Teaching Journal 08-09
Monday, September 15
A metaphor for the day…
Climbing the hill this morning for exercise, I was enchanted by the few lights visible at that early hour. There were the soft lights of streetlamps, a few scattered lit windows, and, above us all, the glow of a nearly-full moon – but the rest was still darkness. It got me thinking about my teaching, and about the “lights” I see in my room each day. At different times, different scholars shine – usually not all together, but just one at a time as they answer questions or share insights or compliment each other. While one scholar shines with his or her special contribution, the rest of us are “dark” – just quietly listening, letting the individual’s light fill the room. Interestingly, if all us were shining at the same time, then no lights would be clearly visible; the whole room would be a glare, just as my hill is a glare in broad daylight. What makes it special is when only one scholar’s “light” goes on, and it shines so brightly in the dark and quiet of our attentive listening. As I think further about it, I guess I am the “sun” in the classroom. When the sun is bright in the sky, no other lights are visible – and when the teacher is the brightest light in the classroom, no scholar’s light can clearly be seen and appreciated. All is hidden in the dazzle of the teacher’s light. What I need to do today, and each day, is stay behind the clouds, or “set” all together. In that way we will all be able to enjoy the brilliance of each scholar as their lights flash on periodically during class.
This morning I gave one class the challenge of trying to focus on either the speaker or the projector screen for 5 minutes. I think the kids enjoyed the idea of a dare or a test, and they took the challenge seriously – doing their youthful best to keep their eyes riveted. The fact that we did this “dare” in short segments helped; it gave the scholars the feeling that perhaps they could actually do it.
During morning meeting, I noticed the bright colors of the scholars clothes as they sat on the floor. The dress code prohibits anything but solid colors, and, despite the many complaints I’ve heard about it, it seemed to create a lovely, vibrant array of colors during the meeting. I realized that any stripes or checks in the clothes would have somehow detracted from the multihued and vivid display before me.
In one class we had live music – a first for me (in 42 years of teaching). One of the boys brought his guitar to class (I’m not sure why), and, without thinking about it much, I asked him if he would play quietly during our quiet reading time. He did – and it was perfectly lovely. I plan to invite him, and others, to provide some mellow background entertainment more often.
One boy had a very hard time staying focused in class. I noticed him looking everywhere but at the speaker or the screen. For him, staying attentive to exactly what’s happening in class must be harder than climbing a mountain trail. I must remember that demanding concentration from a scholar like him is similar to asking him to lift the heaviest weights. Indeed, he would probably approach the weights with far more zeal than my class.
One of the girls made a very discerning comment during a discussion of a Nathaniel Hawthorne story, and a boy raised his hand to say her comment was “very deep”. I agreed wholeheartedly.
The 9th graders came to class in the afternoon full of high spirits and conversation, and the thought crossed my mind that I should “settle them down” (to use a favorite parent/teacher phrase). However, luckily I ignored the implulse and just waited. Not surprisingly, within no more than one minute they had settled themselves down, opened their ‘casual reading’ books, and were silently reading. Like a stirred-up pond, they calmed down by themselves when left alone.
One of the girls in the 9th grade was busily taking notes throughout class. It’s a requirement for all scholars in my classes, but she was obviously thoroughly devoted to being a scrupulous note-taker. I complimented her today during study hall.
I noticed today that I didn’t focus much on individual scholars in the afternoon classes – took almost no notes on the kids. I thought the lessons went pretty well, but I don’t like the fact that I sort of forgot to pay attention to, and note down, some of the particular comments and behaviors of individuals. I’ll work on that tomorrow.
I’ll give myself a pat on the back today for resisting the impulse to blurt out comments that don’t directly relate to the lesson, and that simply aren’t helpful or necessary. In the past I’ve occasionally made comments that had no significant bearing on the lesson at hand, and who knows how much valuable time it cost me – and the class. This year one of my goals is to SAY ONLY WHAT’S ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. (“Shut up more often” might be a more informal way of putting it.)