Love and Literature in School

Tech Task #7: a podcast from yours truly!

The examples I use in there relate specifically to teaching English literature, but I feel the principle is the same for any subject.

The Ralph Waldo Emerson poem at the end can be found here, along with the rest of his work.  The group of writings entitled ‘Conduct of Life,’ from which ‘Beauty’ originates, can be found here (‘Beauty’ is in part 8).

Enjoy!

Resource Site for New Teachers

Betsy’s Classroom Teaching Resources

I ran across this website the other day, and I just thought I’d share.  It’s mostly for elementary school teachers, but there are still some really great ideas, aids, and a ton of resources there if you’re looking.

The site creator, Betsy Weigle, posts resources for student teachers, new teachers, classroom management and discipline, and all that sort of thing.  Her site is geared towards helping teachers not get stressed out about their work, so that they can be happy with their jobs and help their students be successful and happy at the same time.  Giving it a look-see will be well worth your time, especially if you’re as new to this as I am and are looking at teaching the younger grades.

That’s all.  So long!

Exceptional Children

Almost every teacher who has ever mentioned this subject to me says the same thing: they don’t teach you nearly enough about exceptional children in university.

The strange part about that, I find, is that many of the teachers who have told me that were university professors.  So they know about the issue, but…they have no intention of fixing it?  Or they are unable to do so? I understand that changing the curriculum for ANYTHING is extremely time-consuming, but…I don’t know.  I don’t blame any of my professors for the lack of training available; it just seems like a strange situation.

To be perfectly honest, I’m pretty nervous about teaching students with special needs.  I have been informed ahead of time that my training here at university will not even come close to preparing me for those students, and that is not a confidence booster.  I worry that I will fail them.  I worry that I will make mistakes, or I won’t do everything I can/should, and they won’t get the kind of care/attention/education they need and deserve.

I have every intention of doing everything in my power to help every single one of my students succeed.  But what good are my intentions when my training is insufficient?  I am a high achiever.  I don’t feel comfortable giving anything less than my best to anyone I serve, and the idea that there is no way I will be able to do that (even if it’s only at first) disturbs me.  I will learn on the job, or so I assume, but…how can that possibly be good enough?

If there is anyone reading this who has teaching experience in this realm, give me a shout.  My insecurities as a teacher-in-training could really use some beating down just now.

What Will YOU Do?

As a student, I witnessed that not many students excelled in/cared about/wanted to pursue a career in art.  Oh, they enjoyed the projects for the most part, and did their best in class, but for most students art was an ‘easy credit’.  As someone who plans to teach art, that’s pretty much the definition of unacceptable to me.  I’m under no illusions that my classes will produce hundreds of little artistic geniuses, but my hope is that I can make art more than an easy path to graduation for my students.

I believe that learning art is like learning a universal language: it can help you communicate with just about anyone.  I personally follow the work of artists from America, Brazil, Russia, Korea, Denmark, Japan, India, Switzerland, and a hundred other places – painters, digital artists, sketch artists, photographers, fashion designers, comic artists, storybook illustrators – you name it.  The internet is instrumental in this, of course, but the fact remains that the common language there is ART.  And that is one h*** of a beautiful language.  I don’t think there is anything better than being able to teach that language to children.

Because of that, I essentially have only two simple goals as a teacher.
1. I want my students to be better artists when they leave my class than when they started.
2. I want my students to feel that art, in whatever form they desire, can be a part of their lives even if they don’t pursue it as a career.

So here’s the part where this is relevant to you: most people become teachers because a) they love their subject, and/or b) they love and want to help kids.  But we talk about why we want to teach in general all the time.  My question for you people out there is: why do you think it’s important to teach the specific subjects you intend to teach?  Why did you choose your major/minor?  Why do you feel it’s important to contribute that knowledge to your students’ future lives?

Why do you, or will you, matter as a teacher?

Motivation

Many of my classmates in education seem to be anxious over this one common thing:  How do we motivate our students?  How do we keep them interested?  How do we inspire them?  How do we get them excited about learning?

Last semester in ECS 100, whenever someone asked a question like that, the response was always the same.  “When you find out, let me know.”

Helpful, no?

….

…No.

But I can hardly blame them.  What I’ve gleaned during my almost-year in this program is that there isn’t an answer to that problem because – and here’s the shocking part – we are not robots.  We are not the Borg.  We are individual people, which means that the techniques that work for one teacher in one classroom in one year may not work for another teacher, or even for the same teacher with a different group of students.

