So, what metaphor would I use to describe my professional teaching practice? The following questions should help me to focus in on what that might be.
Q: Do I prefer to use lesson plans as rough guidelines and vary class activities as needed, or do I prefer to carefully organize and execute class activities according to a set plan?
A: A bit of both, actually. I suppose I started out teaching more along the lines of the former with just a topic in mind for each day in the course. Of course, I had it all written down too. But now having taught for 8 years, I have recreated the wheel of my pacing guide so often that I have settled on a more detailed format which includes a daily topic along with assignments for that day. Exactly how I present the material still varies by class. I have it all organized into a nice spreadsheet. Looking back at the question, I’ve always had some kind of guide and am much more comfortable teaching that way, but I also allow room for the unplanned teachable moment.
Q: Do I feel that students must reach clearly specified state, district, and local goals, or do I prefer for students to take different paths to learning, which may lead them to different destinations?
A: I prefer that students learn what is important to them in their future lives, but that doesn’t always match up with the official curriculum. So, yes, I do allow for students to take different learning paths, but I also make sure that the essential curriculum is also followed. There is usually room for both.
Q: Do I feel that my role as a teacher is to build in the knowledge that all students need to succeed, or do I see my role as drawing out students’ prior knowledge and helping them to organize it?
A: Since most of the courses I teach are introductory level courses, students in those courses are assumed to have little or no prior experience or knowledge to draw from. Essentially, I assume nothing and build on that foundation. As I teach, I constantly try to relate prior knowledge and connect concepts together in the minds of my students, but I don’t consider that my primary role. So, given the two choices, I tend to build in the knowledge that students need to succeed.
Q: Do I feel that it is my responsibility to plan, direct, and monitor what is done in class, or do I allow students to help plan, direct, and monitor many of their own class activities?
A: This greatly depends on the students that make up the class and their respective maturity and interest levels. To be sure, every class is a little different. I generally start out very strongly as the director and monitor of all class activities but this gives way to other leadership techniques within a few weeks. Even with the best classes I usually only allow the students very limited time to direct their own learning due to curriculum requirements.
Q: Do I feel that learning requires students to listen, watch, wait patiently, and follow my directions, or do I feel that learning depends upon student engagement in a wide range of activities and applications?
A: It takes both and it usually takes both for any given topic on any given day. Let me explain: Most topics in my curricula have both a comprehension component and an application component. That is, there is a part that must be understood and a part that must be practiced. So, I generally present the new material to the students as a group and then they implement it on their own. Given a certain necessary minimum amount of structure, I think the best learning comes when students are engaged though. We just usually have to get through the knowledge part first.
Q: Do I emphasize the importance of feelings, values, and relationships in my classroom, or do I emphasize the importance of reason, logic, and systematic problem solving in my classroom?
A: Again, I see the importance of both. While my curriculum is all about reason, logic, and problem solving – especially the computer programming courses – the students in the course are still human and have emotional and social needs. Therefore, I see the importance of both.
Q: Do I feel that students need to focus on doing their own work and improving their own performance, or do I feel that students need to develop social skills and the capacity to work well with others?
A: I certainly emphasize the former, but there is room for the latter. Each student must be able to do the coursework on his or her own at the end of the course. How a student gets to the end of the course is a strong indicator of the student’s abilities, but it is in no way a guarantee. Students should never be required to do all of their work in a bubble away from other students. In fact, I find that collaboration between students on their daily coursework is an excellent way for both to improve their individual abilities. Two heads really are better than one.
Q: As the instructional leader, do I do more talking than students during class time, or do the students do more talking?
A: At the beginning of my courses I tend to do a lot more talking. This is simply because I am introducing new concepts and material. As the courses progress and the students grow stronger in their abilities and confidence, I tend to talk less. I do encourage students to ask questions of me and each other when there is a gap in understanding. I think this is a very effective strategy to promote better student understanding and achievement. Thus, my classes tend to be rather loud as the students communicate with each other, ask questions of each other, and of me. There is also a comfort zone quality to asking questions so students who are shy may take a while to begin speaking. Either way, as my courses progress the students tend to do more of the talking.
Q: Is my major concern as an instructional leader that students maintain a strong sense of self while learning, or is my major concern that students meet or exceed their performance goals?
A: I think this is a Maslow question. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that higher needs on the scale he developed cannot be addressed until lower needs on the scale are satisfied. Thus, I clearly tend to concern myself with student performance goals. I also know that if a student’s basic self concept is suffering I must correct that deficiency before refocusing the student on his or her performance goals. My focus and major concern remains on the performance goals though.
Q: Do I try to predict what students will do and carefully manage class time to get the desired results, or do I try to allow time and opportunity for accidental developments and discoveries?
A: I tend to predict and prepare for student results. I also frequently regret doing so as every class is different, but there is extra time built into my classes for self-exploration. I do not assign homework in any class because to do so would be ethically unfair to students without easy access to a computer after school hours. This means that I must manage my class time wisely so that there is enough time built into the course for even the slowest student to finish. Thus, most students have at least some time each day for exploration after their daily assignments are done.
Conclusion: In reviewing my responses to these questions the metaphor of a “Tour Guide” comes to mind. Each day my students and I have an itinerary of places to go and things to see. I point out important things along the trip, but let them explore these new places and sights on their own. I am also always standing there behind them if they have questions.
You know, in my personal life I’ve never particularly cared for real tour guides as they never wanted to stick around at the things that interested me. Instead, after their talk was done, they herded the group off to the next location. I don’t want to be that kind of teacher. I just can’t think that the students would get very much out of it. On the flip side, my hands are somewhat tied due to the course requirements. I do have to hurry the students along to the next topic! If I didn’t, they would never complete the course on time. It’s a sad situation, but no one has yet figured out the dynamics of teaching students where they are instead of our arbitrary age- and grade-based system. Until then, “please follow me to the next exhibit…”
Pittman, Kim and Linda O’Neill. “Using Metaphors to Evaluate Ourselves.” Classroom Leadership February 2001<http://www.ascd.org/portal/site/ascd/template.MAXIMIZE/menuitem.29d4046bbea38f2eb85516f762108a0c/?javax.portlet.tpst=d5b9c0fa1a493266805516f762108a0c_ws_MX>.