Saturday, November 13, 2010

Classroom full of mini-me's

I had been out of classroom teaching for about 7 years when I took my current job. Perhaps getting out of teaching for so many years has delayed my development or perhaps it has made it possible. Maybe since I’ve been outside the classroom, it’s helped me to avoid getting bogged down. I know what it’s like to be a teacher responsible for a large group of noisy, active, indifferent students. Most days, you’re just trying to make it through without a fight breaking out or losing your dignity. When I taught in a small community in Canada’s Eastern Arctic, it was a good day when the kids showed up before noon, and no one threw a chair.

I hadn’t been away from education during my time outside the classroom. I was working as an academic advisor at a university. Also, I had been involved in the education of my two older girls. Like everyone else, I had opinions of what made a good and a bad teacher, but nothing had really hardened in my mind regarding what kind of teacher I was. If pushed, I suppose I would have said I was just your run-of-the-mill, typical English teacher. Not bad, just not particularly inspiring either. I would see a spark in a few students each year, and that was enough to help me carry on.

For a while I read about home schooling and thought about doing that with my own kids. What intrigued me about home schooling was the self-directed learning. I certainly did not like the vision of a mini, pseudo classroom in my home I read about in some books and websites. I wanted to give my daughters the space and time to examine and investigate their own interests. Financial reality set in though, and off they went to French Immersion (something I can’t help them with anyway) and off I went to part-time work at the university.

I have no respect for the type of teacher (and I’ve known several) who teach subjects not students. You know, the ones who have their lessons in a folder with the date on them and can whip out the plan for the day because they’ve been doing it that way for the last 5 or 10 or 20 years. In my experience, most teachers are not like this, but we generally do have a hard time with letting go. We like to have control in a classroom. We like to know what’s going to happen next. No surprises, since that might lead to chaos. Who can blame us with a room full of kids to deal with if we want to ensure a sense of order?

However, I think we need to shake things up. Well, I don’t really know what “we” need, but I know what I need. I need to know that as a teacher I’m not just filling in holes. I don’t know enough about anything to call myself an expert. I’m always just learning. Why do I need to pretend that I’m an expert teacher? Who says I have to have all the answers before I go in front of a class? I think it would be a dream come true for students to ask a question for which I don’t have the answer. It means they are thinking for themselves and asking their own questions, not just shooting back at me the questions they think I want them to ask.

I don’t want to produce a classroom full of mini-me’s. I just finished telling you I don’t have any answers, so why create more people like me!?

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