February 12, 2011

Would it make you happy if I wore a sweater with apples on it?

Ahh, being a teacher. It comes with such a huge stigma. No matter who you are or where you live, you feel like you are an expert on what it means to be a good teacher. Can you fault anyone for this? Not really. Everyone (even if they only have an eighth grade education) feels like they are an expert because the majority of their childhoods were spent confined within the four walls of a classroom. Those memories lead to very specific ideas about what teachers should look like and how they should behave.

It's pretty widely accepted that "good" teachers care about children, are knowledgeable about their subject matter, are effective communicators, provide timely feedback on assignments, and have a well-managed classroom where students can be seen working quietly at their desks with their eyes on their own papers. We can also pretty easily agree that "bad" teachers don't enjoy the company of children, yell a lot, arbitrarily assign grades, and have post-apocalyptic looking classrooms where no learning seems to be taking place. 

The difference between the two seems pretty obvious right? Things get to be a little problematic, however, when you think about the goal of education. Where in life are you forced to sit quietly and do a pile of worksheets, lest you receive a check mark beside your name? Prison? Well, actually you get to choose your activities in prison. Factory worker? Maybe...

Can't we all agree that we want students to grow up to be critical thinkers ready to tackle the world's problems? Is that going to be accomplished by sitting quietly and keeping their eyes on their own papers? 

While I have accepted the fact that I can only control what goes on within the four walls of my classroom, I remain idealistic. I try to create a classroom environment where students are free to explore topics of their choice and show their learning in a way that is meaningful for them. Do you know where problems arise? When students remember their very concrete ideas about what teachers should do and what school should be like. Sometimes I feel like my methods contradict many of my students' images of what a "real teacher" should be teaching. I feel like every once in a while I have to assign book work or worksheets to prove my credibility. These type of assignments define "school" for many students who have had to endure the "drill and kill" approach for years. 

So how do I win these students over and prove to them that school is not all about textbooks and worksheets? I'm thinking of bringing back "teacher clothes". You know, things like too-short patterned pants, mock turtlenecks, denim jumpers, and "fun" socks. 

The true irony of it all is this. When I enter a class, do you know what I want a teacher to do? Lecture to me while I silently take notes. I want to disappear and I want it to all be over as soon as possible. I think this is a result of enduring years of textbooks and worksheets. I do not want my students to suffer this same fate. Apple sweaters are definitely the answer, don't you think?

2 comments:

sara said...

Linda, oh my word, I can completely and totally relate to everything on this blog post...especially "I try to create a classroom environment where students are free to explore topics of their choice and show their learning in a way that is meaningful for them." Like you, I've found myself frustrated so many times because students have this "idea" of what school's supposed to be like (worksheets, silence, name on board if you so much as cough too excessively, etc.), and it's SO difficult to change it for them! They're used to going through the school day, barely activating their brains, and when we attempt challenging tasks-like inquiry-based projects, for example- it makes them have to think; since they're not at all used to that type of deeper thinking, many of them resist!! I've got a post somewhat similar when I explore why I think my students resist "fun" learning sometimes. I'm so glad we connected! (Sorry I practically wrote a book, though!) :)

Linda Dunnavant said...

Thanks for your comment! It is nice to meet a kindred spirit out there. I'm hoping to really commit to doing what I know is best for the students this year. It's just so hard to break away from what people think a "good" teacher should be doing. I'm glad we connected too. It definitely helps to know I'm not the only one struggling with these things.

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