I’ve come to realize that when we ask our professors how we are going to keep our students interested, we are falling into the trap of thinking that we are no longer students.  We are still students.  In fact, we’re entering a profession where we have to be even better students than our students, because in order to do well at our jobs we need to learn quickly and efficiently all the time and then, every single day, prove and apply what we learned.  We need to sit up and pay attention, which I will be the first to admit I don’t always do.

I think that, somewhere in our heads, we all already have some kind of idea of how to answer that question.  How do you keep students interested?  Well…what kept you motivated?  What made you stop chatting with your friends and pay attention to what the teacher was saying?  What bored you?  What made you turn away or fall asleep? We’ve been witnesses to this profession our entire lives.  Now we just have to put it all together.

For instance, when I was in the eighth grade I made a powerpoint presentation on the country of Ireland.  It was a terrible presentation – half an hour long or something ridiculous like that.  The only advice my teacher gave me afterwards was to not put anything in a presentation that I wouldn’t be interested in hearing about from someone else’s presentation.  That is something that stuck with me, and which I still use as a personal standard to measure my presentations and lessons against.  If someone else were saying that, would I be interested, or would I silently be praying for the building to collapse on their head?

It’s not always effective.  Not everyone is like me.  I’m sometimes interested in some pretty obscure things, or subjects that are boring or strange to most people.  But until mankind comes up with a way to read minds, it’s something that keeps my wandering brain in check…most of the time.

There is no absolute answer – nothing that says, “If you do this, your students are guaranteed to be interested.”  Professors can show you how to work out the problem, here and there, but they can’t fix it for you, because if you’re going to be a teacher, you’ve got to be a student, too.  This problem of how to keep your kids interested and motivated – that’s your project; your pop quiz; your final exam.  And really, when was the last time a teacher wrote a test for you?

Murderers!

(I like exclamation marks.  Can you tell?)

I have found that I quite like this gentleman, Marvin Bartel, Ed. D.  I intend to be an Art/English teacher in the future, and he has some very interesting ideas on creative teaching.  His writing on the subject is prolific, but one thing of his that I thought was really instructive was his list of Ten Classroom Creativity Killers.  In the article he expands on each one and tells how to NOT kill creativity in the classroom.  I would encourage all of you to read it, because his ideas are excellent, but for those without the time or inclination, here is the basic list:

I kill creativity in the classroom when…

1. I encourage renting (borrowing) instead of owning ideas.

2. I assign grades without providing informative feedback.

3. I see a lot of cliché symbols instead of original or observed representation of experience.

4. I demonstrate instead of having students practice.

5. I show an example instead of defining a problem.

6. I praise neatness and conformity more than expressive original work.

7. I give freedom without focus.

8. I make suggestions instead of asking open questions.

9. I give an answer instead of teaching problem solving experimentation methods.

10. I allow students to copy other artists rather than learning to read their minds.

Reading through this list, I have to say that I’ve experience all of these problems with my teachers at one time or another – and heck, I’ve probably been guilty of a few of them, even with the limited amount of teaching I’ve done.  Probably numbers 4, 5, 6, and 10 are the areas in which I can most improve.

4. I am training to teach in the subjects I love, which is wonderful and fantastic.  The only problem with it is that when I love something, I want to do it.  I like demonstrating.  Oh, I hate watching demonstrations – but that’s double standards for you.  I know I’ll have to kill my urge to demonstrate all the time.  A lot of students like to do hands-on work, which means that the more time I spend showing, the less time they get to spend doing.

5. Much of the time, I find that I understand a problem in my head, but I don’t know how to vocalize it so that everyone else will understand.  So when I find an example of a similar problem/solution, I’ll use that instead of trying to say what’s in my head.  That doesn’t mean it will be helpful to everyone else, of course.  While an example may fit into the network of puzzle pieces in my brain, it won’t necessarily fit everyone else.  Instead of using examples, then, I should think of ways to explain things simply and effectively in my own words.  I already practice doing this – anytime I encounter a particularly complex idea, I try to distill it down to its most basic forms so that anyone can understand it.

6. I am the sort of person who likes structure, realistic work, and well-executed ideas.  I sometimes have difficulty judging or understanding more experimental, expressive, or abstract work.  As a teacher, however, I need to be able to look beyond my own personal preferences to judge the actual worth of any piece I am given to mark.  Not everyone thinks or creates in the same way, and I believe it is essential for teachers to be open to all forms of creativity in their classrooms.  That is what I aspire to.

Can you see anything on the list that you think is or will be an issue for you, as future teachers?