Lessons… And Not Just For My Students
May 27, 2011 8 Comments
Two weeks went by very quickly, even if the days were long. Even so, I feel that the knowledge I have gained and the experiences I have had in this short period of time have definitely helped shape my approach and attitude toward teaching, and possibly me as a person, too. Coming here, into an unfamiliar setting, teaching at a school full of strangers and then coming back to live and go to class with a different set of strangers was daunting. I was uncertain about what to expect, and my uncertainty only grew when my mentor teacher told me I would be teaching a class this week. I prepared myself as best I could, looking over the information I needed to teach, making a lesson plan, and controlling my anxiety over teaching in front of a group of kids I knew next to nothing about. I was scared, and to be honest, I didn’t really want to do it.
Well, today I gave my lesson. Not once. Not twice. I taught three different classes. The lesson was a test review for the students’ last test, which is tomorrow. I had to cover a lot of information, from the Enlightenment through the Scientific Revolution, and on through the American, French, and Latin American Revolutions. I had to end with the Industrial Revolution. That’s a semester’s worth of information to teach in a class that has been cut short already by morning testing, in a building with no AC on an eighty-something degree day in front of students who I had only known for a few days. I didn’t even want to be there, so imagine how they felt. However, as soon as I started, I was fine. I had planned my lesson well, and was comfortable in my knowledge. I was able to guide them through most of the information they needed to know for the test tomorrow.
So I survived three lessons, right? Wrong. I did more than just survive them. I learned from them, and adapted my teaching style. As I ended each lesson, my mentor teacher gave me feedback, telling me what the students did or did no respond to, what they seemed to like about my teaching and what seemed to turn them off. By the time my third lesson rolled around, I was almost letting the class teach itself. They were connecting one historical event and effect to another, and all I had to do was give a little bit of correction or prompting here and there. The notes almost wrote themselves. I felt like I was really able to get through to that class, and that they took a lot away from the lesson.
I had talked at least a little bit with almost all of my students, and talked to the class as a whole comfortably as well. I asked them to help me give them a good lesson, and I really think they took that to heart.
Eventually, my terror at the idea of teaching relative strangers evaporated, turning into a crazy adrenaline rush when I realized that I WAS TEACHING! I also realized that these weren’t total strangers I was teaching, and I had been building relationships unconsciously from the beginning. I knew names, faces, and who to make sure had enough time to copy notes. When three o’clock rolled around, I got cut off with about ten minutes of class left. I was reluctant to leave because the class was being so awesome, but I left and let Ms. Kendrick take over. I must have had the biggest, silliest grin on my face
when I was leaving the building, because the security guard couldn’t stop laughing at me. I had faced my biggest fear about teaching, in possibly one of the toughest environments I might ever face it in, and I had overcome that fear and taught effectively.
My experience with Ms. Kendrick taught me a number of things. Not only is it important to believe in myself and my abilities, but it is also important to believe in my students and their abilities. Just because they don’t respond to a certain method or persona does not mean that they are unwilling or unable to learn. In any classroom, urban or otherwise, it is important to be more than just a voice in the background like Charlie Brown’s teacher. And finally, something as simple as noticing a student, or asking if they understand, or asking if they have anything to add can show them that you care about their ideas and opinions, and when they understand this, they will be engaged in your class. I know everything will not be as easy as these students (yes, these problematic, troubled, urban students made it easy!) made it for me, but I have some knowledge and experience to work with now, and help me overcome obstacles in the future.
When I realized that I wanted to stay and finish my lesson today, that was when it clicked for me. I really do want to teach. I think I am going to love what I do, and I’m excited for my future as an educator.