Why I Teach – Part 2: Pedagogical Risks

Yesterday I began a five-part blog series about why I teach. Here is the second part, and for those that have not read part 1 yet, I will begin again with what inspired this series.

Earlier this semester my district had a random Monday in September for a Professional Development day. A Google Innovator was brought in from out of state to talk about ways to make more effective use of Google Classroom. That part of her presentation was great and since that day I have made much use of what she presented, however, it was a completely different part of her presentation that has stuck with me the most. At the beginning of the day she had us write down 5 things we love about our job on 5 different note cards. I have carried those note cards with me daily ever since. As I have continually reflected on what I wrote that morning I have come to a much deeper realization of why I love my career. To further reflect upon this I want to talk about what I wrote on each of these cards in a blog post each day this week.

Upon the second notecard I wrote:

I love trying new strategies to foment knowledge acquisition to better students’ experience in the classroom.

Yesterday I wrote about building student relationships, which is what makes teaching so rewarding. Today I am going to discuss what makes teaching so much fun.

I did not come into teaching from a teacher preparatory university program. In a later post I will tell the full story of what led me into this career, but in short I came to this profession after spending a decade and a half in another career field. Furthermore, I entered this new profession as an alternatively certified teacher. I started teaching in the middle of the school year, right after the winter holiday break. Thankfully I taught all semester long classes so each of my classes were brand new on my first day. I had to learn what to do and how to adapt to my students learning styles on the fly.

Now I had taken various classes in college about the psychological developmental processes of teens, and about the theory of cognition. All of those courses were taught from a Psychology or Social Science perspective though. I had spent time as a substitute teacher. I had never had the benefit of teaching under the supervision of an experienced mentor or guide though. So I had to default to what I knew. You see, I had devoted many hours in my previous career field to training and teaching various groups of people, typically adults. The thing about teaching adults in largely voluntary settings, or even employer mandated ones, is that you can lose their engagement quick. There are two things I found to work in captivating adult audiences. One was my own personal charisma. The other was to get them to work together and collaborate. So I started to rely on these two methods in my classroom. I employed my charisma as a way to further connect with students and to let them know me. I also started to use a lot of group and project based assignments.

Personal stories and group project based collaboration are excellent tools for a teacher. However, the more I taught I realized I needed more tools in my toolbox to reach students more effectively. So I started reading as much as possible. The summer between my first semester and first full year I read about 15 books on classroom management and teaching strategies. I also started to ask others what they did and what worked for them. I went to several conferences and learned from what was being said and also how it was being said. I started to be an ardent consumer of all things pedagogical.

I still am that ardent consumer of pedagogical methods and strategies. I still attend conference and trainings and read voraciously; I also listen to educational podcasts, read blogs from innovative teachers, and participate in online PLN’s. I am always thinking: “how can I put this to use in my classroom?”.  I am in the midst of considering a massive overhaul to my class. I want to make my classroom an inquiry based historical lab where students investigate and do history not just memorize it for an assessment. This is proving to be a mountainous task and overwhelms me at times. To be honest, it would be so much easier to just teach them facts, dates, and names. I can achieve a respectable level at that with my charisma and a bit of student collaboration and meet the requisite standards along the way. However, to be true to my teaching mantra, my classroom is about my students not Mr. Gragg, while at the same time fulfilling my classroom vision of creating lifelong learners in an effort to contribute to a more informed and engaged citizenry, I have to push myself to learn and use new teaching strategies. I do this because I want to equip each of them with the ability to make a difference in the world. I also do this because it is fun to learn new things and continue to amend them to better serve my students needs.

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