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Thoughts On Becoming The Teacher I Want To Be

Updated on July 14, 2014

I teach English classes for homeschool students. I meet with each class once a week for a two hour session, where we do class-like things such as take notes on a lecture, discuss the assigned reading, and watch the occasional BBC movie. Then I send them off with enough assignments to last the rest of the week.

What makes a teacher effective?

I feel like I don’t get that much time with my students. This is in the nature of teaching homeschoolers, since they work independently most of the time. So I’ve been reflecting on making the most of the time I have. I’ve been thinking over the interactions with teachers that impacted me most during high school. While education is life-long, the years dedicated to formal schooling are short, and these years are also a time when a little bit of influence can go a long way. My first year teaching, the principal of my school told us during a teacher’s meeting, “You teach a little by what you say, more by what you do, and the most by who you are.” Reflecting back on the teachers who influenced me, that is very true.

I once downloaded a whole new vision for life from a comment a teacher made during an informal conversation. A bunch of us students were hanging out in a classroom after school, and someone said, “Exactly why do we want to go to college anyway?” This was a college prep school, so everything was geared to college placement, but sometimes a sixteen year old just wants to question the system. One student tossed out the likelihood of making more money, and another that your parents would never let you hear the end of it if you didn’t. The teacher was sitting back with his feet up, letting the kids do the talking, but at this point he interjected that he went to college to learn how to think, to become a different kind of person, an intellectual.

Peanut M&Ms make class go better. Must be the protein.
Peanut M&Ms make class go better. Must be the protein.
Teaching Literature: The Independent Educator's Guide: for homeschoolers, unschoolers and others who teach outside the conventional classroom
Teaching Literature: The Independent Educator's Guide: for homeschoolers, unschoolers and others who teach outside the conventional classroom

An overview to teaching language arts and literature in homeschool: the hows and whys, backed up with research and experience.

 

He defined the goal for me

When I heard this, it was like a light turning on. I didn’t grow up around educated people: my grandparents were immigrants, and my parent’s generation finished high school if they were lucky. I was the first generation to set my sights on higher education, and as much as my family touted a college degree, the most common reason I heard growing up was that my grandfather would have wanted it. I knew I wanted college, I wanted it very much, but until that moment I couldn’t really articulate why. But this teacher put what I felt into words. I realized that I wanted to go to college to become a different person, capable of different things. I had sensed education would change me in some fundamental way, and that it would fact suit my temperament and character perfectly. Now I knew why.

So I remind myself what my first principal said, “You teach a little by what you say, more by what you do, and the most by who you are.” Focusing on what I’m going to say during class is probably the most straightforward way to approach teaching. I know I have to figure out the material I need to get through, and the points I need to cover. But I also know that communicating my love for novels, for characters, for great description, is the most important thing I have to give. The best thing I can do as a teacher is be me.

Part of being me: Every so often while I am teaching my housemates drop in to listen. I find visitors liven up class, especially if they fly in and land on the teacher's head.
Part of being me: Every so often while I am teaching my housemates drop in to listen. I find visitors liven up class, especially if they fly in and land on the teacher's head.

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