Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer Reads

I remember that day pretty clearly. The brilliant and dazzling lesson plan fell on its face. The students were more bored than I was. The silence that met a non-starter discussion question was overwhelming. I was a failure in the classroom. Me, whose father graduated from Harvard and had taught in Higher Ed for his entire lifetime. Me, whose grandmother taught in elementary school all her life. Me, whose two sisters were in education. My husband is a professor. I wanted to be one too. A good one.

At the end of that class period, I threw all my books in my bag, came home and after dinner Googled the phrase “bad teacher.” I read and read and read and happened on a website where teachers moaned about their “snowflakes,” the new class of students who never prepared for class and expected to be entertained. Even though the tone was snarky, the comments eye-popping, I learned a lot that night. I learned that bad days happen. That students will never be as prepared as you are. That I had to keep going, but have a laugh once in a while in order to keep some perspective.

So often in teaching we think it is all about pedagogy–about the way we teach our material to our students. I think this “how” is critical because it forces us to become prepared and fluent in what we want to teach. Knowing our “how” teaches us to teach, in the best scenario. But I also think that there is more than simply knowing our material and delivering it, more than simply being momma birds to baby birds in a nest.

As I continue to define for myself what being a good teacher might mean, I was intrigued with the advice given to new teachers by Mike Rose, in his column “Graduating into the classroom,” for the Los Angeles Times. At the end he notes that a good teacher, “regardless of grade level, subject or styles, has the equivalent of what musicians call ‘big ears’; they are curious, open, on the lookout for anything they can use in the service of some larger goal.”

That’s what going to conferences is all about, as well as reading and gathering and trying out new things in the classroom is all about. But I also think that’s why summer break is crucial as well: it gives us places outside the classroom to fill up our senses, to move beyond our teaching scripts to restore our energy, make unusual connections, explore new experiences. We can take time to take some time to watch the flight of a bird on the shore, listen to the pines in a forest, make a quilt or a chair or linger on the playground. Perhaps it’s also a time to read a book completely out of our usual sphere of influence and interest (see my list of things to the right of this post) in order to keep tabs on that world for which we are preparing our students to one day enter, step by step.

Have a good summer.

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