Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Bearing Witness to the Different Styles of Teaching
I am on the last leg of my work in classrooms for this academic year, with the joy of my final two residencies being in elementary schools, predominantly with 3rd grade students. As I said in a recent post, I love 3rd graders and partially because I am really a 3rd grader in an adult body.
I have completed the first 3-day set of visits with five classes and tomorrow I start over with five new classes to initiate the process. I will shake hands with another 100+ students during the course of the day and indoctrinate them into my realm of the virtual video game, Poetry Detectives.
I also will be sharing the students with five more teachers and a number of teaching assistants. It is the teachers who show me the way to success in my work. I have learned from every teacher I have ever taught with, both those many talented educators who invite me to their rooms, and those few who demonstrate teaching in a way I will always attempt to avoid.
One thing I understand well after all these years: screaming at students as a general practice for classroom management is not a successful model. I have lost my patience occasionally while working with students and never has that been anything for which I was proud. I felt horrid, defeated, and embarrassed. I also felt very manipulated into losing control.
Recently I have been in classes with teachers who have a strong identity but a quiet presence in their rooms. In those classes, I experienced students who were attentive, listened well, and were generally very polite as well as engaged in my lessons. In those classes, I did not find myself reprimanding anyone or bordering on taking a stern tone, nor did I have to resort to any lecture on expected behaviors.
I have also been in a class or two in which the students were so used to raised voices that they no longer responded. These classes were the definitive minority but there I was. These were the classes where the students were constantly harangued for their lack of discipline, their inability to listen and respond appropriately. These were classes where the students talked constantly, even when being reprimanded for talking out of turn, they had difficulty staying in their seats, they were wired and argumentative with each other, and generally spinning through an existence that was out of touch with anything but their own impulse in the moment.
I have also been in very orderly classrooms with bright, clean surroundings, lots of positive images, and a seating layout that encourages easy movement through the room, etc. On the other hand, I have been in classes that reflect a similar chaos to that of my home office, which is shockingly crazed. Some rooms look like Charlie Brown's friend Pigpen has entered the teaching field and project a general air of confusion.
I cannot help but believe there is a direct correlation to student behavior and learning. Although every teacher I know goes through a year in which the students are supremely challenging at some point or another, in general, kids achieve when they feel safe and valued, when the environment is organized, and when the expectation that this is a place of importance is reflected. The majority of teachers I have met and worked with, and this is an astounding total, provide magnificent spaces for learning and achievement. Those who do not provide models for me of teaching styles I will do my best to avoid.