Monday, February 11, 2008

Returning to the classroom

I knew that returning to the classroom after a year away would be tricky. Now that I've been back for a bit, I can say that it has been easier in some respects, but trickier in ways that I maybe didn't expect.

The first week and a half was rough. The first day was fine, mainly because of (a) adrenaline and (b) I have pretty well established activities and such that I do on the first day, so by this time things flow fairly smoothly and are pretty strictly planned out. But in the days after that, I realized that I had forgotten how to "talk" to a class.

I normally go into class with notes. Depending on what I'm talking about and how familiar I am with the material, the notes may be quite detailed (a full-blown, bulleted list with definitions and diagrams) or sketchy ("Point out the parts of the loop, then show the averaging example"). But the notes mainly have (a) facts/details about the subject and (b) a general sense of the flow of the class (introduce topic, do activity, discuss what just happened, etc).

In the past, when I've been teaching regularly, these notes were sufficient for running a class. I could just go in and talk intelligently off of these notes.

Being out of the classroom, though, meant that I was out of practice in this skill. In one of my classes on the second day, I said "OK, today we're going to talk about Concept X"....and then I stopped cold, because I had no earthly idea how I was going to talk about Concept X. Even though I had a page full of notes and a firm idea of where I wanted to lead the class, I couldn't vocalize anything about Concept X that would start us down the right path, or even sound halfway intelligent. Finally I just started talking, and I think ultimately it was okay (not my best class, but certainly not my worst). But boy, was I rattled.

This sense of being a fish out of water lasted a good week or so. With time and practice, though, talking to my classes became easier. I started to remember the "hows" of teaching. More importantly, I regained my sense of comfort in the classroom, and my teaching became more natural and less stilted.

I still have days here and there where I get that fish out of water feeling again and forget how to talk about some concept or another. I had one such moment again in my last class, on a subject that I've taught a zillion times. I'd developed a particularly good way of introducing this concept, which is one of the trickier ones in the course, and I tried to recreate that in today's class, but it fell short. Ah well, there's always next class. But these days are becoming more and more rare.

I do think in general that my time away has ultimately made me a better teacher....but that's a subject for another post.


Flicka Mawa said...

Just wanted to say I enjoyed reading a post about teaching. I'm still a grad student so I don't have much experience in that area yet, but I think it's important and love to know more!

Jane said...

Thanks! I have a couple more in the works that I'll try to post soon.