Sunday, August 3, 2008

Events that have changed my educational perspective

I think this is an excellent reflective topic all educators should attempt to do… it isn’t easy (you think your done, and then a week later, you realize… “oh there was that one student”). I’ve added this to the graduate courses I offer teachers, partly because I think it is valuable, and partly because, after they see my list, they realize how I came to be this way!

1. You teach the class. I was fairly bright in school, and therefore very bored. I’m sure I drove my teachers crazy because I would multi-task while they explained things like the scientific process or how to do long division, and it looked like I didn’t care about what they taught. Which wasn’t entirely true, I did care about it the first time they taught it, or the first time I read about it if they had us do homework. The second through 967th time was a different story.

In my sixth grade social studies course, I had an average teacher who drilled and repeated us through western hemisphere social studies. Which was a repeat of the textbook she had us read the night before. So, I didn’t read the textbook (why would I do that?). I made the mistake of leaving the textbook in the room, which made her upset. To appease her, I agreed to taking the book home to read, and promptly left it in my study hall room, which was another waste of time.

There was a time when I decided to read the textbook, because I got interested in something else. These things were never important… when I was in 2nd grade, I drew a map of the world, complete with capitals. In fourth grade, I created a fictional baseball league, complete with statistics and trading cards. I can’t remember what the deal was in 6th grade… I remember I was drawing something and not paying attention. Suddenly, she stopped the class and said “Evan, do you want to teach the class?” With everyone’s eyes on me, she gave me her prized overhead pen before I could respond, and said “here you go.”

And to her surprise, I taught the class. It wasn’t hard, I had mastered her pedagogy already. A check-your-understanding quiz straight from the book with a five minute tangent about each question. I think she got a little more upset when I didn’t reduce to tears, and when I started my tangents by saying “Now, when I was driving in Costa Rica, the streets were…” Needless to say, she didn’t let the smart aleck have another chance to teach the class.

This event latently taught me two things. 1) Teaching isn’t as hard as some people make it look. Not everyone can do it, but more can than you’d believe. It’s really conversation at the root of it. But more importantly, 2) the content is not sacred. You’d think from the way most classes are structured, knowledge is an entity only meant to be handled and distributed by the elect. Or as one of my professors referred to it, “The way some do it now, it’s not teaching, it’s Eucharist”. As a teacher, I’ve never been surprised at the ability of my students, especially the gifted and talented and underachieving ones that I have had. Many have been smarter than me.

2. The 8th grade webpage builder. I’ve already explained this story and its effect on me in my last post, so I’ll let it suffice.

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