Part of my effort to learn as much as I can about teaching literacy in K-5 has been to observe what happens in a 2nd grade class at a local elementary school*. The Peace Corps will train me to teach literacy in my pre-service training, so I guess this has been my pre-pre-service training. And it has been really beneficial. For one thing, I learned that I love working with kids this age. Whew!
Having just finished my university teaching and just begun my elementary teaching has caused me to think about the former in light of the latter. Of course the differences between teaching 7 year olds and 18 year olds are obvious. One group still raises their hands when they need to go to the bathroom. One group enters and exits the classroom at will. One group begins the day sitting cross-legged on the carpet at the front of the room. I don't need to identify which is which.
But what about the ones that follow? Is it just as easy to determine which is which?
One group benefits from clear expectations about what they should learn and how they should learn it.
With one group, creating a strong sense of community among students increases student engagement.
In one group a certain percentage of students spend class time with their heads cradled in their arms, deep asleep.
One group is not allowed to use the adult bathroom. (Ha ha, okay this one is easy...... Or is it?.....Yes it is.)
This is the point in the blog where, if I have used my words well, you should see my point. The similarities between primary and higher education are striking. Taken together, they suggest that no matter what or where you are teaching, the fundamentals are the same. Teachers need to create community and set clear expectations for students. And students need to come to class ready to learn.
In my classes over the last few years, I didn't do the first two things and students often didn't do the third. I had come to believe that my job was to produce a syllabus, create assignments and exams, and develop and deliver lectures. And everything else was the students' responsibility. My perspective was that if students chose not to do what was necessary to learn the material then so be it. It's their brain, their grade, their future, so not my concern.
Now, however, this feels depressing. Unfulfilling. Unrewarding. And when people asked why I decided to join the PC, I often said something like, "I just don't find my job fulfilling or rewarding anymore." No wonder.
Trust me when I tell you that the next time I have a class to teach, I am creating community, setting expectations, and waking students up when they fall asleep.
*Thank you very much Miss B. You are a terrific teacher. I learned a great deal in your class. And you have restored my faith in public school education.