10 February 2007

Old Dogs and New Tricks

I worked with a teacher this week who was having a bad day when I got to her classroom. Her thin lips, paling from being tightly pressed together, and tense body language told me quite a story when I arrived. Her fussing at her desk let me know that not having things tidy was bothersome; I suspect she's a bit of a perfectionist. She is in her 50's and has been a teacher throughout her adult life. I watched her work with her young charges before I began my lesson. This was a woman who was likely happiest in her career when kids had their desks in rows and quietly filled out worksheet after worksheet. But to her credit, she is really trying to adapt and integrate new things. This is not something I see other "old dogs" of the classroom attempting.

Her kids and I rolled marbles down meter sticks and measured distances. The chaos of this---excited children, small moving objects all over the floor, different approaches to taking measurements---was almost more than she could bear. I imagine it's just my temperament and background, but the kind of buzz generated by kids working on something doesn't bother me. "Should I stop them and guide them to the right answer?" she asked. Perhaps I should have excused the poor woman from the lesson, although she was really staying there to watch me teach. I tried to reassure her. The lesson was really about process...not being right or wrong. Let's work on developing their thinking skills---then they can evaluate how well they're doing. It was really hard for her to let go like that.

I understand the dilemma. You want to make sure that kids get the information that they need. You have a responsibility as a teacher to continue their learning and achievement. You want to do your part the best that you can. In the past, this was probably a simpler deal for this teacher: sit the kids down and have them listen while you teach...test them...and the ones who didn't get were just out of luck. But this teacher knows that isn't good enough anymore. The new tricks, however, are a bit daunting. I wish I had some words of wisdom for her...some way to reassure her. I just don't know what I can say that will help. All I can do is be reassuring and cheer her onwards.

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