I’ll be first to admit that I am absolutely embarrassed by my first few years of teaching. I was new, I was young, I was not “Teacher of the Year” material at that point. Don’t get me wrong….I totally thought I was doing great things. I taught my heart out, with what little bit of teaching knowledge I had. I’m not here to blame anyone, and I’m sure most teachers had great college classes that taught them these wonderful pedagogy that I was deprived of, but I will tell you that my college teaching classes taught me very little about the actual art of teaching. And an art is exactly what teaching effectively is. My professors went to great lengths to teach me how to write an amazing lesson plan (of which my current lesson plans are scribbled on a piece of paper the topic and the materials I need.) They went to great lengths to teach me how to use multimedia. They told me all about the great “theories” of behavior management. What they didn’t tell me is, what are some great techniques for teaching fractions. How do you create effective cooperative learning groups? What are amazing ways to teach discovery learning?
My student teaching period (which was in three different high school maths) wasn’t a whole lot of help either. I didn’t feel as if I was given any great techniques on teaching. I was given a couple of days to watch her, which was stand up and lecture for a little bit, give them their assignment, and voila! she was done. After those first couple of days, she kind of “threw me to the wolves” one might call it. I was given a teacher’s text book….. and that was it; no resources, no workbooks, no nothing. So what did I do? I stood in the front of the room, told them how to do the lesson, gave them the assignment, and voila! I was done. She would reflect with me on things I had done right/wrong, but never introduced me to any kind of differentiation for the different learners in the class.
Then I was hired for my first teaching gig. I was the new 9th grade Algebra I teacher in a local jr. high. Ready to take on the world. The jr. high was about 95% free and reduced lunches (about 92% of those being “free”), and over 20% English language learners. I was warned that it was not a good situation. I could tell by the questions the principal posed in the interview, that he was not well liked and that he was looking for someone to be his snitch. I answered him the way I knew he wanted me to answer because I needed a job. It didn’t take him long to realize that I wasn’t the “snitch” type of person. He was a terrible boss, and I do blame him for holding me back as a teacher, for a lack of encouragement, and for making my life a living hell all together.
I did love the students in that school though. They were caring, loving, compassionate students who truly appreciated the things I would do for them. I realized that standing up and just telling them how to do the assignment was not working. I began searching for resource books to help me find more interesting ways to teach the lesson. I looked for better worksheets that made practicing the concepts more fun. I dug for innovative ways to help them remember the concepts we were working on.
It wasn’t until I moved to a different town and was in a different school that I was able to find the love of teaching that I was missing. My new principal didn’t have any vendetta with me. For the first time in my teaching career, I finally felt appreciated. I found a resource book called Hands On Math. I had actually had it a couple of years, but never really took the time to look through it. What a gold mine that book was. It wasn’t really that book alone, but along with it my personal goal to find as many hands-on lessons and activities I could find. Could I teach every concept in a way that caused ALL students to be ACTIVE learners? I still haven’t reached that goal yet, but I can easily say that most of my lessons require the students to discover and explore the concept or at the least be active in some form or manner. I recently went to a Kagan workshop. I realized that this was exactly the type of classroom I had been striving for. One that students actively participate in and enjoy coming to.
Back to the question in the title: “Who really taught you how to teach?” Did my college classes teach me how to teach? No. Did my mentor teacher, while student teaching, teach me how to teach? No. Did I teach myself how to teach? No. It was combination of all of those things, but most importantly it was my desire to turn my classroom into something more special than the traditional “teacher teaches, students learn” atmosphere. It was my obsession with making sure that all students learned. It’s easy to let little “Susie”, who never causes any problems, is as quiet as a mouse, but doesn’t understand a thing about what you’re doing, sit and be the shy person she is. It’s also very easy to send that wild, crazy, clown in your classroom to the office every day to let the principal deal with. I make it my mission to make “little Susie” want to participate. It’s my ultimate goal to make the “class clown” focus his/her energy into the activity we’re working on, to keep them from acting up. So now I ask you…..who taught you how to teach? I hope that you will click on the “Comment” at the top of this post and tell me who taught you how to teach. Thank you for listening to my story and for sharing yours.