Initial Reflections

It’s less than two weeks before teacher training and orientation, and my nervousness is increasing tenfold with each day that passes. To combat the onset of anxiety attacks, I went to a local coffeeshop yesterday afternoon and started pouring through my textbooks. For hours.

And the unfortunate truth dawned on me — only reinforced when burning the midnight oil catching up on my favorite teacher blog dy/dan — is that I only learned how to teach to the book. I saw the lesson plans emerge in my head for each section of the textbook I was reading, and they were all regurgitating the text. My lesson planning as a student teacher consisted of doing all the problems at the end of each section beforehand to know what classes of problems my students needed to learn how to solve, and then coming up with lesson plans filled with variations on the examples given in the texts.

It provides the structure and consistency that I desire in a classroom, but it also, it hit, completely limits me as a teacher and as a creative person.

I sighed a lot last night, because I knew I used my textbooks as a crutch: to provide the skeletal backbone for each lesson plan. And even though that worked fine as a student teacher, it’s time to step up to the plate and take a more active role.

Giving up the central place that the textbook has for me as a teacher will be hard because:

1. I myself was always taught to the book. So it’s unclear in my mind’s eye exactly how an alternatively designed class might go.

2. I am teaching classes that other teachers have sections of. Which means that no matter how much creativity I can muster, my students still have to learn the same content as my fellow teachers’ sections. So I have to teach the same content — my students have to learn the textbook and engage with it’s problems — without falling into the lazy trap of teaching the book. [1]

3. I have three preps (three different classes to prepare for), and at the moment, the at-home-lesson-planning work already seems daunting enough even if I structured my lesson plans around the book. [2]

4. Backing away from the book means needing to be conscious of re-evaluating what exactly I’m teaching them, and what I want to teach them, and what they need to know. Relying on the textbooks makes those questions moot.

Nevertheless, at the very least, it seems to me at the moment one thing that needs to be done is to design clear, relevant, at-least-somewhat-investigatory problems which we spend class time on each week. At the same time, I have to be wary of doing something radical just for the sake of doing something different. My focus has to be on student understanding, and the question that needs to keep buzzing in my head as I go through this process is: why am I making this particular choice?

I think it’s time to question assumptions.

[1] This is no excuse, however, to reverting back to old ways. I signed up to teach at a private school so I would have more autonomy than in a public school. Batter up.

[2] Again, not meant to be an excuse or a rationalization, just a hard reality I know I will have to countenance, day after day.

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