I am a teacher – that is what I tell people who ask me about my job. That is also what my students and colleagues would say. But lately, I have been struggling to think about my role in the classroom. Sometimes the term “teacher” makes me uncomfortable because it brings back memories of my schooling where my teachers “taught” me stuff and I did my best to learn it. I am sure that I had opportunities to think and stretch my intellect, but the classrooms were centered around my teachers.
Some days I feel like a teacher. But those are the days I find the least satisfying. I have been trying to turn over more of the class to my students. But, there are days, usually when I have not really inspired the students to engage with the lesson, that I find myself talking at the class more than I would like. While the students may be listening and even thinking, they have no real investment.
Some days are entirely student-centered. I am not completely comfortable in that situation either. I am not always sure what I should be doing. I listen to the conversations. I walk around the room. I field questions when they arise. I feel great when the students are so engaged in what I have asked them to do that they do not need me to keep them on task, but I struggle to stay connected without interfering. I experienced that today when I asked my seniors to craft a peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Once they got over the initial surprise that I was asking them to do something they have come to believe impossible, they set to work enthusiastically. I told them I wanted them to imagine the future can be different, and they did.
The third model for class, and the one that I truly love is one where I participate along with students in the learning. Today I had my US History class watch clips from Triumph of the Will and Frank Capra’s Why We Fight. I set up a chat room on TodaysMeet. I entered comments and posed questions along with the students. We built a discussion that was not hierarchical, where all ideas and insights blended into a single transcript. I loved participating and not leading that discussion. I need to find ways to make that the norm in class discussion, not just in the backchannel.
My goal is not for students to think I am a great teacher, but for students to think my class is a great class. I do not want them to think about the things I taught them, but rather think about how much they learned in my classroom.
My ideal model is really a hybrid – sometimes I stand aside, and sometimes I stand beside. The less I stand in front, the better.