Tag Archives: Learning

A Good Teacher

I recently solicited feedback from friends about this blog and how I can improve it. Sure, taking travel photos is fun and I love writing about where I’ve been and what I’ve seen, but there’s a lot more to me than weekends out of town.

Most of my hours are spent teaching and learning, thinking about teaching and learning, and reading about teaching and learning. I do quite a lot of personal writing about it as well, so a friend’s recommendation to blog about education seems only natural. There is now an education category up in the menu bar. The posts currently there are old, but I think still relevant to my constantly evolving thoughts on what education is and should be.

Now that I’m making a concerted effort to write publicly about education, I think it makes sense to begin by discussing what I see as being a good teacher. This will also help you, my wonderful readers, understand who and what I strive to be. I do acknowledge that good is a tricky word, and it is precisely for that reason that I want to explain how I define “good” in terms of teachers and teaching.


The way I see it, good teachers possess deep content knowledge and pedagogical understanding. They take risks by trying new ideas that are not crafted out of nowhere, but constructed out of research and sound practice. This means that teachers should make a point to remain current in research and actively seek out discussion with colleagues. Good teachers constantly reflect on their practice and make changes in their instruction based on students’ successes, failures, and needs.

Ultimately, good teachers act as role models for students, both in teaching and learning. Good teachers learn along with their students and are explicit in doing so. It is crucial that students see their teachers as actively and deliberately working to improve and accomplish relevant, meaningful goals. Learning is a process, and we need to spend substantial time addressing that process in our classrooms.

Additionally, I believe that good teachers establish a strong rapport with their students based on trust, genuine caring, a shared vision for the classroom community, and mutual respect. They need to value the unique experiences, backgrounds, and needs of their students to create environments that are inclusive for all. This means that good teachers and their students actively work for social justice.

Good teachers build their classrooms around what is best for students. To do so, teachers need to hear and listen to (yes, those are different!) the voices of their students. Good teachers believe that students have agency and they need to provide space for students to act and make choices.

This does not mean, however, that any individual should be all-powerful or completely powerless in a good teacher’s classroom. I am coming to believe that the central element of good teaching is to approach education with the goal of building peace in the classroom, in the community, and in the world. With that in mind, good teachers should work with their students and schools to develop environments in which dialogue, discussion, and consensus-building are the norm. Whenever possible, the emphasis in curricula should highlight the key concepts of peace and social justice.


Twenty-first century education is complicated because society has not come to a conclusion about education’s purpose. For fun, I typed “purpose of education” into Google’s search bar and got “about 975,000,000 results.” (By contrast, “why is the sky blue” yields only “about 179,000,000 results.” We have clearly come to a decision on that one.) While I don’t advocate a step-by-step formula for education, quite the opposite, I do think it’s important to be aware that education means a lot of things to a lot of people. Every single person on this planet is a stakeholder in terms of education. That’s a lot of people, and therefore a lot of ideas.

I’m looking forward to sharing my ideas and would really love to hear yours! Dialogue only works if people are willing to talk and that’s what the comments section is for! I’m always looking to grow and develop as both a teacher and a learner. Therefore, I hope that this blog, in addition to providing a platform for communication, will help me (and you!) in efforts to do so.

 

“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon . .. “

Devoted Harry Potter fans should recognize this quote. Admittedly, I had to look up the book (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), probably because it’s so long that I only read it 7 or 8 times. To summarize, Hermione is berating Harry and Ron for not understanding the very complicated feelings of Harry’s current girlfriend, Cho, whose former boyfriend was murdered by Voldemort.

It popped into my head while I was running today, and I actually started laughing, which should tell you how freaking slow this run was. Remembering Hermione’s “emotional range of a teaspoon” rant led me down a rabbit hole of emotion-related thoughts, and not only because theories of emotions was last week’s topic in DP Psych. At the recommendation of a high school English teacher who later became a colleague, I was 18 when I took the Myers-Briggs and found it to be both accurate and revealing. I’m considering taking it again because I recently heard an NPR podcast about how personality changes over time. Have a look or listen here.

