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I teach abroad and continue to pursue the life I was given as if it was my last. Many people think it is. In my spare time, I enjoy lapping up ice cream, reading spy novels, and euthanizing manta rays.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thoughts on Teaching

Thoughts on Teaching
For me, teaching is much more like playing golf than riding a bicycle; if I take a week or two off from it, I’m rusty and it takes practice to get my swing back. Then, when you play a new course with rental clubs (read: teach a new course without your own resources) it becomes a steeper learning curve. It’s harder to make birdies (i.e. have a good lesson or reach your learning objectives) and then once in awhile, you flub a chip and you end making a triple bogey and throw your clubs (have a horrible lesson, storm out of the classroom and toss your cute strips of paper, lesson plan, and realie in the trash).

That is how it has always been for me and how it’s been here in Uganda the first month. I’m not saying it’s the same for every teacher. I am sure each person has their philosophy; what works for one teacher may not for another, and so on. But I am going through that as I begin to tackle the task of shaping 83 writers into brainstormers, clinical organizers, and story-tellers.

Teaching writing is a hard discipline because of the nature of correction and task of evaluating and defining improvement.  In mathematics, when you commit an error, it results in an incorrect equation (see "Good Will Hunting"). If you don't keep making those errors, you must have figured it out. In writing, it’s no so simple to flatly state: that’s wrong, do it again. How would they do it again?

And, how do you fix cohesion? How do you incorporate unity? How do you eliminate redundancy?

The more I read of a student’s work, the easier it is to trace patterns and focus on systematic errors (incorrect transitions, word choice, coherence, punctuation, sentence fragments, etc.). I am trying to convince my students that writing is a process and is never complete until one is satisfied with his/her work. But how can I be sure that what I write and communicate to a student actually affects changes in their writing? Permanent changes. Habit-changing changes. That’s a hard thing to achieve in fifteen weeks.  And yet, that’s the job.

Many of them are catching on. They see the formula to an academic essay and are following it. Whether it’s the relief at not seeing my familiar red ink on their paper or the lectures sinking in, I don’t entirely know. However it happens, when it happens, I’m thrilled. I wish I could be more creative, though. Give them topics and ideas to push their thinking, elaborate their thoughts, challenge their minds. Right now, we're slogging through thesis statements and controlling ideas. 

What do Students Want?
No matter where I’ve been, students seem to want the same things. Most of them, anyway. 
  • They want to learn.
  • They want to know about me and my life.
  • They want to know about America and its culture.
  • They want to be entertained/have fun while in a lesson.
  •  They want to know about requirements, exams, and grading evaluations.
  •  They want the teacher to show that he/she cares.  
  • They want to be corrected when they make a mistake.
  • They want to improve.
  • They want to be congratulated and encouraged, involved yet not forced to be involved.
  •  And they want to know what I think about their culture.
I think most students start off with these expectations. Some get discouraged along the way, get frustrated, lose hope, and quit. Others get lost in a class too difficult, too big, or too socially/racially contentious to thrive. Others find their niche and never have a problem. They follow course guidelines, do required tasks, and are self-motivated. They succeed and progress.

I guess I'm trying to seek out the lost ones early on, steer them back on track, motivate them, and give them some confidence. Or just listen to them and try to figure out what is going through their head when they put pen to paper. A lot of the times their ideas are better explained aloud and they just need to hear it said orally before it becomes clear to them. And to me. How to translate that skill to the other one gracefully...

1 comment:

  1. hey matt! think i mentioned this book to you earlier. what i've read of it is so sage. it is basically about how motivation functions in school qua competitive learning game. hope it can help!