I’ve got three of the same lessons on Friday mornings, 42 high school students for 45 minutes, and it always strikes me how the personalities of the classes are quite different. The second class I teach is the one I connect with the most often, and it seems I do no wrong with my lessons plans with them; the students are engaged and interested in learning. Not all of them, but a majority. So when, last week, we covered holidays and the task was to ask as many of the students in the class as possible in five minutes what they did on a holiday of their choosing, everyone was up and moving around. Some were certainly more successful in talking to more people than others, and it’s hard to guarantee they all spoke in English, but there was an energy to the classroom and they were obviously interested in the task. I then went into an impromptu research report activity, where they presented the results of their “research.” Their homework was to send me their reports of their survey data, which has yielded several emails like the following:
I asked the students what they do on summer vacation. I spoke to 25 out of the 42 students, about 60% of students. 8 students of the 25 said sleep. 4 students of the 25 said go anywhere. 3 students of the 25 said go to club. 2 students of the 25 said eat something, play and watch anime. 1 students of the 25 said go cycling, do a barbecue, dive and breathe so do nothing.
I had connected, I knew it, and I felt we made some progress in that lesson.
I followed the same lesson plan after lunch and it wasn’t nearly as engaging; not all of the students stood up for the activity, and the number of people each student talked to on average was significantly smaller. I hadn’t connected, and I wondered what the students got out of that lesson.
There was a time, not too long ago, when I would have left for the day thinking my efforts a failure, as I hadn’t connected to the second group. More recently I wonder about that; I increasingly feel that as a teacher it’s my responsibility to be open to forming connections when the opportunity presents itself, and to be confident enough to know when the whim of a moment in a lesson is a good direction to take, rather than following a carefully laid out lesson plan. Where I’ve changed is that I used to think it the teacher’s responsibility to form all the connections, but now I see the classroom as a two-way street. The students have to be willing to connect as well; it can’t all be effort exerted from my position at the front of the room.
This new perspective has certainly made me a more balanced person. I’m still on the fence whether it’s made me a better teacher.