Monday, December 5, 2011

Thank a Teacher

Ah, the last week of the semester. Then comes the deluge of final essays and exams. Thank goodness I finally entered the 21st century and started using Gradekeeper, so calculating final grades should be a cinch.

I had some stray problems with accidental plagiarism this semester, so perhaps over break I'll teach myself how to use Turn It In. On the other hand, my freshman comp. textbook has a new edition, so I may need to use the break to update assignments, change readings, and adjust to the new book.

People say teachers have it easy: we have Christmas Break, Spring Break, Summer Break... but let me tell you, it's during these breaks that we catch up or keep up, doing the kind of prep work that we don't have time to do during the actual semester. If you intend to stay effective in the classroom, then you continually need to educate yourself in new technology and new theories in your field, along with adjusting teaching strategies to more effectively teach a changing student population. Today's student is drastically different from the student of several decades ago: these kids have grown up computer literate, rely on the Internet, and have short attention spans because they're used to a rapid influx of information and what's in front of them constantly changing. They don't read a lot just for pleasure and find the idea of slowing down, focusing, savoring, and thinking something through an alien concept. You have to find a way to get through to a brain that's used to listening to a conversation, texting in another conversation, and playing a computer game all at the same time.

Some of them are good at juggling it all and in honing in on hearing or seeing what's significant; but others treat all the clutter as equal bits of information and have no idea what's important and what's trivial. It's challenging to teach kids how to sort information. Many are intellectually lazy and just want you to tell them what to think and don't want to go to the trouble of analyzing and interpreting the information you give them. So you have to convince them of the value in being able to do this.

The only way to do this is to somehow apply the value of this to their own teenage lives, which means a good teacher also has to stay current with pop culture and know how to relate to people who are decades younger.

Sometimes these kids initially can't handle an adult to who expects to engage them in discussions and who expects them to think for themselves. Many have never had meaningful discussions with adults (parents, pay attention!) and their worldview is totally dependent on what their peers and the television set have taught them.

Teachers don't have the "cushiest job," and it's certainly not true that those who can, do; and those who can't, teach. Teachers walk the walk, all right, and put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Sometimes we get discouraged, thinking we have no impact at all; but the truth is, we do change some lives for the better.

If you happen to read this today, thank a teacher.

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