Thursday, June 30, 2016

Teaching and Being (Interesting)

I haven't been woodshedding my anthropological ideas here nearly enough, so I'd might as well post whatever comes to mind.  Hell I'm not even writing about my own running these days, but that's mostly because it's all been said. Onward:

You'd never know it because I don't talk about it, but one-third of my professional/public energies go towards teaching, which I do year-round.  From August through June I'm a half-time high school biology teacher and this fall will be the start of my 10th year.  Before I went back to school I was a full time teacher for 6 years (and at a year round school for 3 of those years-- no summers off, like a real job!).  In the summers and sometimes during January term I teach an online intro to biological anthropology course for UMass.  Others might have a trove of insights and philosophies at this point in their career... I have just one that I'm confident about, but its odorous stank, err I mean compelling wisdom, feels like something worth articulating.  And given that I am charged with a student teacher this coming school year (....jesus...) it's on my mind:

The best teachers are interesting people.

Maybe I should say "interested" people.  People with a zest for life, who are engaged and interested in pursuits other than teaching.  You know the other type-- the teachers who grade all weekend, are understandably fried by June but only half mean it when they say "I can't wait for vacation!" and then spend the summer at teacher workshops.  I've worked with these people and some of them are awesome and effective teachers--better than me, most likely.  But some of these folks work this hard because they have to...perfectly crafted lesson plans and careful attention to students' current Maslow status ensure classes without hiccups.  And it's the only way to be effective if you don't have interesting life or subject area experience to weave into your lessons.  Some of these "boring" teachers-- at least the ones who don't work hard-- are the type who took up teaching because they didn't know what else to do.  (Initially, this was me.  It's not anymore...I wouldn't still be doing it if I didn't love it. We don't need any more crappy teachers, though at times in the past I have been one.  I digress.)

While being a singularly-focused educator works well for some teachers, for certain students it's more important and effective to have a teacher who is, well, interesting.  I was one of those students.  My friend and I were on a road trip out West and we made plans to visit our 9th grade science teacher, who (for reasons I couldn't remember) we regarded as an important teacher from our high school days.  As we waited at his handbuilt (self-built!) cabin in West Yellowstone, he drove up the driveway pulling a boat, shirt unbuttoned and sunburnt from a morning of fishing.  He had the contended swagger of a man who was good at many things and knew it.  I seem to recall him pouring a scotch (it was 10 AM) and lighting a cigar as we played pool in his basement, and he said the most interesting thing: he hated teaching.  He packed up every June and left right from the parking lot on the last day of school, drove West, and returned the morning in August when school resumed, putting on a tie in his RV.  We never knew this then-- we didn't know that he hated the bureaucracy of teaching, the never-ending restrictions and encroaching call for conformity across classrooms that is even worse now (though not where I teach, thank god).  We only knew that this guy had an interesting life, he spoke to us like adults, and he made us interested in science.  I guarantee he graded as little as possible.  This is not to say that being a lazy teacher is usually effective.  Only that many students can better connect with someone who has something to teach other than what's in the textbook

Speaking of which, I have a growing and likely unreasonable/strongly biased feeling that secondary school teachers should professionally practice their discipline.  High school art teachers should be artists, English teachers should be writers, science teachers (wait for it...) should practice science.  Such a standard would only really work if teachers were all part time and made the rest of their living being a professional in their field, a clearly untenable suggestion given the current model, but how much more authority would that World War II lesson have if delivered by someone who actually studies the topic?  A creeping feeling of charlatanism- the sense that I didn't really know what the hell I was talking about-- helped drive me to become a scientist.  And I'll always be a teacher-- definitely an interested teacher, and hopefully even an interesting one. 

No comments:

Post a Comment