Being a Bad Teacher

This week (Tuesday, to be exact), I was not a good teacher.  I knew I was not being a good teacher, and I didn’t do anything about it.  I’m not being ironic here, and there’s no twist coming.  No, I simply didn’t teach nearly as well as I’m capable of teaching, and there’s no sugar-coating it.

Here’s what happened.  In my first-year writing class, I was teaching a longish short story I have taught numerous times in a second-year literature survey course.  I was supposed to teach this short story to the first-year students last semester, but the schedule got shuffled around because of a snow day, so this was my first time teaching this story at this level.  I did almost no preparation for this class.

My thinking was that I would simply teach it the same way I had taught it in the survey course.  I would raise the same questions, and we would have a very similar discussion to the ones I had had in previous semesters.  There were several problems with this approach.

First, the writing class is twenty-five minutes longer than the survey class.  Second, they’re on two different levels of thinking.  Third, it was a busy week, so the chances of students not having done the reading or finished the reading were higher.  All of these problems led to a rather lackluster class.

Now, let me quickly say that the students probably didn’t think the class was all that bad.  When I know, consciously or not, that I don’t have enough to say, I can easily fill up the time by talking about tangential subjects or simply being entertaining.  They were definitely entertained that day, but I don’t know that they learned very much.

We did discuss the questions I wanted them to explore, and they did perfectly fine with them.  They didn’t discuss the story at the depth the survey class usually did, not surprisingly, but they did fine for the level they’re at.  I didn’t take the discussion where it needed to go, and I certainly didn’t connect it to their writing, which I should have done.  Essentially, I missed an opportunity to talk about interesting ideas and use those ideas to help improve their writing.

We all have days like this, of course, so I know I shouldn’t beat myself up over it, but I also know I could have done much better.  The students deserve better than that, and so do I.  It wasn’t enjoyable for me, as I knew the entire time what was happening.  Not surprisingly, class went much better on Thursday, as I made a focused effort to connect the reading to their lives.  They not only enjoyed class, but they seemed to take something away from it, as well.

Perhaps we need these days of being bad teachers to remind us of the good days, maybe to even make the good days possible.  Perhaps we have better days than we might have had otherwise because the bad days made us want to be better.  Perhaps I just tell myself this to try to feel better after a clearly bad day of teaching.  Perhaps.

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