Thursday, March 12, 2015

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Teaching

I did not always like teaching. I felt insecure and ineffective: It seemed like everyone around me was a much better teacher than I was. 

I love it now. What happened?

I quit focusing on what I was teaching, and started looking at the understandings and skills students were practicing. The kids who were doing it well, WHAT were they doing, and how could I help more of the kids do that more of the time? I started talking to colleagues about those questions. And I found books that told me how to do it better. 

First it was Biblical perspective. I realized I didn’t really teach it—I just assessed it. And about one student in every class nailed it, two more did a pretty good job, and the rest were at sea. What did the top students do, that they had learned at church or at home, that I could teach to the other students? They knew Biblical principles, the Bible background for them, and could apply them to life and to literature. So I had to teach principles, teach Bible background, and teach the skills of using the school supplied NIV Study Bible to understand Biblical principles and background, of using support (just like literature), of making connections and application (just like literature).

Then it was reading. I was talking to a colleague, saying I wished there were a “6 Traits for Reading” like there was for writing, because the only advice I had for a student who wanted to read better was to read more. Practice. That’s where I felt writing instruction was when I was a student. And practice is important for learning any skill. But it has to be GOOD practice. 

I spent 4th through 9th grades practicing shooting a basketball 2-handed from my chest. I got really good at it, but it turned out when I moved to a bigger school in 10th grade, that I’d gotten really good at shooting badly. I got blocked all the time. I had to completely relearn how to shoot.

The colleague had heard of a book that might be helpful: Cris Tovani’s I Read It, but I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers. I loved it so much I devoured it so quickly I despaired of remembering and implementing even a fraction of what I’d just learned. Also, I wanted everyone else in the secondary English department to read it. So I invited them to read and discuss it with me, a chapter per week. Then I did it again inviting any other teachers who wanted to come.

I haven’t looked back. Book discussions are my way of learning and growing as a teacher. I’ve led them not just on reading, but also on collaboration, public speaking, vocabulary instruction, educational leadership….The teaching degree and certificate arent the end of learning and growing—it’s the beginning. If book discussions are not your way, find SOME way. Teaching is both skill and content, and there is always more to learn and practice. 

To get started, ask yourself the following:
  • What do my students need to understand or be able to do better?
  • Why do they need to be able to do it better? (Then tell them—significance is hugely motivating.)
  • How can I find out how to help them? (Book, class, mentor, action research…)
  • What will I do? (Make a plan.)
  • How will I get support and accountability? (Having a community of colleagues with whom to share successes, failures, ideas makes all the difference.)
  • How will I know if I’ve been successful?
Extra credit: How will you let the students know they’ve succeeded at improving at something that was significant? That is even MORE motivating.

Are you frustrated with teaching? with your students? Wondering if you can can really stick this profession out? or even want to? 

We’ve all been there. 

There’s hope. Joyful, effective teaching can be learned. Be a learner; target significant learning for students; get a community.

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