Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

The Art & Joy of Teaching - Year 1

on March 31, 2009

I love my job.  Teaching is my passion and calling in life. I won a "Teacher of the Year" award this year simply because I care about my students. But let's start at the beginning...

In my first year of teaching, I wanted to be like Michelle Pfeiffer in "Dangerous Minds." I wanted to be the teacher who significantly changed students lives for the better. I would do any and everything to help each individual student achieve their fullest potential. And I did. I was given three periods of pre-algebra (in the high school level, no less, and a dumping ground for students who generally didn't care about anything, especially school) and two periods of geometry (which were a breeze). My pre-algebra students were my "Dangerous Minds" students. It only took me two weeks to realize that I wouldn't be able to just teach and have them just learn. I would have to put in 150% of my energy and effort to get a mere 5% effort in return.

One day I changed my method of instruction. I put a problem on the board: "Solve: 2x + 5 = 11." The usual three students who were in the class because they actually needed to be raised their hands. When I chose a student to help work through the problem on the board, after solving, I tossed the student a candy bar (again, I was a Michelle Pfeiffer-wannabe).  I turned around to write another problem on the whiteboard (at this point students clued in that candy was a reward) and before I even had the chance to ask for volunteers to help solve the next problem, every single student in the class had their hand up and wanted to help solve the problem.

This isn't where the joy of teaching started -- it started with a student we'll call Kalbin. Kalbin was in one of the pre-algebra classes, and every day he came in and read comic books instead of pay attention. I said "Hello" to him and, "How are you today Kalbin?" every single day. All he would do was shrug his shoulders -- he would never speak. He failed the first semester with about a 13%. I started a positive reinforcement system the second semester in which I stamped students' papers for attempting to do each problem, and all of a sudden, Kalbin started doing his work. He started talking in class, he started smiling and enjoying class. I told him what a great student he was on a daily basis and how good he was at math, and he not only starting doing the work, he wanted to make up all of the assignments he missed. And if that wasn't good enough by itself, he ended up with a "B" the second semester because he put in so much hard work. He was still failing his five other classes, but he was motivated and doing well in mine. This is a student I will never forget and who will be a constant reminder of the art and joy of teaching.

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