“Why don’t you write a book about teaching?” It was a fair question, just not one I was prepared to answer. I was in the middle of a question and answer period at the end of a book signing for Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding in a Community College and Beyond, and the query gave me pause for thought.
I must have looked a little dumbfounded because the person continued, “I was just curious because you’ve written a guide to help students be more successful, and you must have figured a few things out for teachers too.”
I have figured a few things out, but only a few. Despite decades of teaching two-year college students, I am still surprised, stumped, and sometimes stunned by student behavior and classroom situations. It’s not all about walking into the classroom and saying, “Hello, Everyone.” That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Still, if I had to offer advice, the first thing I’d probably say is that respect is a two-way street. Students are people too, and a haughty, arrogant attitude is not appropriate. Or no, on second thought, maybe my first advice would be in the form of a warning: Teaching is hard work. It demands physical energy, a flexible disposition, more than a modicum of enthusiasm, willingness to change, and (dare I say it?) love.
I’ve heard it said that those who can do, and those who cannot, teach. Whoever said that has never felt the magic of a classroom. What other profession can you enter that requires that you read, write, and share ideas? Plus, just when you get annoyed or frustrated with how things are going, suddenly the term is over, and after a few weeks, you get to start afresh. I can think of no other profession that allows so many new beginnings.
Somewhere along the line I came across some highfalutin material that included some great but boring teaching guidelines. It was strictly textbook stuff advising teachers to clarify abstract concepts and principles by providing students relevant, concrete examples; explicitly teach and encourage the development of cognitive skills that transcend memory, such as capacities for problem solving, analyzing, and synthesizing; and assess student learning continually and give timely feedback with correctives. See what I mean about the highfalutin part?
While this information was quite helpful it didn’t help me much with the pesky little problems of real students with real issues that prevented them from being in class on time, staying awake, and getting their work done in a timely manner. I could give timely feedback with correctives all the livelong day, but dealing with students as individuals with outside lives was challenging.
I’m in the dreaming/thinking/planning stage and am asking, What do I really want to accomplish and what’s the best way?
What I want to do is create a part memoir/part how-to book on teaching. There may be a little methodology, but the bulk of the book will be based on experience (mine and that of others who love the profession), backed up by research. I want to make it enjoyable to read without being frivolous, instructive without being pedantic.
Any advice you can offer about the teaching/learning equation would be welcome. As a teacher, what’s some advice you can share? As a student, past or current, what is something you wish your teachers would improve on?