Friday, February 24, 2017

The Teaching Life

By Peg Balachowski, Associate Dean for Teaching & Learning at EvCC

“The teaching life is the life of the explorer, the creator, constructing the classroom for free exploration. It is about engagement. It takes courage. It is about ruthlessly excising what is flawed, what no longer fits, no matter how difficult it was to achieve. It is about recognizing teaching as a medium that can do some things exquisitely but cannot do everything.”

– Christa L. Walck, “A Teaching Life,” Journal of Management Education, November, 1997, p. 481

I recently came across this quote by Christa Walk and was so inspired by it that I wanted to share it with you. This quote brings together many of the ideas that I have been thinking about recently, including the fear many of us have about failing. I agree with Walck that teaching takes a lot of courage. Do you remember your first day in the classroom? I sure do. I even worried that I would mispronounce students’ names! Standing in front of a class of high school students can be a scary thing. Even today, after more than 2 decades of teaching, the first time I meet a class I get butterflies.

What has changed? You may recall a blog post from last September which includes this quote by Josh Stock: “We all have off days. It’s what you do afterwards that makes the difference.” I think I finally have the courage that we all strive for in our teaching practice. I recognize that not all my lessons are perfect. Have you heard the expression “perfect is the enemy of good?” This is usually attributed to Voltaire. Not only that, but I have realized that my ideas about how a (perfect) class will run when I walk into a classroom may in fact have to be thrown out the window because of an opportunity that comes up based on student questions or comments. Yes, this even happens in a math class! Does it take courage to do that? You bet! What if I don’t cover the material that my syllabus says I will cover that day? How will I recover from this interruption?

For a new teacher, these are constant worries. It’s only experience and time in the classroom (and a significant amount of mentoring and reflection) that have allowed me to relax a bit and recognize that any failure I experience in teaching is really a learning opportunity for me. So, can we agree that failure is not a bad thing? Remember Thomas Edison’s famous quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

If you’d like to read more about courage in the classroom and in your professional live, a good book is “Courage to Teach” by Parker Palmer. It’s a great read. The focus of the book is on our inner selves. The author says, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” Check with your professional development coordinator on campus to see if her or she has a copy.

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