Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Voice

I never heard a teacher mention it, but after a while, you start to develop a Bene Gesserit type of voice for classroom control. It's not so much that you can compel action with it, but there is a certain way of speak that I have found that instantly grabs a students attention and causes them to stop. It's not a yell or even that much of an increase in volume, it's simply a tone. I've usually used it with students in class, when they are more susceptible to me jerking their attention back from whatever was distracting them. But this has also happened in the hallway.

The first time I realized just what was going on was when I said one of the kid's names when she was horsing around in the hall with two other people. Immediately they all stopped and faced me. This was in a lot of ways, slightly creepy, that I had commanded this much attention through a name and a tone of voice.

I think part of this ability is directly related to the fact that I am a teacher and in a position of authority over these kids. But I believe that if I used that tone in the outside world, I'd be able to grab someones' attention, although, I do believe they would probably be slightly mad a me after I gained their attention.

On a completely separate note, here is a choice bit of conversation from today after I made a mistake on an integral in class:
Her: "Do you have stage fright?"
Me: "No. I'm up here acting every day and being heckled. I don't have any stage fright. It's simply chalkboard myopia."

N.B. Chalkboard myopia is the condition that explains why it is so easy to make mistakes on the board that you would never make if you were doing the problem by hand on a piece of paper.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A revelation

I am a crappy teacher. I am a good (especially for my first year) instructor. I am able to convey information to students well, adapt my explanations and have, to all reports, the patience of a saint. (Although when I think of saints, the two that come to mind, Augustine and Athanasius had relatively little patience. Especially Athanasius, who besides being a great writer of the early church was more or less a thug.) I had a student miss three weeks of class because she was out with mono and tell her mother that she was not worried about my classes, as I was a good enough teacher to get her caught up. (This information was conveyed to me by my boss, who is a very cool woman. I will probably write more about her later.) I was of course flattered, an happier to receive that compliment than the piece of (very tasty) zucchini bread soon after. I know my kids are learning. My biggest worry at the moment is what to do with my algebra class after they finish the textbook in late March.

So why do I say I am a crappy teacher?

I can't do the rest of it. My lesson plans are small notes to myself. I have lost more assignments from kids than I'd like to think about. When I do return work it is long after the unit is over. The only exception to this is tests. Those are returned promptly. I hate grading and procrastinate on it endlessly. My desk is an absolute wreck, to the point that my boss offered to help me with to organization of my files and grading (as stated before, she's really cool).

I love the act of teaching. The accompanying baggage is a real pain in the ass. I'm not planning on doing this indefinitely, but I had planned to continue for at least the next year. But I feel like a fraud in a lot of ways. Several college recommendations were sent out very late, to the extent that I worry that I hurt my students chances. I yell at my students for not getting work in on time (although I am perhaps the most lenient in terms of late work) and do not even give them an estimated date by which they will get their work back.

I know I am better at teaching than TA, my coworker who is also a first year teacher, but he is on top of his grading, lesson planning, etc. I don't know who is actually a better teacher in the end. My students may learn a little more, but his know what parts they actually understand and how they are doing. His students know when they need to increase the amount of work they put into a class. I have to tell my students that verbally.

This is all related to the fact that I am piss poor at organization. But the topic of managing mental disorders while teaching is for another post, not this one.

I suppose, in the end, that the fact that my students seem to look forward to my classes should be my part of my final verdict. That and the fact that they are learning and enjoying learning. But this still is not enough to convince me that I actually am a good teacher, not just good at teaching. (The bit about enjoyment is true for my math classes. I have heard multiple students remark that they hate physics, although I chalk this up more to the subject than to me. They are learning calculus and then immediately having to apply the calculus they have learned to the physics. It's really tough.)
I registered this account months upon months ago with the intention of starting a blog about my first and subsequent years teaching. In order not to endanger my job, I will simply state that I work at a small private school and teach math at all levels and a physics class. The kids here are no smarter or dumber than any other group, although we do, perhaps, have a few more from other countries than normal. This may come up in rants about students not understanding simple concepts like external vs. internal force.

So here we go. We all have to start somewhere.