Shy kid turns teacher and is surprised by it (not quite an Onion headline)

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

I don’t know if I am just having a good semester or if I finally have unlocked something within my teacher self, but I have been getting great compliments from my students on my teaching lately. I’ve always gotten good feedback, but this semester has been kind of phenomenal, at least to me. During conferences this week, I have had a number of them tell me what a good job I am doing and I confess it feels good to hear that. I have been called “a stud” because of how I do the assignments with the students and still bring a lot of energy to the classroom. I have been told my activities in class are never boring and always fit in well with the upcoming assignments. One student told me that I have a great amount of energy as a teacher. I have even convinced many students that English is not as awful as it had been in the past for them. They not only say they enjoy the class, but they also enjoy the structure and yes, even the writing assignments.

I know, right? Creepy. It is almost too good to be true. I’m almost waiting for something awful to happen.

And now I am sitting here wondering when all this started to occur. When did I finally get a clue as to how this teaching thing works? When did I find the way to affect my audience in such a way? I’ve never been a good speaker and I still don’t think I am a great speaker. When I plan a lesson for a class period, I show the lesson on the overhead and there I have many prompts and other material for things I am talking about. Students have told me how much they like this because they can find these notes on blackboard later and that they can easily follow along in class since it is all on the overhead. But the reason that I make detailed lessons like that to share with students is because I know I am not that great orator. (Though I was told I am engaging in class, so perhaps that makes up for being not a great speaker.)

This semester I have also done far more small group work than I have ever done in the past. Sure, I have gotten a small amount of complaints (about 5-6 students out of 43, if you want a statistic) about this, but even that has been positive because many of them have shared how they enjoy learning from others in the class, even if they prefer working alone. One person even said that she enjoys everyone in the class because they are all “so devoted to their majors and know a lot about their fields” and she felt that opened up small group discussion more. She added, “I just love listening to everyone else and learning from them.” And I do feel that students learn best from each other. I firmly believe in what they call activity based learning and social constructivism, even though as a student I still mostly dislike group work, at least until I am in the group and things are going well.

While I do think I have learned a lot about teaching after leaving Mankato and teaching as an adjunct and later as a graduate instructor once again, I do have to say I have a great group of students this semester. Even the majors who normally shut down in writing classes seem to be enjoying the class, assignments and all. Everyone has brought an amazing amount of positive energy to the classroom and I think that has helped me as a teacher tremendously. The students are enthusiastic and many of them work very hard. They remind me why I enjoy teaching every time I walk into the classroom.

I am not trying to brag about how well this semester is going. To be honest, I’m just trying to wrap my head around how it seems to be going so well. I have certainly learned a lot about good teaching at my present university by watching good teachers and by talking about good teaching. But I have also learned a lot about writing, and I think that has helped, too. I just think I have been astonishingly lucky that I was able to “get” this teaching thing and be able to help students learn and realize a writing class is never as awful as it may sound at first.

I can’t help but think about what a friend of mine once told me: “we all have a place where we are a gifted performer, Jessica. I think teaching is just your stage.”  Maybe he was right. In that case, at least I know I am in the right profession. It is just funny to think about that because I was the shyest, most timid kid you had ever met in your life once upon a time. If you talked to me, I just might have burst into tears. (This is NOT an exaggeration. I did burst into tears quite frequently. It is part of the reason why I repeated kindergarten.) Of course, no one I know today, outside of family and long-time childhood friends, knows that part of me, though I am sure it can easily be guessed at. In my own classes, I sometimes don’t say a word and usually I have to be asked to speak at all. So that girl is still there. But that is a story for another time.

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