Thursday, April 12, 2007

Class Atmosphere

Last night in tap dance class, as sometimes happens, the teacher started teaching us a combination I swear at a revved up speed. She kept showing us the steps (say 8 sounds) quickly, and before I knew it it was over and I'd maybe got one sound. Then she'd do it again and I got the 1st and the 2nd sound. Then again, and I got the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd sound, etc. I was getting frustrated. She was getting frustrated. "Come on people. These are all steps you know. This class is about putting these steps to a different rhythm. If you're not getting it, then you're not practicing your basics at home. You've all seen this before."

I had a teaching epiphany. I eventually got the steps. But she was going too fast for my comprehension. She was chastising us for not practicing. It wasn't that I didn't want to learn and master the steps, it was just that I needed it taught in a different way. I started getting mad at her, and I didn't even want to hear the sound of her voice. It wasn't MY fault, it was HERS, I muttered to myself.

Then I thought about my teaching. I could see myself in class getting frustrated (hopefully internally) with the students as some of the them struggle with basic concepts that we've gone over in the past that I thought should be second nature to them, and they still didn't get it.

I hope to remember from last night's experience that everyone is human, people have a lot on their minds. It's not that they don't want to be successful in class, they just need a diplomatic reminder of past concepts and a helpful hand to guide them to understanding and mastery.


  1. Someone, probably John Holt, suggested that everyone should always be learning something unfamiliar, to remember that feeling when they teach something familiar to someone else.

    I have trouble remembering Morse code, which is also putting meaning to a set of tappity sounds.

  2. Kelly (Ms. Frizzle) talked about insights on teaching she gained during yoga classes. In my own yoga class this week (it's only my fifth or so) I noticed subtle things too--like how good it felt when the teacher praised me in a pose (it encouraged me to keep trying) and how just hearing the teacher mention something to keep in mind while doing the pose let me realize I wasn't doing the it right and allowed me to correct myself.

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  4. Anonymous8:38 AM

    Life would be too easy if all of our students learned the material the same way. I remember being in a situation where I could not understand why my teacher thought I should understand what she was teaching. During the next class, she went over the same thing in a different way which made much more sense to me and wondered why she hadn’t explained it that way the first time. The trick for a teacher is realizing that not every student will understand a concept at the same time.

  5. Anonymous10:43 PM

    I also find myself getting frustrated with students trying to teach them a skill or to master a concept. In my very early experiences teaching when I taught music lessons in high school, I would frequently get very frustrated with students for not practicing, but it never dawned on me that maybe I could not only be a better motivator for them to practice, but that I could teach them in such a way that would make it easier for them to practice, and not get discouraged so easily. Sometimes it's easy to forget what it's like to be a student. Taking classes such as yoga is probably a great way for us to keep our perspectives in check.

  6. Anonymous1:11 AM

    I can understand completely. Being a music instructor, its easy for me to redirect the blame on the students by saying they are not practicing. When I work on something everyday and it never gets better, instead of challenging myself to find another way to teach the concept I just say to myself that they are not practicing.

    This is something I am trying to "fix" in my teaching. Place the blame back on me and find new ways to teach and re-teach concepts that my students don't get.

  7. Oh my goodness, this happened to me all the time when I taught piano lessons (when I was in high school)! Unfortunately, I was not yet mature and patient enough to take more of the blame on myself. It took all four years of teaching while still in high school for me to learn to take responsibility for the failures of my students as well as their successes. Even so, some of them just did not practice. Should I have been more motivating?

    Then I think about my future as a math teacher, and wonder how I will perform as a motivator. Am I allowed to say that some students will never like math? It seems like that's a bit of a cop-out, but maybe it's also reality. Where do we draw the line of responsibility? Is it a line, or a massive, massive gray area?

  8. I've had the same epiphany durring my excersise class also. They go so fast and I'm still working on the basics. Probably I've always been the kind of learner who needs constant review. Jogging my long-term memory is difficult. The amount of information that must be retained is astronomical at this point in my life and the fact that I can remember anything normal at all seems amazing. Hopefullt while I'm teaching I will always keep this in the back of my mind. Along with all of the rest!

  9. Heidicrafts comment is great!

    "Someone, probably John Holt, suggested that everyone should always be learning something unfamiliar, to remember that feeling when they teach something familiar to someone else.

    I have trouble remembering Morse code, which is also putting meaning to a set of tappity sounds."

    I think that every teacher needs to be learning something that they don't know. That will help them understand the students experience so much better!

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