Sunday, March 17, 2013

Student for a Day

I had the opportunity this past Thursday to spend the day observing other classes. I was told that I could observe any classes that I wanted to. The district even payed for a sub to come in and teach my classes for the day. It was a pretty sweet deal.

I could have observed a bunch of math classes but instead I chose to go through a typical day as a sophomore student at my high school. Let me tell you, it was a good choice. As a teacher, I had completely lost sight of who these people (my students) were. I see them in my class and assume that if they're disinterested in my class, they must be disinterested in general. As I went from class to class, however, it dawned on me that all of my students are just normal people (DUH!) and some of them just don't enjoy geometry or its challenges. I should say that these are things that I knew academically before but things that I now have an intuitive grasp on. Let me walk you through my day:

I started the day with a lit test. It was dull and took the entire period. Then I had geometry. We had a quiz at the end of the period there and some review before that. Then it was biology, in which we were taking the OAKS test (Oregon state science test). Some of us were finished with the test, though (we'll pretend that I was one of those students), so we went back to the classroom from the computer lab and did a little review of GATTACA. We had to think about whether we'd actually want to live in the GATTACA universe. It was nice to have the opportunity to think openly and critically about something. I mean, it was nice to be able to openly express my opinion about something. Then I had social studies. We were watching a movie called Walk Out. It's about a bunch of Latino students in LA who staged a walk out in the MLK/Viet Nam era of activism in order to procure a better education for themselves. Movies are so nice. Then lunch and then my day ended with French II. French was clearly the best class of the day. It was fun, a little crazy, and kept me on my toes. We made French haikus. 

One thing that really stuck with me is how much I don't like these short periods. I didn't feel like I actually had a complete lesson in any of my classes. Admittedly, I was testing in most of them. Still, even in the social studies and French classes, the lessons were a clear beginning. I think we may have gotten into the middle? But we certainly did not get to the ending. It was frustrating as a student. It was going to a class, starting a thought and then, before being able to complete that thought, going to another class to start another thought. 

How will this experience change how I will teach my class, you ask? I doubt it will have much real impact, actually. Some would say that that would make it a waste of a day, a waste of the substitute's time, and a waste of the taxpayers' money. I don't think it's a waste at all. I spent a day getting to better know the world of my students. That gives me the capacity to be more appropriately compassionate, understanding, & reliable to them. That's not a waste at all. 

Monday, March 4, 2013


Yeah, that's a general post title. At the time of this writing, I'm at a dance workshop. The workshop leader is a young woman who is clearly a very good dancer. Problem is, she's not a great teacher.

She's teaching about shifting momentum from the lead to the follow. Watching her teach has renewed my respect for my profession. There have been several occasions during which I have thought of something I want to interject that could help her instruct her students. She keeps mentioning that the follow needs to use the lead's momentum. She never explains what that means though. I suppose it's supposed to be common knowledge. But it is clear that not everyone does.

Some of the dancers are not following some of her basic instructions. She's explaining what they ought to be doing but not providing specific enough feedback for her students to realize what they're doing wrong. I should say that I'm not a dancer and I would not be able to do what these dancers are trying to do. But I can see that some of the dancers are not doing what she was doing exactly.

This is happening in part due to not adequately assessing the dancers' performance.

I just wanted to share this because its pointing out to me how much better learning is if we do our jobs well: adequately assess, provide specific feedback.

That said, the dancers are getting the moves. They're getting it through practice, specific conversations about the moves, and determination to get it right. That said, the dancers who are better listeners and observers are getting better at the moves more quickly than those who are not. 

That is all.