Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Assessing my funk

So, yeah, I guess I have been in a little bit of a funk. I don't know why or when it started, but I realized that at school I have been dreading a class. Not really a good thing for a teacher to hate your students, I think. And there is this one class that I can't stand. Man, they bug! And I dread going to class to see their slack-jawed lack of enthusiasm toward whatever I throw at them. And the harder I try, the more I get the feeling they are looking at me like I'm a total idiot. They just don't respond like normal people. They're just, well, lame. (yes, I said it, and I'm deeply ashamed).

Now let me preface this by saying that usually I'm quite spoiled. Students come to my class excited a lot, ready to learn, pencils in hand, jotting down notes as fast as I can speak. I'm spoiled. I'm really spoiled. Teaching international students who look to you as a link to the American world is truly the easiest teaching you'll find. They, how do I say it, need you so much. And so you throw them a lifeline and they grab it with intensity. It is awesome.

So this love my students have for learning, based on that sheer and dire necessity, is awesome. But a conversation class of mine has been nothing of the sort. They are listless, they don't respond quickly to the simplest of tasks. I ask students to take out a piece of paper. Two minutes later I'm still barking the same order. What the crap? Have I totally lost my teaching mojo? What is going on?

And it hits me today. It's not them at all. It is me. It is something that I have forgotten to do that I have known all along is important for a successful class. Probably no one needs to know the details of this teacher technique, so I'll just summarize by saying that I have recently sucked at assessing. By that I mean that I have been asking students to respond to assignments without giving specific detailed activities that allow them to respond appropriately and correctly. It is as if I had asked students to give me their best shot at a target, but then refused to give them an arrow to shoot with. And I'm left wondering: I've got the target, I've given them the bow. What is their DEAL?

So as happens so often with teaching, parenting, or life in general, I have gotten myself into a funk. And I have done it to myself by losing sight of an important idea. (I'm sure that hasn't happened to anyone else here, right?) I have lost sight of a particular principle while juggling dozens of others. The communicative activities have been good, the linguistic insight accurate, the cultural relevance sound, the varied activities...all my ducks have been in a row. Except for this one eensy-teensy duck that I just have let fall by the wayside ("Why?" you might ask if you are into boring details. Well, boring-question asker, it is because assessing takes up tons of time to do well and, frankly, I hate it).

So there you have it. I'm in a teaching funk! And I hadn't deliberately sought answers as to WHY my class sucked because I took the easy way out and assumed it was them.

No, I'm afraid not.


  1. I've always been in awe of what a great teacher you are. Funk or no funk you are still a great teacher and learning from you has been awesome!

  2. A teaching funk is so understandable. And sometimes its just one particular class, not the whole semester. It's always tricky trying to figure out why. You can't use the simple break-up cop-out, "It's not you, it's me" because the relationship isn't going to magically end. Well, we're wrapping up our first semester at our new institutions and I wish you continued success. But really it's not you, it's them (see, that's brotherly loyalty, blindly siding with kin).