Looking Back on my Years of Teaching
If I Were Teaching Today
Mini 11 July asked me to talk about my experience as a teacher and what advice I might offer new teachers. I answered her question. Here I'm making my response into a hub.
If I were teaching today, the first thing I would do is understand and use the basic study technology developed by L. Ron Hubbard. It emphasizes looking up words, learning their various uses, and knowing each word's history. It also reminds us that many times students need more than the text in front of them. If you are reading about a factory and have never been in a factory, time for a field trip. Basic study technology also suggests watching that a step is not skipped. A skipped gradient or missed step can really put a student off balance. Read more about Basic Study Tech on the Scientology Web site. It's a resource I'm excited about.
The second bit of knowledge I would apply comes from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, developed by Isabel Myers and her mother Kathryn Briggs. Knowing this system will help you identify student study styles--those who need more action than the classroom provides, those who need to know what is expected, those who will work for you if they feel you care, and those who need you mainly as a resource who doesn't interfere too much. The MBTI does not give you much information about troubled students. It deals with the gifts of a variety of personalities. (For an understanding of what troubles students, the best book by far in my experience is from L. Ron Hubbard--Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. I have no agenda in telling you this. It's been a self help best seller for over 60 years. You'll see why.)
I'd do anything I could to make myself personally strong and stable. Students need teachers who are unflappable in the face of their dramas and needs. I remember a teacher who ran a huge and very quiet study hall, all the students studying and being respectful. You could never see what she did to command such respect, but one ingredient was surely that she respected the students and expected the same in return. Of course, such steadiness comes with age and experience.
There are two abilities that matter for a teacher of English. One is knowing the language and literature well so that you can create lessons that work to help your students read and write. The other is personal confidence. Do anything that enhances your confidence, from further study and reading to simply knowing that you are good and will only get better.
English and personal development go well together. Be very interested in your students, I would say. If you ask them questions about themselves, they will want to communicate, which is the first part of writing or speaking well.
I still teach, in that I present writing workshops for adults. I tell them that grammar rules and all such only matter because they help you communicate. Anything you say or write has to REACH somebody and get your idea across. That's the point of all talk and all of literature, right?
Things have changed since I was a teacher. Students today must contend with a lot. I hope an English class would still be a place where students could write and speak the truth with full support from the teacher and a respect for their privacy. Be brave enough to let them discuss tough topics, such as why the grownups have messed up so badly in certain areas (global warming, the national debt, the dissolution of the family) and what they would do different. (I'm too far removed from today's youth to give more specific advice on this, but I do know that poets and artists throughout the ages have been at the vanguard of truth speaking.)
Remember to have fun. Make a game of learning. Laugh at yourself so that they can laugh at you when they need to. One day I stepped into a classroom of high school freshmen and tripped over the wastebasket. The wastebasket clattered and settled back. I stumbled and caught myself on the desk. My sweet freshmen were respectfully trying not to laugh but breaking up anyway. So I laughed. "That must have looked pretty funny," I said. They broke into free laughter and we were all okay about it.