Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Eleventh year

This fall marks my eleventh year in the classroom.

In the shower (where I always seem to come up with my best ideas and blog topics) I was thinking about all that I've learned in the past decade. Then I realized it would be more beneficial to list all of the things I still haven't figured out (and might never get around ever figuring out!)

* How to foster effective discussions in my classrooms. I just got a book called Talking in Class: Using Discussion to Enhance Teaching and Learning to help me out with this. I already am starting to reorganize my (poor) approach to discussions in my classes.

* How to properly end a unit. My tests leave me feeling incomplete. Regardless of the results, I never get the feeling that I have effectively communicated the precise things the kids need to take away from the unit. My projects too leave me wanting to do more. The imovie projects have gone over very well, and the kids have been intrinsically motivated, but have I really taught them anything other than how to summarize, pick out key quotes, and to use the imovie application?

* How to ever get anything done on the last day of school.

* How to actively involve parents. I am always hesitant to call either when their son or daughter does something spectacular or something inappropriate. I'm a wimp when it comes to that. Although, in 99% of my experiences, whenever I have contacted a parent (usually via email - see I'm a wimp) they have been supportive.

* How to fully plan a lesson, unit, or class. In the ten years I've been teaching, there has never (and I'm not exaggerating here) been one single week where I've known on Monday what I would exactly be doing on Friday. I have a clue, but that's it.

* How to keep my personal beliefs out of my classroom. I am going, though, to make a concerted effort this year. I want students to think for themselves, without being clouded by my beliefs. So I'm going to try and antagonize and play devil's advocate more than ever this year.

* How to evenly and consistently enforce my classroom rules. I go over them the first day, usually at a break neck speed because I want to get right into something interesting that I end up skipping a couple. Then by mid quarter, I usually have totally abandoned them.

* How to manage late work. I could just go the route of making it all half credit, but then what about students who have legit excuses for being gone? How do I differentiate between the ones how were gone and the ones who were lazy? One of my peers has a great system where she has a series of folders for every student! Then when she hands out assignments, if a student is gone, she places the assignment in their folder. I envy that, but there is no way I'm that organized.

* How to teach students the true value of revision. I have too many students handing it work - even in my college in the classroom classes - which are glorified rough drafts.

* How to teach Faulkner. I love "A Rose of Emily." But teaching it? Or "Barn Burning?" Forget about it!

* How to stay current on all the professional reading and literature. I look at the college in the classroom reading list and shudder at all of the novels on there that I haven't read! My problem is that I will become interested in one author, as I did with the short stories of Hemingway, and I'll read so many that I kind of burn myself out.

* How to teach the research paper. Every time I teach it, I do it differently. I honestly don't think it can be done in the neat, cookie cutter, note card approach. Sure, a few students write their papers that way. But I know the bulk of them write it like most of us do - in spurts with a messy, messy trail of notes, sources, working bibliographies, drafts, and free writes.

* How to better balance history and literature. I so love history, that sometimes, especially in my Brit Lit classes, they come across more as history classes than literature classes. But it's all so damned interesting.

* How to use more group work assignments.

* How to use speeches better in my classes.

* How to get students involved in my classes more. Believe it or not, I don't like being up in front of the class on stage. I always feel like I'm really teaching when I'm bopping around from student to student seeing what they're working on or answering questions or just watching them read (one of my favorite things to do) and imagining the little mini-movies going on in their heads. I want to put the students up in front of the class directing it more. I just haven't figured out a great way to do this.

Well, that's my list for now. I might think of some more additions to this list tomorrow morning in the shower.

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