Posted Jan 17, 2015
I may come back and post some more thoughts (and even something beyond mere text) but I wanted to share my initial response first:
1. Effective teaching is... personal and personalized, a product of effective learning, a willingness to help others, engaging, thoughtful, and timely, passionate, planned and flexible, designed around time frames (a period, a semester, a school year) while being simultaneously spontaneous, collaborative, the act of communicating clearly, ambitious and daunting, autonomous and ongoing, cyclical and without end.
2. The best teaching experience I have had... is when students teach each other. The unit and the lessons have been designed to enable a gradual release of responsibility, the students inquire into their own areas of interest, they create the questions and construct the answers; with a little help from their teacher or their peers they navigate the challenges in the process, they piece together meaning in their final project, reflecting on how they conducted themselves during the journey, they share their work with each other, receive immediate feedback in the form of questions and comments from classmates, and I disappear into the background to enjoy their experiences, learning what they have decided to teach me.
3. The best learning experience I had... was also the worst teaching experience I had. Teachers' college courses had been completed and I was in my second placement, both of which were two straight months in length, and I was teaching a Grade Twelve University English class in a school that I loved, with students I liked, for a department that I admired, in front of a teacher and department head who I consider one of my greatest mentors in teaching (and life).
I was teaching a poem. I'm not sure but I think it was "Prometheus" by Lord Byron, where Prometheus steals fire from Zeus to give to man, and is tortured for years, a punishment that Prometheus had foreseen and knowingly accepted, in his desire to sacrifice himself for the good of humanity. Well, I had no idea what the poem was about (at the time; I have since come to love that poem about destiny and choice), I floundered through a pathetic analysis of the text, and was rightly ripped to shreds by my supervisor after the students had been dismissed, so much so that I wasn't sure I would be coming back.
This failed attempt at a lesson taught me about planning and preparation, knowing my subject area, being brave enough to ask questions and admit my own ignorance, and to set high standards for myself, as well as many more lessons too numerous to list here. My father used to call our discussions on the drive home after Saturday morning hockey a time to share "constructive criticism" and it wasn't until I was much older that I realized the value of feedback and reflection.
I know things are shifting toward health and mental well-being, and this is a good thing, but I believe that we have to be strong enough to be honest with each other, we have to have high expectations of ourselves and others, and we have to be resilient enough to receive constructive criticism, even when it is harsh, and to respond to it by making changes when and where necessary in what we do. The criticism that stays with me the most is the criticism that I agree with. In my heart I know that there is a degree of truth and I have to accept it, acknowledge it and try to change it if I can. Having high expectations of each other, of our learners, and of ourselves is important and it helps us to keep reaching for whatever lies ahead.