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Friday, December 16, 2011

All I Really Need to Know about Teaching

Dave started it. Here's mine: It's been on a bulletin board at eye level at my desk for seven years. It's a little embarrassing to share because it's more than a tad hubristic. But I think it helps me be better. I don't really need to have it hanging up because I can recite it from memory. Like a mantra. But it's comforting to have it there. Like a talisman.
“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(There is a teacherified version floating around by Haim Ginott. I like the original better.)

I don't take away from this "it's all about me." The take away is more like, "There is a ton that is in my control, and that makes all that happens here my responsibility." Which is maybe a little oppressive and maybe a little "duh." But I still like reading it every day.

3 comments:

  1. I agree and disagree. On one hand, yes, research-wise the teacher seems to be the single most important factor influencing the environment in the classroom and the success of the students. And we all feel that we have that power, and that's great because we therefore feel enabled to achieve great things.
    On the other hand, just because the teacher is the most important single factor, it doesn't mean the teacher is more important than all other factors (student personalities, socio-economic background, parental support, previous schooling, random weirdness) put together. Most teachers have that experience that doing our best is enough with some groups of students, but may not be even close with other groups.

    Yesterday I had a long-ish chat with two students. We talked about teaching and learning and classroom interaction (and yes, they seemed genuinely interested) when suddenly it hit me: we were talking past each other. I was saying "This is what I'm doing to involve more students in class discussion". And they were saying "Not all students participate because they are shy". Both points are valid. As teachers, we can do the best we can with what resources we have and what students we meet, but the end results depend on very many other factors than our own input.

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  2. The other person this could describe is a parent. Except it doesn't mention screaming, wiping snotty noses, and a car full of crayons, old french fries, and single gloves.

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  3. I didn't know a quote like this was out there. I wake up everyday telling myself this because when I first started teaching it, I couldn't believe the impact my slight changes in mood affected students. I was pretty terrified by the kind of power I seemed to have and I didn't like seeing myself as this kind of atmosphere dictator. But I set the tone and this is comforting because it is something I can control. So like Julia said there are many things that are outside our control, but our poise is our own and our attitude has a huge impact on how students will feel about the material. I feel like a copy cat, but this quote echoes perfectly how I try to approach teaching as well.

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