All week I’ve been thinking about the theories of emotion that we study in class. We focused on two, the two-factor theory and the cognitive appraisal theory. In the past, I’ve also taught opponent-process, James-Lange, and Cannon-Bard. (I’ll leave the Googling to you for the last three.)

The two-factor theory states that there is a stimulus (thing that happens), which leads to some kind of physiological arousal (e.g. heart beating faster, palms sweating), which leads to a cognitive labeling of the situation (e.g. “This is amazing and making me happy!”), and concludes with the experience of emotion (e.g. joy). The following is a really useful image:

schachter-singer_two_factor_theory-142f804932851b974aa
Source: http://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/859/flashcards/4458859/png/schachter-singer_two_factor_theory-142F804932851B974AA.png

On the other hand, the cognitive appraisal theory suggests that we experience emotions as a result two types of appraisal, primary and secondary. As you are experiencing an event, you make a judgement about it. Then there is physiological arousal and you experience the emotion, simultaneously. Primary appraisal refers to the significance of the situation, which will impact an individual’s response, and secondary appraisal refers to how an individual feels he or she can cope with consequences, again impacting response.

picture_16
Hint: ANS = autonomic nervous system. Source: https://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/43/flashcards/428043/png/picture_16.png

While all people experience emotions differently, there are common threads to emotions that people identify as either positive or negative. To introduce this topic in class, I had my students choose a particular emotion, either negative or positive, and describe what the brain and body are doing as they experience this emotion. For example, negative emotions (e.g. stress, fear, anger) elicited responses like: sweaty palms, red face, jittery, jumpy, full of energy, argumentative, yelling, dizzy. My students described positive emotions emotions as being: giggly, affectionate, hugging, childlike, optimistic, free, eager, open. Some overlap, we also some common threads in our groups of examples.

On a personal level, I believe that I feel emotions a lot more intensely than most people. My English teacher identified this after my reaction to a reading of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” in class and subsequently suggested the Myers-Briggs. My mum tells stories of my temper tantrums as a kid, some of which I remember. She talks about dragging me up the stairs while I screamed and cried about really nothing, throwing me in the bath to calm me down. I bit a lot of pillows, but my parents only taught me that after noticing bruises on my arms. But I have also woken myself from dreams due to literally laughing out loud. I have done cartwheels down schools hallways (both as a student and as a teacher). I feel the need to hug everyone around me and restrain myself only because that’s not socially acceptable. The first time I was in a serious relationship my heart beat faster than normal for days, I lost my appetite, I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t sleep. Someone once called the range of emotions I feel simultaneously “exhausting.” It can be.

A lot of people feel really intense emotions, and maybe the above is more normal than I think it is. Regardless, I almost always act on my emotions, positive or negative, and that’s been a problem.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to act and react more quietly, at least to the eyes and ears of others. I keep myself almost constantly busy when I’m upset to avoid ruminating because I know how riled up I will be if I let myself do that. A small change, for example, was journaling only once I’d calmed down rather than while I was upset. That can take hours. Sometimes it takes days. By the same token, emotions that are already strong like excitement and passion leave me full of jittery energy for days at a time. These days are usually very productive, despite loss of sleep that comes from said nervous energy, because if I’m moving I can stop thinking.

I have found myself muting my emotions when interacting with others. I’m probably feeling a lot more than I admit I’m feeling, whether those emotions are positive or negative. Maybe this comes from social cues about how much people are supposed to feel at once. Maybe those social cues are inaccurate and, like much of what we do, simply a social norm. And maybe others do sense that I’m not disclosing everything I could be. A friend and colleague in Malaysia describes me as guarded and he was right. Additionally, I wonder if my feelings last for longer than those of other people do. I have also found, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post (What?! Two posts in two days?!) that holding in all of those emotions has been a problem. And I do feel better when I let them out. This, I know, is normal.

