Every year the flip of the calendar from July to August turns my thoughts to the upcoming school year, which, in turn, inspires me to ponder the year ahead and to consider what I might do differently and, hopefully better, this year than I’ve done in the past. For the last thirty-seven years, that ponderance has led to small but never wholesale changes in my style of teaching, which explains the title of this blog post. I’m increasingly feeling a bit like a dinosaur among my peers; many of whom are much, much younger than me.
Other reasons for my feeling myself to be a fossilized remnant include 1) half of the time, I don’t understand what the young bucks on staff are talking about, especially when they start throwing around education-related acronyms; 2) there are very few grandparents, like myself, on staff; 3) data, data, data; and 4) I wish I had my chalkboard back. Perhaps my most dinosaur-like attribute, however, is — GOD FORBID AND FORGIVE ME — I am a lecturer. I still possess the audacity to expect my students to sit for forty-five minutes while I offer instruction and, on the best days, entertainment and enlightenment.
I’ll be the first to admit that my devotion to lecture is at least partly the result of my egomania and need to be seen and heard, and where can you find a more captive (Think about that adjective for a minute.) audience than in a classroom. I also half-joke that I’m prone to lecture because it’s much cheaper than paying a psychoanalyst.
Some of my readers of advanced age may be surprised by the desire of many in education to rid schools of teachers like me. In fact, we may very well be on the verge of extinction. For them, allow me to list five ways in which lectures are ineffective, according to the article “Advantages and Disadvantages of Lecturing” at Thought.com: 1) Lectures are very taxing for students, 2) Lectures are not engaging, 3) Lectures are teacher-centered, 4) Lectures do not accommodate individual needs, 5) Lectures cause students to rely on their teachers. I would not strongly refute anything on this list.
During professional development workshops, teachers are regularly warned to steer away from lecturing for anything more than brief intervals. Lecturing is referred to pejoratively as the “stand and deliver” method, which is an allusion to the movie of that name from the eighties with the implication that they are both outdated. I’ve even heard lecture called the “say and spray” method of teaching, meaning the lecturer addresses the class as a whole and hopes some of what he/she says falls upon each of the students; however, like when using a lawn sprinkler to water new grass, that is rarely the case.
I might also add that perhaps the “proof is in the pudding,” but I’m too ignorant, too stubborn, or both to see it. Since the inception of the most recent method of teacher evaluation in Ohio’s public schools, I’m consistently diagnosed as being a “Skilled” teacher. On first consideration, that looks pretty good when, in fact, it means I’m average. The most highly-rated teachers are identified as “Accomplished,” a designation I have never earned. Part of which is my own fault, for I have openly-shared my refusal to “play the game.” Even so, when I’m evaluated, I do what I do every day in class without putting on a “dog-and-pony” show, which means my teaching is basically viewed as average according to the system currently in use. The lowest category of evaluation is the dreaded “Developing” (Notice the euphemistic nature of that term.).
My thoughts are that effective teaching cannot be boiled down to checklist of items that need to be clicked off or data points that need to be reached. Much of what is done in classrooms today is teaching to the test. I totally understand why teachers do it; the pressure to put up good numbers is immense. I just refuse to do it. I figure if I do my job well and the test is truly a measure of the learning of necessary skills and the accumulation of vital content-based knowledge, my students will be fine.
I also feel that teaching is an art form akin to drama. I imagine my school day as a series of one-act plays. The tardy bell rings like the curtain rising, and I perform with the full range of verbal acrobatics, range of movement, body language, and emotive intensity as any stage actor. My best plays are the ones that inspire enthusiastic audience participation, but they’re still pretty good when they do no more than goad students to think quietly in ways they may have never thought before.
In my experience, when the teacher stops actively teaching, many students think the time for learning is over no matter how many independent or group projects the teacher assigns, and they’re very good at pretending to be working when the teacher approaches them or their group, and they’re even better at convincing one student to do most of the work while they all take the credit. I’ll admit that my perception may simply be the result of my own inability to invent and to structure independent and group activities, and there are many teachers who are very good at that sort of instruction.
One thing I do know is that more-than-a-few of my students have complained to me about the number of projects they’re assigned and of teachers’ excitement about and overreliance on technology, which the students themselves are quite blasé about. My students also regularly share how much they actually enjoy teacher-led lectures/discussions and simply talking to their teachers, especially the ones who are thoroughly knowledgeable in their subject area and passionate about sharing their own love of the material. In my mind, any teacher who is isn’t passionate and excited to share their love of their material doesn’t belong in a classroom.
So call me a dinosaur and label me “Skilled,” but the curtain is about to rise on another season, and I’m ready to “break a leg.”
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