Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Teaching Journal
Day 56, Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I enjoy having three 9th grade
 classes back to back on Tuesday mornings, mostly because I find it to be an efficient way of improving my teaching. I teach the same lesson to each class, and my teaching seems get a little better each time. After each class, I make tiny modifications and slight reshufflings, and almost invariably the next class seems somewhat superior. I feel like a chef, testing and tweaking a recipe by preparing it for three consecutive groups.
The literary discussions in the 9th grade classes were impressive, not because they were particularly profound but because the students participated with poise and dignity. They’re only 14-years-old, so their insights into the literature are understandably straightforward and unsophisticated, but their ability to be attentive listeners and self-assured contributors surpasses what I’ve seen in many adults. I stepped back from the discussions and allowed the scholars to supervise it themselves, and they did a first-rate job. If I had gone to the faculty room for coffee, I’m convinced the discussions would have proceeded in a peaceable and confident manner.
We didn’t have a designated server today, so a 9th grade girl quickly asked me if she could serve. She was the first student to arrive, and she seemed eager to request the job. When I said I would he happy if she served, she seemed delighted, as if I had done her a distinguished act of kindness.
Something occurred today that made me question whether some of my on-line comments about my students’ essays are perhaps too critical. One of my students’ essays on his blog received an anonymous comment saying that my comment about the essay was ‘hurtful’ and ‘disappointing’. When I read this comment, I was stunned, mostly because I had not – at least recently -- considered the possibility that my comments were anything but positive and helpful. I immediately re-read my comment to the student, as well as many other comments I had posted to other students, looking for sentences that might be construed as ‘hurtful’. I found many critical statements – comments that frankly pointed out shortcomings in the essays – but it was hard for me to decide whether they were hurtful or not. I puzzled over this for quite a while this afternoon, often rebuking myself for perhaps being an unnecessarily stern teacher. I will continue to give it serious thought. I certainly want to be known as a ‘hard’ teacher (one who has high expectations for his students), but not as a ‘harsh’ one.

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