TITLE: Teaching is Hard
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: August 19, 2009 3:51 PM
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
]. 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
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
"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.