Confessions of an Educator

Confessions of an Educator

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What is “Confessions of an Educator”?

Too often teachers rely on what they learn in their education programs, and then are scared when they walk into their own classroom, and in front of their own students. The purpose of “Confessions of an Educator”, is to pull back the curtains on education, on instructional practice, on what it actually is to be a teacher, and what it is to be responsible for the next generation of future ready adults. I’ve spent the last 15 years in education as a high school English teacher, an Instructional Coach, and now a Curriculum Specialist. I wasn’t a particularly good student. Sometimes I didn’t even go to school. Sometimes I skipped to go to the downtown library. Other times I skipped to dig through the dollar CD bins at Django Records. Whatever the case may be, and however it happened, I’m here now; I’m an educator.

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I have a confession. Teachers are not gods, are not omniscient, are not necessarily even 100% comfortable with the lessons they are teaching. A good teacher doesn’t need to be any of these things. They simply need to listen to students, listen to themselves, and approach each class as if they were the student. I tell teachers the obvious: if they are bored so are the students. And if either party is bored, why is it being taught? Who wants to be bored? Why continue the dinosaur lesson if students, year after year, give the same complaints, or you keep reading the same answers over and over and over again. Teaching is all about being the designer of the lesson, being a piece of the lesson; it’s the monitor and adjust; the give and take between everyone in the room, and there are a lot of varying personalities in a classroom.Teaching is the want to not just stand in front of the classroom, but to become a part of, and engaged with, the classroom.

I learned early on that what I learned in teacher school was not really going to help me, well, teach. I didn’t need the ability to try and psychoanalyze my students, or worry about what Vigotsky or Pavlov might say about the notes students passed during class. Instead, I learned that classroom management did not come by way of trying to embarrass or impress students. It didn’t matter what verb they needed to use, or the syntax of their sentence. It wasn’t always about the figurative language, but rather how that language felt. As cliche as it may sound, it was about that lightbulb moment, and there’s nothing in teacher school that can prepare you for that type of electricity.

I love theory. I’m an educational theory junkie. I want to know the next new reading strategy, or the new methods when working with differentiated instruction. I want to watch teachers design their units around essential standards, but leave so much room for relevant and engaging materials – enough room for student voice and choice, and teacher voice and choice.

I learned to teach by watching my mom lead her students through summer school classes, or watching her grade their papers during the school year. I learned to listen from Ms. Stuart, as she threw wads of paper across the classroom to silence me; I learned from Mr. Slansky’s class that sometimes when kids get in trouble, they just need a minute, and that eventually they’ll rejoin the group. I learned to notice the lonely kids, when two weeks into 9th grade, Ms. Wood pulled me aside, handed me a copy of Catcher in the Rye, and told me she thought I could use it (that being said, I really wish I’d asked her why she chose that particular book). I learned to teach by watching everyone around me.

And I made a heck of a lot of mistakes while learning to teach. I’m 15 years into my career in education, and there are still a lot of things to learn. It doesn’t really get easier. It doesn’t matter how long you teach, there is never an easier. I wouldn’t want there to be. If a lesson ever becomes too rote, or too basic, or boring, then find a different way to teach it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. One of the tips I was given along the way was to remember that I didn’t always have to be in-charge.

Did I learn a lot of amazing information from grad school. Yes. Without question I am a better teacher because of masterful professors. I don’t want anyone to think differently; it’s simply that you learn more from your peers, your students, your coaches, your administrators, than any teacher school will ever teach a teacher.

Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin is a Curriculum Specialist for English Language Arts, Social Studies, World Languages, AP, IB, and College in the High Schools. He spent 12 years as a high school English teacher, working not only with students but also as a member of the district curriculum design team, developing the district’s Creative Writing course. He is a contributing blogger with The Columbian, NCTE, McGraw Hill Education, The Buck Institute of Education, Ed Tech, and The Medium. He currently resides in Vancouver, Washington, with his wife and daughter.

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