Monday, January 19, 2015

Returning to Teaching Methods and to My Adolescent Self

Happy New Year! It is a new year, and I am finally working with pre-service teachers in a methods course in my new (as of August) position at Georgia Gwinnett College. After a semester of teaching first year and developmental writing courses, I am ready to work with teacher candidates again. It feels like a homecoming and a return to who I am as a learner, too. Since I am asking my students to blog, I am blogging with them, instead of writing freshman comp essays with my novice writers.

During our first class session last week, my co-teacher and I asked our groups of preservice teachers to think about who they were at 12 years old—the point at which, for most adolescents, adult personalities and self-concepts are beginning to cement. A range of responses followed this reflection. Some were quiet, shy book lovers, and others were trying on multiple identities, looking for a sense of place. Others were listeners; some were arguers. Some were guided by great English teachers, yet others watched as teachers explicitly didn’t teach.

Of course, this discussion made me reflect upon my own path to the classroom. I turned 12 in September of my seventh grade year. Seventh grade marked a turning point for me in many different ways—developmentally, socially, physically, intellectually. Seventh grade was the year I learned to hate school. I found boys, cliques, algebra, and many other frustrating things.  I lost my academic confidence and my voice. I wanted to be invisible, and I watched more visible girls be tortured by gangs of ponytailed bullies in designer jeans. I watched teachers watch this too—and do nothing.

During my seventh grade year, reading, which had been a source of pleasure for me, became a site of refuge, and I learned to hide in books, which is one of the ways I managed to make it through the awkward and painful years of secondary school. I have a vivid memory of a day in junior year English class, American literature. The teacher was reading to us, line-by-line, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. She leaned into the lectern, her glasses slipping down her nose, reading and interpreting, sentence by sentence. I sat about two rows back from the front, my textbook propped in my lap. Tucked inside my textbook was a novel that my teacher could not see, and as she lectured on, I lost myself in the book, just as she was losing herself in her own reading of Edwards. No one else was there.

I didn’t know I would be a teacher in seventh grade or in high school, but when I began my teacher training years later, I thought back mostly on the kinds of teachers I didn’t want to be. Some of my students during our first session expressed this, but others spoke of teachers who changed their lives. Still, all of us, somehow, whether by the guidance of a brilliant teacher or the lack of teacher role models, have ended up on the path to teaching, themselves. And I get to watch them get there.

This week, I have asked my students to blog about their own reading and writing (which I do here). I am looking forward to hearing about how they became the readers and writers they are, and I am looking forward to seeing the teachers they become. An exciting way to begin the semester: new beginnings for a new year.

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