Friday, March 7, 2014

Philosophy of Teaching

On August 29, 2011, I walked into a college classroom as a teacher for the first time. Last night, I walked into a college classroom to teach for just over the 150th time. That comes out to about 600 teaching hours.

Since last night's class was one I've never taught before, going in felt a lot like that first time. My heart thumped. My hands shook. I was sweating. It was fight or flight like I haven't felt for many a term.

A couple weeks after I taught that first class, I posted a blog about the experience:

My lesson plans are right here in front of me. Yesterday was spent grading papers and quizzes. I've gotta teach on Monday. So it must be true. I must have finally gotten where I was going, at least in one sense . . . My first class was such a strange thing. I wasn't exactly nervous (I wanted to succeed too much to let nerves win out over adrenaline), but I was certainly new. Things went okay. Not awful, not amazing. We all survived, and most of them have stuck with me. There were moments when they got what I was saying and moments when their blank expressions told me I'd lost them. But overall, we made progress . . . The worst part is knowing it'll take time to learn what works and what doesn't.

And then I said this:

It seems, at least from this very green teacher who's looking for something constant to hang on to, that there are two critical things I must do, and one thing they must do. I must understand and effectively (passionately on a good day) communicate the material, and I must sincerely want the students to succeed. They must try as hard as necessary to meet the goals satisfactorily.

I wanted to post a blog today about how much wiser I've gotten, and how the basic teaching beliefs I held then have gotten richer and smoother with age. Sure, I've become much more comfortable in the classroom. I'm better at switching gears if things aren't going well, redeeming things before they're lost, knowing when they are lost and trying again the next week. The material isn't such a mystery anymore and lessons don't need so much preplanning. Questions in class don't trip me up as often. Safeguards have been set against common issues like plagiarism, narrow thinking, and absences. Instead of being difficult to fill, four to five hours in class has become hard to fit everything into. The students have heard of me now and generally seem to enjoy themselves. These things all make a better experience for the students and me.

But there are also plenty of moments when I lose them. There are times when Jonathan asks, "How'd it go tonight, babe?" and I answer, "I don't wanna talk about it." There are days when I think I can't do this anymore. There are most certainly occasions when I know I need to learn more about what I'm teaching, when I feel like a fraud, when I want to run away screaming. When I cry.

So teaching, like any job I suppose, is one day at a time. However familiar it becomes, every day is new with something new in it.

150 class meetings later, if I had to define my basic teaching beliefs again, I'd still say what I said back then:

I must understand and passionately communicate the material
I must sincerely want the students to succeed
They must try as hard as they can to do the work satisfactorily