Tuesday, June 24, 2008
IRD Third (and a half!) Week: Correcting the Overcorrection
The end of last week was very busy, even though N. was away at camp, and I did not post a reflection at all.
And perhaps that's to the good, because today I was confronted with the balancing act of learning to teach differently than I have in the past.
So this is a good day to write a reflection.
I had a parent complaint about the atmosphere in one of my classes. This is a class with middle school children, one or two of whom I am concerned about in terms of progress and home practice, but all of whom are likeable kids. It is a quiet class, too, although last week with the excitement of an electrical outage, they loosened up quite a bit. As did I, and this last may be the clue to the problem.
I think what the parent observed is based on overcorrections on my part. I have been struggling with two issues, and achieving balance in both of them will make me a better teacher. The first is timing--in my case complicated by my perfectionistic desire to add detail upon detail. I discussed that here. The second is the need to be direct with students. My tendency is to soften commands by saying things like: "You might want to do...." and "Open the book to page such-and-such, please" and "Suzie, please put the pencil down." My trainers made me practice saying: "Put the pencil down" and "I need you to do..." and "Now open your books to..." This directness goes against my early training designed to corral a rather "spirited" child!
And the new directness has been working. With my younger kids, especially, where I am also playing games with them as part of the process, and where directness interacts well with my natural warmth for the little guys. But in this particular class, I am dealing with mid-school kids and I have been very matter-of-fact with them, especially when teaching the study skills part of the class. My supervisor asked me if I was remembering to praise their efforts frequently enough. And I realized that although when I go around to check homework, I do try to find a good thing to say to each one, I have not been praising the group effort as enthusiastically as I do with my younger kiddos. And yet these are not yet the high school kids who would be insulted by that. These are middle schoolers who still have a little kid in them, and not buried too deeply, either. They need to know that their hard work is noticed. And they need to know it with the same level of directness that I am using to give directions.
So there you have it, like a nervous new driver overcorrects by jerking the wheel a little too hard, I was overcorrecting for my tendency to qualify directions and sounded quite strict. It is not bad to be strict, but at the same time, I forgot to praise real effort when they are working on something difficult. And for middle school kids, the art of finding main ideas and supporting details in a textbook or other work of non-fiction is difficult. So this parent was observing the fallout of my overcorrection.
In addition to this, there were some other incidents that had happened that day that left me a little rattled and I was having a real Jonah Day--as Anne of the Island called a bad teaching day. (Although my day did not include fireworks in the heating system as Anne's did).
Factor in that this day (my second with the class) was this parent's child's first week in the class. So this was the parent's first impression of me.
And I had not gotten to the bathroom between classes, to touch up and get a breath of outside air. Imagine this: hair wild, lip gloss not touched up, nerves tingling.Well.
It is never pleasant to recognize that someone's first impression of you is not your best foot forward. And it always hurts a bit when you first hear the truth of the matter via a complaint.
My first reaction is to want to explain myself--in detail, of course!
If the complaint was not made, I would not have the opportunity to correct the overcorrection problem. It might never have been called to my attention.
Just like that test answer that you got wrong and so you remember that information twenty years later even after forgetting most of the rest of the test, (a diatreme is the frozen neck of a volcano exposed by weathering way of the original mountain--I got it wrong in 1981), so having attention called to the issue so forcefully means I am more likely to achieve the balance sooner.
This is the never-ending process of getting the rough edges rubbed off.
Painful, but necessary to the process of arriving at a smooth and balanced state.