Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ideas from Boot Camp for Profs 2008

Last July I had the opportunity to travel to Leadville, Colorado to participate in a week-long set of workshops on teaching. One of the presenters asked us to think of keywords that described a good teacher. Thinking about teaching along these positive lines can be invigorating. I have no doubt that more keywords could be listed, but here are a few that were mentioned: enthusiastic (II), competent, knowledgeable (II), available, treats others as equals/colleagues, authoritative, challenging, inspiring (II), motivating (III), flexible, stimulating, themselves (they do not pretend to be someone else, eccentric, helpful, caring, respected, humorous, nurturing, encouraging, rigorous, committed, and student oriented. True, many of these seem to by synonyms or related, such as inspiring, motivating, stimulating, and encouraging.

The keywords above in the boldface type are my favorites--the ones I want to describe me as a teacher.

Thinking about these keywords that describe good teachers may help those of us who do teach to think about what we want to be and compare that with what we are in the classroom. Sometimes if feels that I am a dull and boring teacher. I need to think of ways to spice up my teaching. Recently, in a conversation with a friend, I heard someone talk about her involvement in a musical. She has performed in this production for a month or more, and there have been nights when it's hard to get excited. Her director encourages her and her colleagues to think of one thing they will do differently during the course of the production. While she may not have mentioned this I imagined they could do a slightly different move or flourish, pick out a child in the audience to sing to or wink at, emphasize a few words differently, etc. She did say that this has helped her perform better. As teachers we ought to consider small things we could do differently, so we can avoid ruts in our teaching.

One presenter at the Boot Camp invited us to write a teaching epitaph [it feels so appropriate to talking about epitaphs right now as Halloween is only two days away]. Here's one that I wrote: "Here lies Spencer Jardine, a competent and loving teacher who inspired students to achieve their great potential--excellence that spilled over into their lives and blessed countless number of individuals." When I was an undergraduate I really liked a class and a teacher who talked about arete = or the classical Greek definition of excellence. It's good to work to achieve personal excellence. It seems that someone else may have written the following epitaph, but I would like to adopt it as well: "Here lies Spencer Jardine who inspired students to engage in the exciting and noble cause of learning."

"Deep, man, deep."

One message that seemed to repeat itself during the conference was that teachers need to do what they most want to do as teachers. Too often teachers do not think about what they want to do most, which means they do not do what they most want to do. How's that as a recipe for dissatisfaction?

Do it. Do it right. Do it right now!

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