When I first decided to be a teacher it was because I was in trouble. By my senior year of high school I had been in trouble enough times that I was bored by receiving long-winded speeches, getting sent to the hallway, and staying late for detention. After talking excessively during my Econ class I figured I would try something different. When my teacher talked to me after class I negotiated to swap the detention for what I thought would be an easier punishment. I offered to teach his class for a day.
If I taught his class for a day I would learn what teaching is all about, and I had been thinking about education from the myriad list of potential college majors. His facial expression was a mixture predictable skepticism and confusion, so I pushed my argument further. The details of the conversation escapes me, but I know I argued that understanding the difficulties that teacher face would stop me from talking to my friends in class and make me not want to interfere any lesson ever again. Before I got too far into it, Mr. Faricy agreed to the deal, with a little more enthusiasm than I thought was appropriate. His knowing grin, of course, was foreshadowing the awful, awful lesson that transpired when I taught his intro to economics class next week.
He had the same grin as he prepared me to teach later that week as he showed me the various components of the lesson, as well as the curriculum he was going to teach. We talked about having an “anticipatory set” to get students ready to learn, and then structuring the main activity before having some concluding exercise. I took some of his ideas into consideration, but after 11 years of being the school system, I had my own plan. I would read the textbook to students, and then ask questions. When someone in the class answered correctly, I would give them candy! That was the entirety of the lesson I proposed. Mr. Faricy, with the same knowing grin, agreed to have me teach the following Tuesday. I was excited and actually went home to prepare, which for me was re-reading the textbook and, more importantly, buying a variety of candy.
In retrospect, my view of teaching at that point was predictably slanted. Having only looked at learning from the view of a student the things that stood out were the flash, like the candy and the games. What I took for granted was the content coming from the textbook, and whether or not it was really accessible for the students in front of me. There was completely no connection for me to what choices the teachers made to craft the learning experiences I had, I assumed they were as scripted as the lines from a television show and the better teachers were just the ones with the most “stage presence.”
The lesson was actually halfway successful when it began, but at a certain point I lost the whole class. As I stood up in the front of the class with textbook and my bag of candy I thought success meant keeping the kids engaged. I knew a lot of the kids, and as a senior teaching a class of Juniors, they probably knew me. The respected me as a peer and management wasn’t a problem, but no one was learning anything. I was saying facts from the book and watching them slide right off the kids who were sitting in the same seats that I was sitting in when I got myself into this mess. I had won over some who were playing along just being nice to me, but they were so quick to answer that they got tired of getting candy and clearly needed a challenge beyond what my little textbook quiz session provided. Mr. Faricy had to jump in and take over the class after about 5-10 minutes. He smoothly made it appear as though my 10 minutes was the beginning, and thanked me with a call for a round of applause. Their clapping felt hollow to me as I gathered my candy, and stepped aside while Mr. Faricy took over. He began launching into his prepared lesson and immediately engaged the class, but took a second to flash me one last knowing grin before I walked sheepishly out of the room.
After that first lesson I realized that teaching would be the hardest job I would ever do. I realized that a lot of the teaching I had seen in my 12 prior years of schooling was not the kind of teaching that I would want to force on my friends, or any students. At that time I couldn’t make a clear picture of what this teaching looks like, but the journey towards this teaching was clear in my mind. This journey would require me to strengthen pretty much all of my weaknesses: being organized, preparing for each class, and the ability to keep a straight face in despite the most hilarious of class clowns. A decision to teach would be like climbing mount everest, or a 5’3” person saying they want to play in the nba.
As clear as it was that taking up teaching as a career would be a nearly impossible task, it was also clear that there was no way I could pursue anything else. There would be no other job that would allow to me grow as much as a person, or make as much of a direct difference in the world, or would fill an ongoing need in the economy. There was plenty of reason for young Carl to be confident that he was in the right profession. Plus I was headed to Michigan State, which not only is the best university in Michigan, but is perennially ranked among the best education programs in the country. The path was laid out clearly in front of me and I would feel like a coward if I did anything else.
It was decided, I would go into education. Mastering teaching didn’t seem like it would take very long, but the process would be invaluable. I would learn so many things about myself and about the world, that I could go on to virtually any other task and be successful. Teaching would be my career until either I would run out of challenge or am called to something bigger.
15 years after that lesson I can say that I am a pretty good teacher. While some people have called me a master teacher, I feel the ideal teacher that I could be, the master teacher that I envisioned I would become, is still beyond my grasp. As I continue in teaching, and continue heading towards this goal, I realize that it become easier and easier to remain comfortable with doing the same thing day in and day out. I want to start focusing on the process. I wanted to start documenting the steps I take, and the progress I make, towards becoming the best teacher I can be, and that is what this blog is about.
The more experience I have with teaching, the easier it is to not think about. The more my dropbox fills with lessons, the easier it is to not write new ones. With so many kids in my memory banks, the easier it is not tailor learning experiences for the two or three that aren’t getting it. With fewer student loan payments and more disposable cash, it is easy to spend my time in school thinking about what I’m going to do out of school and not vice-versa. It’s getting to be easy to be ok with being an average teacher. As the road towards being a great teacher becomes steeper and steeper, I wanted a way to remind myself to keep focusing on the process towards becoming a great teacher. My process towards becoming a great teacher is what is going to be documented on this blog. I appreciate any feedback that people can give me and I will look to return the favor whenever possible. Happy reading!