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.)


Kate said...

It's difficult for me to see the difference between being "good at teaching", as you put it, and being a "good teacher". When I was in middle and high school, it was far more important to me that a teacher teach concepts well and engagingly than that they give me work back on time, or organize their lesson plans.

Admittedly, I was lucky enough that I rarely needed to be told to put more work into a class, and I can see how not having work returned on time, if at all, could be a major problem for someone who needed to know how they were performing on a regular basis. The fact that your students are looking forward to your classes and learning, though, would seem to indicate that you're doing your job right.

As for saints and patience: one would imagine it's the martyred saints who are famous for patience, not the philosophical or hermit-ish ones.

Sam said...

I love your blog title and will follow this blog with interest, as you're going though something I've been pondering doing myself. Hope you're doing well, apart from teaching.

susie said...

one of the tricks to teaching math (according to my teaching friends who're doing it)is to have the kids do a lot of the grading...

even something as simple as having them switch papers and grade each others' work will cut down enormously on what you do.

it's also okay *not* to give a grade based on how many answers they get right, but rather their participation. stamp their work when they've corrected their mistakes and give them a grade for every 10 HW assignments they've turned in.

Jess said...

Ok, so I'm late. Oh well. As I remember it, my favorite math teacher in HS was god-awful at getting anything back on time, including tests. It actually became a running joke that she'd give us an estimate, we'd add 2 months. No one minded. We usually knew how well we understood the material based on whether or not we could understand what she was doing on the board, people went for extra help when they needed it and it generally was never an issue. She's the only math teacher I've ever had who explained things in a way that made sense to everyone. So I wouldn't worry about it too much.