What I don’t know is which theory of emotion sounds the most plausible to me. My students struggled with this, too. All are supported with empirical evidence, and therefore disputed based on other empirical evidence. Under some circumstances, I expect I act first and think later (e.g. the time the transmission blew on our boat full of passengers and we were floating in the middle of a river and needed someone on the only dock in that entire section of the river to help us with a line – definitely acted first and panicked later) Under others, however, I react based on how I think I’m feeling (e.g. being chased by lots of dogs while running in Malaysia – terror like I’ve never felt and then running faster than I’ve ever run).

If I’m totally off the mark on this, please let me know! Few feelings? Many feelings? No feelings? Feelings with no names? Comments always welcome.

 

Forward

On the phone this morning, my mum pointed out that I haven’t blogged in a while. I haven’t written in my journal as often as usual, either. I started thinking about why that might be, and I feel that nothing I have to say is important compared to all of the hate the world is experiencing. My grade 10 students write up current events reports every two weeks, and some of them have already come in.

As the world is aware, it has not been a good two weeks.

My students are genuinely concerned, not just about Paris but also about Nigeria, Lebanon, ISIS, and the debate over refugees in the US. They’re concerned about potential evacuation drills, and they’re concerned about why there’s been so much violence in the world lately. One of them told me, “I wanted to find a current event that’s not about war. But I can’t.”

As I listen to student concerns, look over news articles in class, validate fears, and explain what/who/why ISIS is, I have also come to terms with my own unease. I realized this while journaling just a few minutes ago, and I thought it would be a good time for a post.

What frustrates me, and always has, is hate. Hate is not something I understand, not when it’s directed at a specific group of people (and I mean people, not monsters like ISIS, Boko Haram, or the Nazis). I understand fear, though I don’t always agree with it. However, I don’t understand the underlying racism, the hate, that accompanies fear. How is it that we don’t know better? Where did we, as educators, go wrong? Where did we, as people, as humans, go wrong? I’d expect that if asked, everyone in the people category (again, excluding monsters and their affiliates) would claim to want peace.

But we know that wanting peace isn’t enough. Peace doesn’t happen overnight. Peace needs time. It needs to be built. It needs to be strong so that it lasts.

As a student and a teacher of history, I know that peace is fragile. Peacebuilding itself is fragile. Peace is scary for some, I think, because it means letting go. It means admitting fallacy. It means apologizing when you’re in the wrong, when you’ve hurt others. It means compromise.

The way I see it, peace is the only way forward. And if we can’t build peace as a world right now for whatever reason (and I do understand the obstacles) maybe we can start by building peace within and among ourselves. We do that with children. We say things like, “Two wrongs don’t make a right!” (And we smile indulgently when cheeky kids respond with, “But two negatives make a positive!”) We tell children that “hands are not for hitting” and that it’s important to be nice to our friends. Sharing is caring, right? We teach children that everyone is unique and we teach the acceptance of difference. We teach about different cultures, different customs, and the importance of the Golden Rule. We teach friendship and respect and fairness and trustworthiness. We teach about taking risks and about trying again. We teach about perspectives and beliefs and opinions. We teach about hope for the future.

We teach children how to stop, listen, reflect, apologize, shake hands, and move forward. We teach children how to live.

As an educator, I am not in a position to negotiate world peace, and I do not envy those who are. But I do believe that it the responsibility of every person to create a better world. I became a teacher because I firmly believe that every person can play a role in doing so. In my classroom, we build peace. We communicate. We debate. We reflect. We listen and respond to one another as people, regardless of our differences. We highlight those differences to understand them, and we ask questions when we are uncertain. In my classroom, my students are safe. They are learning how to create a peaceful environment, and what it means to be a member of a community.

It is those lessons that I believe the world needs. Bombs aren’t going to stop us from hurting.

Peace, even in the smallest of ways, is our way forward.