has is that I tend to take centre stage during the lessons which is something I have a big problem with. I am adamant that lessons are about the students, and not about me. I put all of my effort into planning lessons that have a minimal amount of involvement from me--at least, that's what I should be doing. For the most part, I've stood in front of my classes leading them through texts and activities, which means that I'm getting it wrong. The students are still learning, yes, but they're not guiding themselves as much as they could be. Sure I've got to start somewhere, because most of them are not used to this approach, but I think I could have done it better.

2. There's sharing, and then there's oversharing...

After the regional IEB conference, I was very inspired by a talk given by a Mr Pete le Roux at Elkanah House. One of the many aspects of teaching he touched on in his talk was the fact that educational offices seem to tell us teachers to keep our students at arm's length, to protect ourselves (and them) from uncomfortable relationships developing. Pete pointed out that teachers should indeed wear a type of armour, but perhaps that armour should be like skin. Skin protects us from a great deal of environmental damage and keeps everything where it should be, but it has the ability to feel. It does not inhibit us from being people.

Part of the reasons for my becoming a teacher was the fact that I wanted to touch lives in some way--I wanted to make a difference to people. I knew that one can make a difference in one of two ways: One can be a negative influence that will hurt, maim and crush people in ways that will linger for possibly the rest of their lives, or one can be a positive influence that will help the person to enhance their lives, to make them better somehow. I'm not suggesting that I'm an improvement to people, but what I am saying is that if I have the choice in how I affect other people, I want to somehow enhance their lives so that they can go on and do something that fulfils them. A bit bleeding heart, I know, but there you are.

Now, the reason this was a problem this term is that I think I may have overdone the sharing thing. I tried to be transparent with my teaching methods. In other words, I told my grade 10s why I was doing certain things, I went through test structure and the thought process behind it, I told them the pedagogy of certain approaches. This is, I feel, taking things a bit far. Sometimes it can help to tell a class, 'Yes, this might not be for marks, but do you really think I would ask you to do it if I didn't feel it was worth your and my while?' If you have a mature bunch of students, they will respond quite positively to this.

Ok, I've said enough for now... more tomorrow, perhaps.