Funny how that happens

One of the benefits of teaching college is that you get a month-and-a-half-long break between fall and spring semesters. One of the sucky things about teaching college is that you get a month and-a-half-long break between fall and spring semesters.

First, the sucky things are mostly financial related. As an adjunct instructor, you don't get paid for the break like you do in secondary teaching. Also, it is in the winter and, to me, all things winter suck. And this winter so far has been especially frigid and bleak. Also, you get bored. You can only fill up so many hours in the day when you're broke and its cold outside and it gets dark at 4:30 p.m.

The benefits obviously include the time off. It is, after all, something we all sprint toward for months. It's nice wearing PJ bottoms and not combing your hair for days, and sleeping till it gets dark outside is also a plus. I always try to write and read more, but I never get nearly as much done as I hope. After a while you get too bored to be productively creative.

You also get the opportunity to reflect, and I've made at least one significant breakthrough in my teaching.

Now, breakthrough almost sounds hyperbolic when I write this because it is one of those common sense epiphanies that boldly expose themselves through the wisdom of experience. My breakthrough is that I have to teach basic skills to scaffold to larger ideas. Bing Bing Bing! Now, what I just said is pretty DUH for teachers. This is one of the first things you learn in education school. But of course it takes a while to really set in -- and after a few years of wondering why certain lessons and activities and assignments and yada yada didn't go as well as you wanted. Some things simply cannot be realized as a series of words or theories; some things can only be realized through doing it and doing it and doing it. Sure, I think a lot of my teaching so far has gone well and got better, but something was/is missing still.

I entered teaching with the loftiest of goals: empower the marginalized, bring critical thinking to the masses, end world hunger, stop all war and conflict, cure cancer and end all tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes. Thus, I planned all activities and assignments to accomplish these goals. For instance, in graduate school my thesis focused on using resistant music (basically rock and roll and rap) as a way to foster a critical literacy. This project birthed my favorite activities and assignments, and I think I have every right to be proud of the work I accomplished.

But much of my teaching has been a rush to the finish line. I've wanted this end result without reflecting on some of the basics it takes to get there. I spent so much time on the big picture that steps leading up to it suffered. I would try to teach an essay, for example, and plug away at the components as we went along -- essentially throwing everything at the poor students at once and hoping we can all make sense of it. "Ok students, I want you create a text that discusses how you want to change the world! It needs to have a thesis and support and evidence and consider audience and purpose and context and not make logical fallacies. Deal?" *student raises hand* "Yes" "Uh, what is a thesis"? "Oh, my bad, I guess we should talk about that." Okay, I was never that bad, but you get the point. ;-)

This break I've focused my planning on the components and how they build to these larger goals. More grass roots and inverted from my previous approaches. I've slowed it down and I hope to see my teaching come together as I've envisioned it since I started. Of course, teaching is an artform and perfection is never possible. I am sure I will make this same post in a couple months leading to the Fall10 semester. But I am at least hoping to see a more complete picture this semester and find other flaws in my teaching.

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