Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tee-Ball for Teachers

The nine lessons delivered in front of the watchful eyes of veteran teachers are history, and now is the time to reflect on the usefulness of the experience. While the experiment was not completely devoid of merit, I believe that it falls hopelessly short of preparing teachers for the classrooms they will be leading in a manner of weeks.

I don't want to dwell on this point, but there were obviously fewer students in our section than there will be in a real classroom. This can't be helped. But here's a useful change that can be made- encourage "students" to act as though they were real adolescents. Real students will not sit quietly while bad lessons are being thrown in their direction. Real students will not stay awake if the lessons are not exciting, or if the teacher is not a master of the classroom. Real students are not so forgiving when you lose your train of thought during a lesson. If this experiment was aiming for realism, then it comes up miles short of the finish line.

To make an analogy: the "MTCers as students" teaching is to real classroom teaching as hitting from a softball tee is to stepping in against Roger Clemens. Not anyone can deliver a lesson to a panel of receptive peers, but then again, not everyone can hit a ball off a tee. Most people, though, can write a lesson plan and deliver it in front of a respectful audience. Far fewer people can step into a room of rowdy high schoolers and deliver the same lesson. If you can keep students awake, maintain discipline, and still get students to learn your lesson, it's the teaching equivalent of getting a base hit against the Rocket. I'm afraid that the nine lessons we delivered have not provided any real batting practice.

We have not spent the past two weeks getting ready to teach students. We have been practicing how to pass an evaluation. This is unfortunate. Instead of learning how to become effective math or English teachers, we instead are learning how to look good in front of the camera. We focus on the newest hip-teacher tool, the six-step lesson plan, though as one of my MTC colleagues put it, "they used something different ten years ago, and they'll be teaching another technique in five years." Getting through to students is timeless, and though we touch on it in our lesson plans, we do not focus on that OBJECTIVE nearly enough.

Student teaching, for me at least, was a lot more useful experience. We dealt with a class of real students, none of whom cared how many steps we had in our lesson plan. All they cared about was whether we were bringing it: and "it" includes much more than a lesson. IF YOU DO NOT HAVE GOOD CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT, THESE STUDENTS WILL EAT YOUR LUNCH. We've heard this rhetoric before, but I don't think all of us truly understand the harsh reality of the statement. You will not be delivering your lessons to your friendly MTC peers, but to people who largely don't care about what you have to say, and aren't going to fake it for you. What are you going to do when they start snoring? What will you do when they talk and ignore your pleas to stop? Are you ready to dish out consequences in the real-world? In a few short weeks, we will find out.

I do not want to criticize the lessons in front of the veteran teachers without proposing any solution. I believe, and I know some (not all) of my colleague agree, that MTC "students" should test the classroom management skills of the teacher. I don't believe it should only be about content delivery, that we should have to just jump through our twenty hoops and be praised by our handlers. Instead, let your peers test your ability to maintain law and order in the classroom. If Evan is talking, tell him in no uncertain terms to be quiet. If Lily's throwing erasers, tell her she's staying after to clean them up. Practice discipline and classroom management, because as a first year teacher, YOU ARE THE ONE WHO IS GOING TO BE TESTED! There's no substitute for a real classroom of high schoolers, but that doesn't mean we should not try to replicate such an environment. When you are getting ready to face a 90 MPH fastball, you better practice against live pitching, not just hitting off a tee. In the future, I hope we can come up with a more realistic scenario to get first-years ready, one that involves more than just delivering lesson plans in front of a friendly audience.

Friday, July 15, 2005

To Tie or Not To Tie

Some people out there think ties make you look sharp. Other people think ties are sexy. Still other people think ties resemble nooses and are uncomfortable to boot. There are a lot of different opinions out there about ties. But I feel there is one equation that no one can dispute:
Wearing a tie=Dressing up=Looking professional

In my book, dressing up should be a requirement for anyone who works in a service industry. If you work with people, you need to look presentable. The person selling you a used car more than likely will be wearing tie. Is his job more important than teaching? If you are a teacher who doesn't "believe in ties," your outfit indicates that it is.

Those in the anti-tie camp may say, "I'm not trying to sell anything. I'm trying to teach. How does a tie help me do that?" First of all, you are trying to sell something. You're selling an image of yourself as a competent professional. A Scooby Doo shirt does not sell this image. A tie, if paired with a collared shirt and ironed slacks, does.

A tie does not inherently make you a better teacher, just as a magic feather did not really make Dumbo fly. But a tie sends the message that you are successful and competent, which in turn makes you feel more successful and competent. If you wear a tie, you will stand out from your kids, many of whom may be your size or larger. And, perhaps the biggest benefit, your students will treat you with more professional courtesy if they believe you are a professional and not just a slob with a teaching degree.

Teachers have an extremely important job, but you would not know that looking at the way some male teachers dress. While many of their students invest heavily in their wardrobes, teachers often look frumpish by comparison. Do you want your students to respect you? Then take a page from the entertainers and athletes whom they revere: style commands respect. If your students do not respect your clothes, then it is unlikely they will respect you. Clothes may not make the man, but you are foolish if you do not see at least a grain of truth in that maxim.

Ties may be a mark of the wealthy class, but you do not need to be wealthy to wear a tie. Many thrift stores sell ties for under a dollar, and Walmart offers many ties for under $15. If you are too proud to shop at a thrift store or Walmart for your clothes, then you are getting into the wrong profession in the first place. The point is this: ties are available to you, ties show you care about yourself and your position, and ties make your job a little bit easier. If you are a teacher who just "isn't a tie guy," you can still dress professionally, and I sincerely hope you do. But if you want to go that extra mile to look successful in the eyes of your students and co-workers, you might start by making a trip to Tie-land. It is an easy way to show your professionalism without saying a word.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Portrait of an Awkward Instructor

He's pacing around the room like a tiger in a bamboo cage, restless and confused. He awkwardly reassures himself that things are okay by constantly repeating the word as a mantra out loud and to himself. "This is the thesis, mmkay?" The man is devoid of enthusiasm or any sort of passion for the material he teaches. Is this some nightmarish instructor, or perhaps a video showing what not to do? Sadly, it is both of things and more. It is a video of myself, and a reminder of the things that I must improve on.

The good news is that the person on the video is not a finished product. I look nervous, and my constant use of the phrase "okay" is the manifestation of my nervousness. Saying okay constantly is not a habit for me: but this video showed me that I use this nervous device as a crutch. When I feel comfortable, I do not use it.

On the tape I look unenthusiastic. Perhaps this is because I have been sick recently, maybe it is related to my nerves. But the person I see on tape is much different than the one I watched last month during student teaching. With the kids I was confident and full of life: teaching my peers I seemed hesitant and afraid to make a mistake. I need to loosen up, or "thaw out" as one of my colleagues put it. When I stop putting pressure on myself to be perfect in front of my MTC peers, I will begin to actually creep closer toward perfection. For now, I want to focus on discarding the "okay" crutch, and work on bring more enthusiasm to our lessons. I am running a tight ship, but that doesn't mean I can't be happy while I do it.