27 November 2011

soapbox: knowing your students

One of the criticisms I get from the higher-ups is that I try too hard to be liked, or to be students' friends. To some degree, I agree. My students sometimes try to take advantage of the rapport I have with them. That's what I'm working hardest at this year.

However, there are two reasons this is a problem of mine, which come from some of my educational philosophy:

  1. One of the best things you can do for your students is know their names.
  2. As with any job, you have to figure out how to really have fun and enjoy it.
1. Teaching isn't about sharing knowledge, it's about getting students to want knowledge. All anyone needs is desire, and that will lead them to knowledge, practice, and eventually skills. It's like the cheesy quote on my faculty room door says: "Students won't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

When I was student teaching, I had six periods of over forty students each. My mentor teacher told me it's not worth it to get to know their names because there's just too many, and they all change at the semester. Then my advisor from the university told me it's actually a very big deal to know their names, and that I should try, no matter how many students there are and no matter how short a time I have with them. Ever since then, I have taken it seriously, and the more you do something, the easier it gets.

In retrospect, I think it's a big deal first of all to show students that you know they exist. Secondly, when you know a student's name, you start to see that student's face when you grade assignments and projects, which forces you to get to know them. You can randomly comment about a project they did particularly well. You can see where they're struggling without them coming up and asking for help, as so many teenagers are so shy.

2. When I tell people that I teach junior high, they either admire my apparent saintly efforts, or subconsciously mock them. This age group is one of the roughest. Unlike most people, I loved my junior high days. Junior high was the pinnacle of childhood fun. I was smart enough to play more challenging games, but not old enough for girls to have taken over my life. This nostalgia helps me enjoy my time with that age group now.

In other words, I just let go to some degree and be myself. (Of course, being a public employee means I have a public standard to live up to.) I'm not trying to be the best teacher of all time. I'm just trying to have fun while doing a good job.

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