Friday, October 29, 2010

Expectations vs Reality

Prior to becoming a teacher, I had some preconceived notions on what teaching was like. I went to a private school. My English classes relied heavily on lectures and discussions. We read all of our books at home and wrote our essays at home. We dutifully did our homework and brought it back when it was due. 

When I went to college, my English classes were very similar. Classes consisted of professors having rousing discussions with their wonderful, attentive classes. We did our reading and work at home and brought it in when it was due.

Because of my experiences, this is the type of classroom I expected to walk into. I imagined a comfortable setting where my students would laugh at my witty jokes and we'd have delightful discussions about Chaucer and Shakespeare. Surely you see where this is going. You're probably asking yourself how I could be so na├»ve. What rock was I living under?! I was sheltered. Very, very sheltered. Clinging to these fantasies even cost an acquaintance of mine entrance into the same masters program I took.

Before entering my masters program, I had no concept of NCLB laws, IEPs, and ECE students. I had no concept of how different public school and private school could really be. I had to enter with an open mind and check my daydreams at the door. Teaching was going to be a lot different than I intended. 

Despite my shattered expectations, teaching was still what I wanted. Teaching became more rewarding than I originally intended. I've had students who have never read a book actually finish a book in my classroom. I've turned students from reluctant readers into students who I had to pry the book from their hands. I don't think that's something I would have ever had the privilege to do in my dream classroom. 

The reality is that we have to do almost all of our reading in the classroom. I don't have enough textbooks to send them home and many of my students would struggle too much with Shakespeare to assign it for homework. I rarely assign homework because it rarely comes back. We don't do lectures. Students don't learn well that way, and even if they did, lectures are exhausting for teachers. Discussion is a lot more focused than in any of the classes I took. I'm finding that different is not necessarily "worse". Different is different and it matches the needs of my students. 

A lot of teachers become teachers for the same reason. They were good at school, so they turn school into a career. They come from classrooms like the one I learned in and attempt to implement it in their own classroom. Sometimes they are reluctant to change. They expect the students to adapt to them rather than the other way around. Inevitably, these teachers don't last long. They transfer out to other, "better" schools. The last one I knew transfered out to a charter school. In her wake, she left a large number of students who loathe reading and mistrust their teachers. Adapting is a hard road to go, but it ends up worth it; for you and the students.

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