06 December 2011

10 Obstacles to Great Teaching

I recently stumbled upon an old book called A Teacher Is Many Things by Earl V. Pullias and James D. Young. I'm not ready to read a full non-fiction education book (I'm still non-fiction-ed out from How Lincoln Learned to Read) but the second chapter was good, so I'll attempt to paraphrase and summarize it.

10 Obstacles to Great Teaching

1. Cynicism
Young teachers come in all hopeful and full of ideals, only to have crabby teachers, bad students, and relatively bad pay wash those hopes and ideals away and replace them with a cynical attitude. "The teacher must work in it as a physician works in the midst of a deadly plague." Avoid infection in order to be able to heal others.

2. Narrowness
Modern life requires specialization, often at the neglect of broad understanding. It can lead to efficiency at the cost of a sense of purpose. (See my post about motivation to see the importance of purpose.) Fix it through (a) wide reading outside one's specialization, (b) association with individuals outside one's specialization, (c) varied recreational activity, (d) travel, (e) cultivating broad interests, (f) a relationship with nature, and (g) selfless activity.

3. Lack of purpose (an effect of cynicism and narrowness above)
Education is important, but cynicism and narrowness often beat the ideals and purpose out of us. The answer is professional renewal through training, study, and vacation. (See The Five Dollar Lawn.)

4. Failing to understand people
Ignorance, prejudice, and confusion. Just get to know your students, and get to know basic human development.

5. Clutter and crowdedness
This one is all the more meaningful in our present Age of Information. I have so many different things I want to know, do, and teach, that sometimes I don't know where to start and therefore fail to start at all. As opposed as I am to cheesy wall art (Live Laugh Love, anyone?), I saw one that I actually wouldn't mind having on my wall: Simplify. (Except the one I saw was in Papyrus. Thumbs down.)

6. Pedantry
I had to look this one up to find that it's when a person uses such precise vocabulary as to show off his knowledge. Sure, if we all used words exactly the same, this would be great. No confusion! Unfortunately, we understand words differently, or sometimes we don't understand them at all. The answer? Less teaching, more showing and doing. Projechitecture anyone? Although before I move on, it's still very important for students to become familiar with the terminology used in order to communicate effectively in the future.

7. Dullness or failure of imagination
I've long believed that enthusiasm, or a love for your subject, is one of the two most important factors in being a decent teacher. (The other is a love for your students.) Enthusiasm will breed excitement, imagination, and creativity into a lesson. Lose enthusiasm and you lose the gusto for extra effort, and you become dull.

8. Routine
We need to recognize the two facets of any career: the profane and the sacred. Profane activities encompass the routine aspects of a job, the things you do nearly every day, all day. Sacred events are those that people wrongfully use to guide them toward a chosen career. These are the impressive things to be seen. For example, you may want to become a professional basketball player and make the game-winning shot, failing to consider the years and years of routine practice that led to that moment. We need to find a way to enjoy the routine in order to achieve the impressive.

9. No personality
In order to enjoy the routine, you have to find a way to be yourself at your job. Of course, this has to be a good version of yourself. "Lazy" is not a personality trait, it's a vice.

10. Fatigue and illness
One thing that bothers me about several of the inspirational teacher movies out there is that the protagonist teacher often becomes great at the expense of his/her own life or health. Teaching is tough, especially if you're trying to do it well. I want to be a good teacher, but I also want to keep my family and my health intact. (a) Know your limits. (b) Renew yourself. (c) Keep some good friends handy.

That's it. I tried to keep the summaries as short as possible. Sorry if it's too long still. Sorry if it's too vague.

1 comment:

  1. Just stumbled across your blog. Wow, I take back all the bad stuff I've said about you. Hmmm, come to think of it, there's nothing to take back. I applaud the enthusiasm in which you tackle teaching, philosophy, and Monopoly! And Ashley.