TITLE: Teaching is Hard AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: August 19, 2009 3:51 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Earlier this summer, Wicked Teacher of the West attended a week-long professional development workshop and wrote a two-part reflection on her experience, called "Lost in syntax" [ part 1 | part 2 ]. I have written occasionally here about how useful it is for me as a teacher to be in the learner's shoes every so often in such areas as piano, running, and starting over. Those experiences are analogs, but they require a mapping onto learning computer science. I found Wicked Teacher's reflections especially helpful because she was in the classroom learning CS. I recognize a lot of the symptoms she describes from my students' behaviors in the past. She even captures her bad feelings in a series of object lessons for us teachers. Great. All I need to do design my course so that it does the right things (such as explaining the big picture) and avoids the obvious pitfalls (such as giving compliments that can be interpreted as indicators of inability), and then watch for signs of problems that are outside my control (such as trouble at home or an unwillingness to ask questions). Simple enough, right? Right. Much of this is easy in the abstract, but when you get into the rush of the semester, with other courses and other duties tugging at you, a room full of students all in different places, and lots of material to cover in too little time -- well, it suddenly feels a lot harder. Last year, I found myself in the middle of a tough semester and didn't recognize quickly enough that students were not asking questions when they didn't understand. When I am slow to recognize a situation, I am slow to respond. When I am slow to respond, I sometimes miss opportunities to address the issue. Sometimes, I run out of time. It's a wonder that most teachers don't have the same persistent sense of dread that is expressed in these articles' subtitles: "OMG I'm going to cry in front of all these people". Still, reflecting in this way -- and reading other peoples' reflections from similar experiences -- is immensely valuable. Simply keeping these lessons in mind over the course of a semester, especially when particular troubles arise, is a good first step toward addressing them in a meaningful way. A little empathy and a little conscious course design can go a long way. The rest is largely a matter of staying alert. I cannot fix every problem or even recognize them all, but paying attention and getting feedback frequently can help me do as well as I can. I think it is valuable for students to read essays such as Wicked Teacher's. Ultimately, learning is in their hands, and if they can recognize the things that they do which interfere with their own learning, they will be better off. If I can give only one piece of advice from these two reflections, it would be: Ask questions. Ask plenty of questions. Ask them now. Your instructor almost surely wants you to ask. Both of you will be better off if you do. -----