A tale of two teachers

This year, I have the pleasure of seeing a lot of the work my colleagues do around the school. Like many schools around the area state country (globe?), we are suffering from a severe shortage of substitutes and paras. Thankfully, due to the extraordinarily low turnover of teachers in my school, we do NOT suffer from a shortage of amazing, qualified regular classroom teachers. However, many of our teachers are at or nearing retirement age and that worries me. But that’s a post for another time.

In any case, I am a team player and besides, like everyone else, we don’t really have a choice – so I’ve been covering for a lot of other teachers while they are gone. I also have an ELL student this year and as the designated “surprise! I’m an ELL teacher now because I’m the only one who speaks Spanish and I also happened to have a free period!” person, I get to see first-hand a lot of work that the other teachers assign (as opposed to just hearing the complaints through students, or peering over their shoulder in study hall). In addition to all of this, I have a wonderful coworker who uses my room during 8th period to teach 10th grade health.

This coworker is the polar opposite of my teaching style. My style is very.. um.. loosey goosey would be good term for it. I am laid back. Kids interrupt me all the time and it rarely bothers me. My room looks and sounds like organized chaos most days – students are frequently shouting out things in English and/or Spanish. We do a lot of hands-on practice with reading stories, acting out stories, asking and answering questions, talking about pictures on the screen, and so on. I use a lot of technology in my room. I am frequently open to discussion, and in some cases, am open to discussion that has nothing to do with Spanish class because I think it’s equally important to discuss things that students need to know for their well-being as future adults (some random things that come up are stuff like, a student got in trouble because she got a whole bunch of overdraft fees on her debit card and she didn’t understand how that happened – kids don’t know that banks will debit your largest purchase first, then ding you for each subsequent purchase AND slam you with a overdraft fee for each of those purchases. In her case, she had moved money from her savings to her checking but that hadn’t cleared before the large purchase went through, and then she made a series of smaller purchases the same day). And especially since, in one of my Spanish classes, I have said ELL student who is a recent immigrant, and I want her to know about how things work here in the US because she is extra likely to get taken advantage of.

My fellow coworker? He’s twice my age. He does not do group work. He does not do technology. He does not do games or papers or discussion. The bell rings, he opens his notes, he lectures from the first bell to the dismissal bell and that is his class. The kids are mostly silent and scribble notes on paper as fast as their hands can write. It is, in every sense, the most traditional style of class. The other day, he busted out a LASER DISC and generally scoffs good-naturedly at all the stuff us youngin teachers do. But here’s the thing: his class is useful and compelling. He teaches during my plan period but quite frankly, I get nothing done because half the time I shut my computer and just listen, because he makes everything seem so fascinating. For him, the lecture style of education works perfectly. He delivers the content in a way that works. He doesn’t just give notes, but he peppers them with personal stories that work as an emotional hook to draw the kids in. In my opinion, he is a great teacher and it is going to really hurt our school to lose him when he retires in the probably nearish future.

So the point of this post is, sometimes we teachers get really hung up on methods. I do it too. I love my TPRS, I love my Kagan. But the method isn’t always what makes great teaching. Great teaching is what makes great teaching. How do we define great teaching? It’s teaching that delivers our content in a way that actually gets through to the kids, right? But that definition says nothing about method. I think some methods work better in some areas than others (again – lecture, in world language, does not work very well. But that’s because language is procedural knowledge, a working skill, and not declarative knowledge, knowing facts) but teaching is an art. My coworker has the lecture down to an art, and I am so glad every day that he “had to impose” on my classroom this year.

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