Teaching Life is Teaching Well

By Claire Buesser, SED’16

Picture1Spending August 2015 – January 2016 in Ecuador where I studied and student taught abroad was the best semester of my life. Teaching in a different country is quite an experience. My 22 students all spoke a different native language than me, they ate differently, they had different hobbies, and they had a different sense of humor. The teachers were different, the grounds were different, the busses were different – just assume that most things were different. I was therefore overwhelmed at first when I began interacting with these students.

I mostly observed my Supervising Practitioner at first, and I very much enjoyed watching her teach. She interacted so well with the students and she commanded their attention. As I watched her, though, I noticed that her teaching style was (you guessed it) different. Sticking strictly to the schedule was not of the upmost importance. If someone brought up an interesting point, she would run with it if it was important. I described it to her later by saying “you seem to teach about life a lot.” My SP taught the subject matter, of course, but she spent a remarkable time just talking about life. She would weave in a discussion of privilege during a math lesson, or she would start sharing her experiences from high school during science. It is hard to describe how she did it, but somehow it just worked.

And when she was not teaching, she was solving problems.  Our students’ interpersonal issues never ceased, and they kept us quite busy. At first, I was somewhat disillusioned by the time that she (and soon I) spent actually teaching. By the time we address all of the issues that arise throughout the day, is there any time to directly instruct the students? I quickly realized that the time teachers spend in front of the class is much less than I would have expected. In SED, I learned how to write lesson plans, craft units, open a lesson well. Going into student teaching, I expected to use these skills every day.  While I did use these skills, the academic instruction piece was not the only task I had to fulfill to be a good teacher.

It finally clicked for me that “the plan” is not always what happens, nor should it be.  When I was leading a well-planned, structured lesson on landforms, I projected a map of Africa. I had the students identify different landforms, and someone correctly found lakes. One boy waved his hand in the air as he furrowed his brow. “That’s wrong,” he said. “There isn’t any water in Africa.” Suddenly, I realized that I was about to break from the plan and “teach about life” as my SP did. It was clear to me in that moment that while I would love for my students to leave the lesson with the ability to identify the various landforms, if I let them leave without addressing the misconceptions that this student had about Africa, I would have failed my students. Realizing that the amount of instructional time is limited originally led me to believe that I had to use every moment of time teaching exactly what I planned, or else nothing would get done. Instead, I came to understand that since the time I have with my students is so limited, I need to squeeze in as much “life” instruction as I can. Students attend school to learn facts and skills, but if the only skills my students leave with are academic, I am no more than a tutor. To be a good teacher, I need to seize every opportunity to expand my students’ worldview, bring in new perspectives, and teach from my experience.

2 Comments

Anne Hagan posted on August 8, 2016 at 6:35 am

With current pressure on schools and teachers to mold students to set models and have them pass a series of tests, the perspective that you also need to spend time teaching life skills and developing students’ individuality is so important. Yes, students need to pass tests and learn academic skills but school is also a prime time to develop life skills and learn about other aspects of life.

Arnob Endry posted on January 18, 2018 at 4:55 am

Literature, bank, Insurance, Education use of computer massively seen in Industry & factories. Huge number of youths being educated in information technology engaged in honorable profession in country & abroad.

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