You Can Do It

An Excerpt from Thoughts for Effective Teaching by Tiffany Tyndall — The Entirety of 7. Be a Reflective Practitioner

Teaching is hard, no lie.  Effective teaching, that is.  Anyone can make copies from a resource book and assign work to students and come up with due dates.  But it’s a whole other ball game to learn from mistakes and accept constructive criticism.  Managing the behavior of 30 students at a time is something you learn how to do by doing it.  Same thing goes with developing your unique teaching style and persona.

One of the secrets to making the profession of teaching an enjoyable, life-long career is to always be willing to improve yourself.  I know from experience that this is not easy.  And sometimes hearing this from someone outside of you can be especially infuriating.

But if we continue to plod our way through ineffective teaching practices, not only will our students’ learning suffer, but our satisfaction level with ourselves and our chosen profession will suffer, too.

Guess what?  Effective teaching makes the whole teaching and learning process easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable!  It’s a win-win all the way around.  It all starts with us, though.  The change is initiated within us.  We have to be willing to make the first move even though the thought of that, after dealing with one ungrateful student after the other, is close to unbearable.

Reflective teaching might lead us to things like cooperative learning, differentiated instruction, and project-based learning, but these things, in and of themselves, do not necessarily make us better teachers.  It’s all in the delivery, the personality, the attitude, the feel, the art, and the science of what we do as teachers.  It’s in the tone of our voice and the empathy in our eyes.  Humor and humility go a long way.  Being willing to listen and even apologize to students go even further.

We teach humans, not content, and growth is more important than any one score or number.  Let’s respect our students’ emotions while enforcing our expectations of respect and responsibility.  Let’s choose compassion over criticism, encouragement over negativity.  Let’s learn how to be more flexible and a little less rigid.  Finding the balance between fun and seriousness allows us to make the act of learning something students look forward to instead of dread.

At the end of every day, take a moment to ask yourself what went well.  What do you think you handled with finesse?  Also ask yourself what didn’t go so well?  Don’t be too hard on yourself, but don’t be too easy, either.  Choose one thing to examine.  Is there one particular student who’s giving you trouble, for instance?  Brainstorm some ways that you could have responded to the situation differently.  Now anticipate tomorrow or the next time you’ll have a similar interaction with the student.  Plan how you will “be” with this student, focusing on making positive changes in your own demeanor while still being “tough” with the student.

This sort of thing sounds trite and sometimes beneath us (after all, aren’t we the ones who are the teachers, who automatically deserve respect and undivided attention from our students?), but the sad truth is that more and more students come from families who aren’t teaching care and respect, so we end up having to deal with all the mis-behaviors that keep us from doing our real job, which is teaching the grade level and content area specified on our teaching certificates.

Look at the reflective stuff as simply another dimension of our teaching.  We are teaching our students more than numbers and letters; we are teaching them about living well, about how to live a better life and to be a better person on the inside so that it translates on the outside.  Let’s teach our students, by the way we conduct ourselves and handle our day, how to enjoy life while taking responsibility for our actions.  It’s not all-or-nothing; school is not all work and no play.  Neither is it all play and no work.  Let’s find the middle and teach, learn, and live there.

Society doesn’t need more hardened people walking its streets.  We want our students to become productive, contributing members of our communities.  We can’t really teach a unit on this; it’s something that students learn after having known us.  Let’s invest positively into their lives instead of being so willing to take something away from them, like their dignity, when they do something wrong.  They might do what they do because they know no better way.  So as you reflect on your practice and make efforts to become more and more effective at what you do, remember that the goal is to create a vibrant sense of life in your classroom, regardless of your content area.

Be excited about what you teach and how you teach it.  Aim to infuse each student with the same excitement, no matter which “best practice” you choose to do it through.  You – yourself – are the only thing that brings life to the strategies you choose to use.  As you become more comfortable with being your true, happy self, then it won’t be so hard to adjust how you approach the other technical things about teaching.  You will understand that to make improvements isn’t a rejection of yourself because you will understand that you are separate from the thing you are doing.

Think of a cook making soup.  The cook is not the soup; neither is the soup the cook.  Rather, the cook is the one making the soup.  Sure, there might be a recipe to follow so that any cook can make the same soup, but, for the cook, the goal is not just to make good soup but to enjoy making the soup.  The secret ingredient, then, is the cook.  Why do you think there are so many cooking shows on TV?  Because all those chefs have different personalities that draw different audiences.  Sure, they might be making different kinds of things, but I’d rather watch a chef who is making something I don’t like if he or she is having a blast doing it than to watch someone make my all-time-favorite dish who is a bore.

The same goes with teaching.  Students would much rather learn from someone who is having a blast than from someone who would rather not be there.  Let the change start with us.

Thoughts for Effective Teaching: Maintaining Perspective and Remaining Reflective While in the Trenches of Teaching by Tiffany Tyndall is available for purchase here.