Friday, September 10, 2010

Life in the Classroom for a Noob Teacher

As some of you may know, I'm doing my teaching practicum this semester as part of my MFA degree. I'm teaching freshman composition at the university where I got my BA.

I've had very little guidance, save some advice from a former instructor-turned-friend, and absolutely nothing else. I had to design my own course, write my own syllabus, and I'm teaching myself how to teach.

It's been experience.

The first week passed in a stomach-lurching blur. I don't freak out about public speaking, in general, but it's a totally different story when you're responsible for filling an hour three times a week in front of 22 people.

But after the first couple of classes I was past the being-nervous-in-front-of-people feeling. My stomach had calmed down. The butterflies had disappeared.

However, I was still left with the difficulty of not being able to fill an hour. I was laboring under the assumption that I needed to fill the entire time with lecture. Until I began to bore myself. I simply can't talk that long. And when the students were nodding off I knew it was time to try something different.

Of course, by that time I was convinced I was a crappy teacher and I was thinking to myself, "what the hell have I gotten myself into?" I had a panicked moment of doubt when I thought my carefully laid plans of the last few years were all a pile of shit and here I am in my (grmf)-ties and I've accrued massive student loan debt and it's way too late to discover now that I made a mistake.

Now, usually, I'm not a quitter. I'm stubborn. So I let that moment of panic pass and I looked at the problem logically. I asked myself: Do you like teaching? And I answered, actually, I really do like being in the classroom. I love the university atmosphere. And I like the idea of helping other people learn how to write. So all I had to do was figure out how to manage the classroom.

I'm sure this is not a revelation to anyone who teaches, but I decided to mix it up. Only lecture for maybe 20 minutes then engage the students in some kind of activity that requires their participation.

Last Wednesday we were talking about critical thinking and how it's like investigating and that the question is the investigator's most important tool. So we played a question game (not 20 questions, though I thought about that. I'm saving it for another day). And they loved it. It was a smashing success and they understood how it applied to our discussion. Someone even said, as they were loading up to leave (after the class lasted the full hour...yay!), "that was a great class!"

I got all warm and fuzzy inside.

So what am I learning by being a teacher? That I can do it as long as I'm determined and flexible and creative.

Yeah. I can do that.


Simon C. Larter said...

Congratulations on hitting your stride with the teaching thing, good lady! Yes, mixing it up for the students is always a good thing. In-class exercises were always the most interesting part for me.

Also, what are the grmf-ties? Go Read My Facebook-ties? Grumpy Motherf*****-ties? Getting Really Mad Female-ties?



Elle Strauss said...

Way to push through! Sounds like you're going to be an excellent teacher.

M. Bail said...

Really, Simon? You would ask a lady her age?

Simon C. Larter said...

Nope. Just what an acronym means. ;)

M. Bail said...

Oh, okay Simon. In that case: get ready for get ready me for?

thewritegroove said...

I am a professional teacher who now teaches teachers and one problem I've witnessed over and over again is how teachers back away from hands-on instructional practices as students get older. It's like we think they outgrown engaging activities, and then we wonder why they dislike school after elementary school.

Because of all the differenet learning styles, it's critical that we bring a variety of tools to our teaching. Those learning styles don't disappear with age.

I'm impressed that you are doing so dang well with such little help. We often teach as we were taught. Too many times that was the good old lecture. You stopped in the nick of time! Way to go!

thewritegroove said...

Oops! I'm always embarrassed when I overlook a typo. I really do know how to spell DIFFERENT! :)

M. Bail said...

thewritegroove-thanks for the kind words! I think any success I'm having has more to do with my blissful ignorance than anything else. I'm starting from scratch and figuring out for myself what works. I think the hour-long lecture is easier to tolerate the older you get, but freshman, I think, still have so much energy and they're excited to be in college. I don't want that to be crushed out of them just yet!

William Friskey said...

And I bet that class was much more fun for you, too. Part of teaching long term is maintaining sanity. Same old same old is bad enough for a week. Imagine a 10, 20, 30 year career.