Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dear Younger Me

Like many teachers, I’ve carried my share of student work off for grading during breaks. During both Spring Breaks and Thanksgiving Breaks, I spent hours slogging through student work and beginning to resent the fact that I was working while the rest of the world seemed to be off at play.

Since I’m not in the classroom right now, I hadn’t thought much about grading during breaks until I read Kate Kellen’s Secondary Section entry Dear Younger Teacher Self: Keep the Holidays Grading Free! In the entry, present-day Kate explains to her younger self “your students will wait another week for papers in exchange for your genuine delight at seeing them again after the break.”

From my perspective now, I’m thinking that perhaps I should write a similar message to my future self—the one who will be loading the car with a dozen computer books for projects to complete while on vacation. But more importantly, Kate’s entry got me to wondering what I would tell my own younger teacher self. Spend more time writing and less time talking about writing? Stand by your pedagogical beliefs? A deluge of handouts and tip sheets isn’t ever enough? Learn as much as you can about computers and use them in the classroom as soon as possible?

So many lessons I’ve learned, but the one that I think would make the most difference is to get involved in conversations with other teachers sooner rather than later. So here goes:

Dear Younger Me,
I’m writing to you from the future, and you may not believe how much your teaching has changed. You use computers all the time, having students compose projects and communicate with each other in and out of class. What’s really important about that isn’t the technology, but the way that everyone uses it to communicate. And it’s not just students. It’s teachers too.

Sitting down in the basement of Williams Hall, you’re not even in contact with the other teachers in the building—let alone teachers at other schools and universities. But you need to be. I know. I know. You’re shy, and you always feel awkward when you’re talking to people. But listen: It will pass. The more you communicate with other teachers, the more natural those conversations will become.

Email and online chatting are going to change your life once you begin reaching out to other teachers and entering professional conversations. You’ll begin explaining and defining your pedagogy. You’ll share teaching tips and stories with other teachers. You’ll find a supportive group of mentors and co-conspirators, all at your fingertips. And once you get used to talking with teachers online, you’ll find it easier and easier to do when you’re face-to-face.

So get moving. Right now. Climb up to the second floor and logon to the terminal in Room 211. I know you’ve only used it to work on your papers and thesis in SGML, but there are communications tools in there too. Find them. Use them. Look for MBU and Purtopoi. Watch the conversations for a few days and then jump in.

I know it will be hard at first, but trust me. Within a year, you won’t want to go a day without connecting with other teachers. It will make all the difference in who you are and what you can do as a teacher. Now get moving—and get talking.

Traci of 2007


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Traci.
As a new teacher who has entered the profession in my 50's as a second career, I welcome your perspective,
because...I do remember you name from several researches that were undertaken during my education-course-laden quest for licensure at our local University (Applachian State.)
Having raised three students of our own in days past, and then having sent them to our major universities... and having seen the omnipresence and immediacy of online communication in their collegial lives, and then having entered the teaching profession...I can feel the presence of great experience and pedagogical wisdom whenever I encounter the NCTE newsletter online. And your blog seems to be on its cutting edge. Keep up the good work. Now I'm looking for the link where I can renew NCTE membership at the student rate before I get a real job and have to pay the full rate.
btw...what do your reader's think about the permanent influence of text messaging on conventional grammar/spelling in the next, oh...seven years or so?

L. Carey Rowland, new English teacher who just happens to find himself waist-deep in special education.

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