Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Favorite Teachers and Me

The #YourEduStory blogging challenge question of the week:
How are you, or is your approach, different than your favorite teacher?

I don't have just one favorite teacher. I have lots. Long, long ago, before I started teaching, I made a list of my favorite teachers:
Mr. West, high school biology, and then anatomy and physiology
Ms. Purvins, high school Shakespeare teacher
Mr. A, high school poetry teacher
Mr. X, UM philosophy prof
Ms. Y, UM history of feminism prof
Gisela Ahlbrandt, EMU math prof
 There were probably more on the list at the time. These are the ones I still remember. (And I'm losing the names. Yikes!) When I made the list, I noticed something interesting. There were about equal numbers of men and women on the list, but they were very different sorts of teachers. The men were good performers, and the women were good facilitators. A few did both well (the poetry guy and Gisela). I wanted to do both well. I thought about taking some drama courses to improve my performance skills. I did that while teaching in Muskegon, and realized I needed a different sort of course. Performing in a play is a lot different than performing as a teacher. Improv might be good for me. Hmm... I also learned a lot about facilitation over the years.

I know now that the best performers make students happy to come to class, but that's not enough. We need to get students actively engaging with the material for them to learn much. (Mr. West did that in lab, even though I remember his great lectures.) If you don't know the research done by Eric Mazur on this, check it out.  (This video might include the best parts of the hour-long video I watched a few years ago.)

How is my approach different than theirs? I think it's only in the combination that I'm different. I try to pull in all my students (like my Shakespeare and history of feminism profs did). I ask them multiple times each class to show me with thumbs up, down, or sideways how well they understand what I've just explained. I call on students randomly. (Because teachers tend to call on male students more.) I come in as excited as my bouncy philosophy prof. I suggest my students try strange experiments, like my poetry prof did (he had us write at a cemetery and a mall). I try to be as accepting and as challenging as my best teachers were.

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