My classroom: contained chaos and wonky laboratory

Something you do all the time in student teaching is reflect. It is a daily requirement that you you sit down with your cooperating teacher and formally/informally discuss what went well, and (in my case) what went terribly wrong.

Like that one time I was teaching some Romantic fireside poetry and had no freakin’ idea what was going on. I think I literally said “I have no clue” during the lesson. I still don’t think I know (or care, really).

But anyway. In student teaching you’re a baby. A baby that has to ‘goo’ and ‘gaahh’ and babble through whatever your curriculum might be—-but at least you have an adult there with you, verbally processing it all. Not to mention your supervisor AND your mentor professors. Reflect, reflect, reflect. It helps you not repeat whatever gawd-awful act you put on the teacher stage.

Something difficult (on most days) during these first years of teaching is to methodically reflect. To specifically replay it all, saying “What didn’t work? What did? How can I change that?” Most of the time I’m like, “Dear lord I don’t even want to think about what just happened.” So I don’t. Bad move.

Bad move, because if I keep repeating the same strategies that are supposed to be working according to some theorist, it can be a trap. Take cooperative learning, for example. Everyone loves cooperative learning—it’s business-oriented and college-oriented, preparing students for college and the real world. I love cooperative learning, especially as an adult. I even find it fun, most of the time. But you cannot expect middle-schoolers to learn cooperatively unless you train them (because they WILL throw things), and then you have to figure out how to train them. If a strategy or technique doesn’t work, then refine it or lose it. If it doesn’t equal learning in that context, then ditch it and don’t waste your time. This is something I didn’t even think or figure out until my second year of teaching.

I don’t know if this makes me a teaching imbecile or what, but it has taken me two years to realize that if you do not make a swift effort to experiment and take note of the results, you’re flying blind in a wind tunnel of inevitable despair. You will live the insanity fallacy, believing that if you keep doing what you are doing and it’s not working, you should keep doing the same thing because who knows? It may work some day. Nope.

My room is this weird amoeba blob that is different every day because 1. I always have a different group of students in each class, and 2. my curriculum is all my own, without any guidance unless I put forth the effort to seek it out.  And I need a lot of guidance. I think the beauty of it is that it may sometimes be loud, kids may be lying on the floor while writing or sitting on desks, but they’re engaged and some pretty great learning happens.  Some times, less learning happens than should be happening. I have found that when I take time to stop and think like a weird teacher scientist, and write on my brain my observations and reflections, I’m happier and more in control of my teaching. Hopefully, that control will continue to grow.

-S

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