Sunday, June 17, 2007

I’m reading a very helpful book about teaching by Leila Christenbury, called Making the Journey, and she makes some wonderful points.

1. About her early years as a teacher and, specifically, about the process of literally making herself into an adequate teacher, she says: “I felt like I was taking my personality apart and putting it back together so I could succeed in the classroom.” I know that feeling, although I didn’t begin that process of re-making myself until only about 10 years ago (after nearly 30 years of teaching). Before that, I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants teacher, and I’m ashamed to even think of those early years. Thank goodness something woke me up to the fact that I needed to be a totally different kind of person if I was to become even a passable teacher. I started re-making myself in about 1996, and the process still has a long way to go.

2. She makes the point that good teachers realize they are both being teachers and becoming teachers. They know the becoming must never stop.

3. She lists five models for teaching: teaching as telling, teaching as inspiration (the seat-of-the-pants stuff I did for many years), teaching as maintaining a creation (where the teacher spends all summer planning a day-to-day curriculum, and then sits back and watches it work all year), and teaching as discovery (which is what I’ve been trying to do since 1996). For the discovery method, she says the teacher

* doesn’t avoid questions to which there is no answer, or mind saying “I don’t know”

* let’s students talk

* allows pauses in the talk. This means there are periods of silence in the classroom

* asks, asks, asks, and falls out of love with telling

* starts teaching where the students are, not where the book is or where the teacher is

4. About the complexities of teaching, she quotes David Labaree (and I love this): Teaching remains an uncertain enterprise [because of its] irreducible complexity. What we know about teaching is always contingent on a vast array of intervening variables that mediate between a teacher’s action and a student’s response. As a result there is always a ceteris paribus clause hovering over any instructional prescription. This works better than that , if everything else is equal. In other words, it all depends.”

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