So, who failed this past semester? That’s the thought that’s been wandering through my mind. Me, for teaching a couple of classes I didn’t think were great? My students, for being different from previous students? After some reflecting, I’m going to argue for a third perspective.
The word fail is so harsh, so final. It feels lousy. It makes it seem like the best option is to run, not walk, away from a quarter, a semester, a school year, in the same panic-stricken way you’d run from a car wreck– get as much distance as you can before the thing explodes.
[1. www.tonderai.co.uk/travel/tunisia/door.jpg By open license] But where does that get you, besides out of breath with the car still in a ditch? Which stance is more conducive to growth, “I failed,” or “What will I do differently next time?”
I think my class simply didn’t match the students I got. Each week, I found something unexpected– in an oh, look what the cat dragged in way– in their writing, their ways of approaching material, their perceptions of themselves as writers and learners, their ways of interacting with me, their ideas of what an English teacher is or does. [2. http://www.flickr.com/photos/orangelimey/ / CC BY-SA 2.0]
I couldn’t make changes fast enough. Worst of all, I couldn’t predict what would come next. By the middle of the semester, I was shell-shocked.
Thank goodness I ran into a colleague in the copy room. Our schedules didn’t intersect this past semester, so we had a lot to catch up on. She was having similar experiences with her students. “I think this is the wave of the future,” I told her. It was not a happy moment.
I think my students came through high school and college learning to be good students– well-behaved, expert at interpreting teacher expectations and delivering, accustomed to neither taking initiative in a class nor learning independently. The latter are building blocks of becoming an effective teacher and colleagues, so I began to adjust class processes to emphasize these qualities.
Comments on student final self-assessments confirmed my ideas on how I’ll frame my next classes.
Strove to develop as an independent learner____ Progressed____
- “I think I really developed my own philosophy and ideas through the readings and the writing [we had in the course].”
- “I definitely became more independent, and as I learned on my own, I immersed myself in the areas that I wanted to learn about.”
- “I feel that I have come a long way in understanding my own ideas since the start of class.”
- “At first I was very by the book, or in this case, a teacher-focused type of student. But as the semester progressed, I started to worry more about what I wanted to achieve in the class.”
One of my students is heading out to student teach next semester. She’s going to have a great deal of responsibility in the school’s writing center.
“I feel ready,” she said. “I’m pumped.”
So am I.