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Creating an Insanely Great Classroom without Going Insane

Updated on September 23, 2014

The dream: small class sizes that a window? Let there be light!

Geology. God awful Geology at East Carolina. That in itself was an English major’s worst nightmare (aside from ANY kind of mathematics). But to actually make matters worse, it was stifling. Imagine a hot 3-story brick building circa 1950—little airflow, little desks, little room for legroom—everything little except the class size. Surrounded by 50 other students at least. Sit back near the door or windows that open just a crack and one might get a whiff of fresh air, but then the chalkboard (yes, I said chalkboard) was barely visible.

Granted, it’s been well over a decade since I sat in that mausoleum thinking of better days and a greater life ahead, but I remember. Now, an English Professor, technical writer, and self-proclaimed social media manager, I am determined to give my students the insanely great learning and working environment I would have killed for. Mentors will say, “If you even reach one…”. Yeah, I don’t buy that. I wanna reach ‘em all.

I pride myself on teaching real world skills and preparing students for the workplace. We live in an age where companies are offering amazing perks to their employees to lure them AND keep them. I can’t provide free fruit and coffee every day, but I can facilitate an environment where students feel comfortable spreading out, working on their laptops, even tweeting during class!

If I had a buck for every time I heard a peer complaining about cell phone use in the classroom, I’d be in a very different reality, a much richer one. Using a computer in class? Gasp! Talking to the person next to them? What?! No way…who uses those newfangled methods of communication?

My motto? If you can’t beat them, join them. Or something like that anyway. Better yet, teach them the right way. Show them how social media can help (or hinder) one’s personal brand. Talk about networking and using LinkedIn to showcase one’s writing ability. Get them on Twitter where they can follow industry leaders and find internships before the masses get the info.

After many years of teaching, I can tell you honestly that taking control of the classroom is really like herding animals. A bit furry, just a tad stinky, and all truly yearning for someone to lead them in the right direction. Not paying attention? Give them something to do that involves technology. I know my fellow pedagogists are groaning right now, but stay with me.

You’re going to have three types of students inevitably in most classrooms: the ones who want to finish first (to prove how much smarter they are than their clearly useless counterparts), the ones who will work quietly (whether they understand or not), and the ones who don’t know where to begin (and wave their hands wildly calling “Miss…um…Miss?”). If this sounds truly terrible, think back to Geology and nearly dying of boredom and heat stroke.

Isn’t the ultimate goal to teach useful things—how to follow directions, how to hit the ground running, how to stand out in a saturated job market? This is not the college of yesteryear. Supervisors will not ask employees to sit quietly and make eye contact with a spot on the wall. They will not assign hundreds of pages of reading or give chapter tests. They will not require scantrons. The real workplace may require meetings; this is true. But more often, employees will find themselves solving problems, working with others, and taking an occasional Facebook break so they can come back focused and ready to muddle through the rest of the day. Let yours be the class fondly remembered as they wish the real world weren’t so real.

Four score and seven years ago...

Think of the most boring course you endured. What was the problem?

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    • Christy Kinnion profile image

      Christy Kinnion 3 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Thanks for your comment, Virginia. I agree that when they see us invested and excited, it makes a difference. Sadly these days, however, I'm noticing that isn't enough. Sure, some appreciate it, but so many others are just counting minutes (and credits). I'm piloting these ideas in my business writing courses this semester, so we'll see how it goes. I don't think the methods in the article would apply in a literature course necessarily and certainly not across the board. Thanks again.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 3 years ago from United States

      I've been a teacher for 33 years and I've taught College English for the last 20. What I think makes the biggest difference in whether a class learns or not is whether they believe that I actually care about them and what we are doing in the class. When I have students who don't seem to want to be there, I try to focus on learning something about them and showing them that I remember and care. Often that makes them want to do better.