Sunday, March 22, 2009

My Radical Side

In my never-ending quest to sort through the junk in our basement, I've come upon the many boxes of stuff I kept from my teaching years. I honestly didn't realize how much I'd saved thinking I'd want it again someday--or just for sentiment's sake (like my "Pot Pass", an ugly, heavy orange pot that students had to carry with them if they needed to use the restroom during class--it discouraged unnecessary trips and made good use of a kitchen utensil that would have ended up in the trash otherwise).

Some interesting observations based on my reveries through these boxes:

- I was a good teacher. Really. Not to sound immodest, but I was. I had good ideas (found a whole legal pad full of notes to myself about units I did or wanted to do), I was well-organized. I got excellent evaluations from my principal and usually good ones from my students, too. I found several binders full of teacher inservice information that I realized at a glance I never needed. Things like breaking down a skill you want to teach into its component parts, having clear objectives and assessing what you teach, circulating the room . . all these things were instinctive to me.

- Although I was a good teacher, I was a bad salesperson. My career as a Creative Memories consultant confirmed this to me. I LOVED teaching the classes and workshops; I HATED selling the products, or even selling people on the idea. The same with teaching high school English. I have several copies of my beginning of the year handout, and I basically had two rules each year: 1) you take responsibility for your own learning, and 2) don't do anything that keeps others from learning or me from teaching. If you want to learn, I will get you there. If you don't, I'd just as soon send you to the library for the hour so you're out of the way for the rest of us. I don't suppose that's a good quality in a public school teacher where a primary part of the job is to motivate the students to want to learn.

- I worked really, really hard at teaching. I would spend hours preparing my lessons (actually the preparation was my favorite part of the job). I would often wear myself out with the energy of the presentation. Keith saw a quote the other day that teaching is 10% preparation and 90% theater. I'd adjust the percentages there, but otherwise, that's pretty accurate in my case.

- When I taught high school English, I was basically preparing for one (or two) hours of teaching time every day, which got repeated over and over. And it still took hours of my time (although some of those hours were also spent in grading . . but the grading always pointed out skills that I then needed to teach--it was actually a form of assessing or diagnosing). Now, in homeschooling, I am preparing four or more hours worth of teaching time every day, covering 6-8 subject matters at a time, at two different grade levels. No wonder I'm burnt out!!!!!

- School districts back then (and I'm pessimistic enough to assume this hasn't changed) spent a ridiculous amount of time in meaningless and unproductive meetings . . . spent an obscene amount of money on paper and printing for memos, messages, handouts, mission statements, objectives, rules, standards, oh good heavens -- I had binders FULL of paperwork and articles that someone thought was pertinent to the topic at hand that I'm sure I NEVER read. Wow.

- My writing style hasn't changed a whole lot over the last twenty years. I found old handouts I had used in classes and they sounded like something I could have written yesterday. In an assignment I did for, I believe, one of my last classes in college before I graduated, I had commented that many people told me that they liked my writing because I had a distinctive voice -- my writing sounded like me. That's a comment I still hear. And that's one of my favorite comments to hear.

- Since I kind of expect I will eventually end up back in public education at some point, it will be really interesting to see what that looks like. I am such a different person than I was then. I have learned so much more about teaching and learning from homeschooling. And I'm afraid I'll be a bit less of an accommodating employee than I was before. I'll probably go into an interview saying, "This is who I am, this is how I teach, this is what I'm good at and what I'm not . . take me or leave me." I may be lucky to get a job at all.

As it stands now, I don't see myself being interested in playing the typical school game to keep a job. If I go back into public education, my goal will be to ensure that my students -- and any other students I can have an influence on -- get the best education they can, even if that's despite the school system. I'll probably be a radical. And we all know how popular they are.


Ona Marae said...

I love radicals, Gwen, and I think your blog sounds like least the you I remember. Renee thinks so too!

Meredith said...

Gwen, I am so glad to hear (er, READ) you talking (WRITING) about teaching. I'm in the process of getting my teaching certificate and I keep wondering if it's the right thing for me, but your entry was encouraging. I am looking forward to using my organization skills and theatrics. LOVE that quote from Keith! Though I'm not looking forward to the idea of "bringing work home" I anticipate that I would enjoy the preparation as well and wouldn't mind putting in the time. Thank you, Gwen, my encouragement angel today!! :)

GJK said...

Glad to hear you're thinking about teaching, Mer! Keep in mind that an English teacher has a lot more work to take home than a science teacher would -- teaching someone how to write requires you to read all the stuff they write! :)