Choosing Joy in Teaching

47194705 - a person is standing on the top of the mountain above the clouds.

Credit: Anton Yankovyi

Choosing Joy
Returning to the classroom has had some interesting moments, a flawed lesson plan, a student’s epiphany, another student who refused to be on-task, and many young minds exposed to new vocabulary, new ideas, and academic rigor.

My enthusiasm for a video, related to a class I am teaching for high school students, is on the state of Native Americans’ lives in South Dakota, Generation Red Nation, and it resulted in me not preparing an accompanying handout with questions about the content, as teachers typically proactively design for students to complete during videos. While I sat riveted and fully attentive to multiple viewings of the film, a few students simply could not relate and chose other distractions while I fumed at my failure to prepare adequately for this scenario.

Yes, even experienced teachers can have a failed lesson. My students could not identify with the people in the video. Therefore, they missed the nuanced messages I’d intended for them to capture; such as, what does this say about preserving one’s heritage in America, and how can Native Americans be disenfranchised in their own land? How can the adjustment to a fast city life be a challenge for people coming from a more slow-paced culture and other insights. These questions were a set up for Crevecoeur’s essay, “What Is an American?”

In another class, through studying Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, it was a thrilling moment to witness a student’s epiphany as she discovered for herself the symbolism of comparing the high quality, almost artistic description, of a repast at the all-male Oxbridge with “soles, sunk in a deep dish, over which the college cook had spread a counterpane of the whitest cream…. And …the wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed crimson…”,versus the fare at all-female Fernham College where was served, “…beef with its attendant greens and potatoes—a homely trinity, suggesting the rumps of cattle in a muddy market, and sprouts curled and yellowed at the edge….”

The life of a teacher is filled with many ups and downs; and even though I consult and present workshops for classroom management, I know there can always be a student or even an entire class that can make a teacher feel that they are wrestling a seal in an oil pit.

A humbling moment came when I was reading a passage to the class as they were to duplicate the annotations I’d made. This was a lesson in doing annotations while reading some dense material. One student chose to poke his neighbor with a pencil eraser persistently under the desk and not do a single annotation. Nor would he abide when I informed him that I would not tolerate his disruptions. For I keep it simple by clarifying with my classes that I give much leeway to their class culture, but “If you do anything to disrupt my teaching, or anything to disrupt another student’s learning, we have a problem.” This student, receiving a fair warning, and a promise of my documentation, was no longer a disruptive force…to date. Sometimes just a firm acknowledgment with a no-nonsense attitude will suffice.

As a teacher, it is important to be a futurist, to have a sense for what preparation is required to design students’ education and mindset for their near future. Since my trip to Dubai where a colleague shared the Government in 2071 Guidebook, I have seen several YouTube videos of speeches given at the corresponding World Government Summit 2017 event. Tomorrow, several classes will enjoy and respond to a content checklist and argumentative essay about if the modern obsession with being cool adversely affects American’s readiness to stay competitive in technological advances. They have read an essay today and will view Michio Kaku’s video from Dubai’s World Government Summit 2017 as a catalyst for their piece. I like this video so much that I will share it with my own family and heartily suggest it to readers. I’m very much looking forward to our exchange of perspectives and hope to plant the seeds of motivation and inspiration in them. Recognizing that teachers have an undeniable capacity to positively influence students, in my short four-month assignment, I plan to raise them higher. Such challenges, as there are in teaching dynamic youth, brings me joy.