Tuesday, September 9, 2008

[In]experienced teaching

My mother unintentionally, but quite directly, gave me a great piece of advice/comfort over the weekend. She hadn't even heard my insecure musings about teaching a new class, and being a newb in general (*shuddering* Mom, are you reading my blog?). Basically she called out of the blue to talk to me about how experience is a teacher's best weapon, and that we can only really learn the success rate of a given discussion or assignment after we've tried it a few times.

*Rolling eyes as one can only roll eyes at mother* So my mom says that what I need is experience. I knew that! But she went on (I had no part in this conversation, by the way) and said that this is not to say that inexperienced teachers are inherently unsuccessful, of course not. Slightly more encouraging. What will carry me through in the meantime, she says, is consistent and insistent enthusiasm, plus lots of energy. Its contagious, keeps the kids awake, and might make them wonder--what's so great about writing, that she's so excited about it?

Obviously, there's other stuff involved. Writing theory, rhetoric; Pathos, Ethos and Abedneg--wait, wait, sorry. D'Artagnon. I've read it, taught it, but in the end I need to draw from what I know about writing. There needs to be more of it. So, my students write a lot. They certainly write more than they read. They talk about what they read about, and then write about what they talked about. They write in all sorts of different forms, to different audiences. And I comment back, in detail, on every single thing that they write. I love it. It's my favorite part of the job.

This year I am really honing in on discussion skills, and *gasp* its working! Is it the students? Is it me? They never did this last year! Today, I couldn't get them to stop talking. Hands were raised, everywhere I looked; faces were engaged, pencils were scribbling; they were looking at one another and responding to each other...what a rush. The only student who sits out and spends the entire time connected to her blackberry, or rolling her eyes, is the daughter of my high school dean. Oh, the irony.

So, back to enthusiasm-it's all I got; on a startling majority of my semester evaluations, students write that they appreciate my enthusiasm. I am still not entirely sure what this means. In fact, I'm not really sure exactly how to take those evaluations, what with the scantron and the "strongly agree/disagree" survey. Ick. There are some random odds and ends in written section that make me smile, but rarely anything about any of the assignments. Let's face it: by the time the students have filled out all those bubbles, they've reverted to standardized test mode and quit doing any thinking. So, this got me to thinking...

(whoops! more digressions)
The folks into student portfolios like to have a reflective letter included to serve as a 'road map' of the writings contained in the collection. This is nice. It's kind of a 'feel good' read for the teacher, in which the student talks about how much they learned, and how great an experience it was, and how much more they enjoy writing now, and how they've grown as a writer.
Then, for the next portfolio at the end of the semester, they turn in the exact same letter. I've had it happen. Several times.

I'm sick of reflective letters. I'm sick of trying to patch assignments together based on theoretical methods of extracting the perfect reaction from students. I've already put them together, and assigned them--hell, a coupla semesters now. I can gauge, roughly, the success of the assignment based on the students writing, but what about their opinion of the scaffolding exercises? Did they make sense? Did they feel the discussion/reading/writing in class helped them for the larger assignment?
I'm desperate for honest feedback from the only people who really know my assignments--my students. So, for at least this semester--or until I gain some experience--I am coming up with a set of questions, specifically in reference to the latest assignment, for my students to answer anonymously. Typed. Optional, hell. No pressure, just give me some effin feedback.


Dedalus said...

Yeah, it's a problem. Are our moms reading this stuff? Well, yeah, probably. Wouldn't you, if you were her? How are we supposed to live with that knowledge? It's a problem. For any writer, of any kind.

I got an "A" in Crazy Beeyotch said...

My mom's an amazing woman; she is very good at everything she does--except holding back a scolding (or a whoopin) for "crude" language, like effin. "I know what EFF stands for!" she says.