Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Over breakfast recently, several colleagues and I talked about the complicated, daunting, frustrating, rewarding, and fine art of teaching -- and these helpful thoughts emerged:
1) In some ways, good teaching has to be impersonal. (This is a paradox, of course, because in many ways good teaching must be highly personal.) Several times during our conversation, we referred to the idea of "not taking it personally". When a group of students seems out of control, it's not because they don't like us, nor is it an indication that we are "bad" teachers. They're simply behaving in a way that is not appropriate, and it is our job as professionals to ensure that they correct their behavior.
2) A teacher is like a Global Positioning System. Each day in our classrooms, our students have to travel to some educational "place" -- some goal they need to reach -- and it is our task to guide them to this goal. In a sense, our students come to us fairly "lost", but fortunately they have human GPS's in their classroom. Just as the GPS in a car says things like "Turn left at the next stop sign", we teachers must sometimes give explicit instructions as our students "drive" along the roads of learning. In this way, like the motorist, our students can reach their learning destinations in a relatively timely and stress-free manner.
3) Another paradox: In spite of the truth of #2, a huge part of teaching is helping students learn how to get past obstacles and reach their goals by using their own resources. (Incidentally, my colleagues wonder if kids born in the years after 9/11 are being excessively coddled, to the point where they sometimes seem utterly incapable of helping themselves. Perhaps for these children, the classroom GPS needs to be turned off occasionally.)
4) And a final paradox: Teachers need to have both long memories and short memories. We need to remember patterns in kids' learning and behavior, but we also sometimes need to quickly forget so we can move on with a totally clean slate.
5) Laughter is vital. My colleagues said the five teachers in their team laugh a lot throughout the day. Maybe laughter is not only good medicine, but also a pretty fine GPS.

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