Monday, September 27, 2004

The Woes of Teaching
It occurred to me today that I might like the concept of working more if my work actually stayed at work. Instead, it follows me home every afternoon, every night, and most weekends. Why? Because I have to grade things.

I hate grading things. It was great in Japan, where I got to go into the classroom, do all the fun parts of teaching, and then never had to worry about effectively grading all 800 of my students, because that was the real teacher's job. Now, however, I am the real teacher. Thank god I only have 14 students. (Technically 14, that is. The guy who hasn't shown up since the first week doesn't count. He's quite easy to grade, as it turns out.)

As I noted a while ago in a comment over on Blinger's site, a good, effective test is rarely easy to grade, and it turns out the same goes for pretty much every assignment I actually give points for, as opposed to a simple effort-check. Why do I have to try to be a good teacher? Why can't I just not care and give them stupid multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank worksheets all the time? Life would be much easier if I weren't a perfectionist, or didn't take any pride in doing my job halfway decently.

We had a reading/writing "skills group" meeting this afternoon, in which our supervisor introduced the concept of a process approach to reading instruction. He asked the only permanent staff member in the group if she had ever used this approach, and she said no, so I got to pipe up and say that I used it a lot, and was in fact using it in my class right now. (The process approach to reading is basically making sure you guide the students through pre-reading activities to activate and build schema, during reading activities to focus them on the task, and post-reading activities to make sure they got it.) I got to show off the materials I've been making, explain all the activities I've been assigning the students, and basically just look smart. I like doing stuff like that. I don't care that what I'm doing corresponds to some buzzword of the moment; I just like feeling like I'm teaching effectively. I like it when the things I do in class tie in well to the homework I give the students, all of which is actually working toward the goal of getting them to learn something.

I hate the feeling that I'm giving them homework assignments just so I'll have something to put down in the grade book. Of course, if I never grade their written homework, they don't think there's any point in doing it, and they'd just stop doing it altogether. I hate spending the time writing in corrections and little comments on homework assignments without any feeling that they're paying attention to them after I give the assignments back.

Maybe this whole thing would be easier if we were teaching these classes more like what I consider regular college foreign language classes, by which I mean 3 times a week and with more of a focus on a content theme to unify the whole experience, and less of an emphasis (for the students) on the discrete skills. Then maybe I'd feel like I had more focus in the assignments I give that are not related to the out-of-textbook units I construct on my own.

And thus we circle back around, once again, to my usual lament about content- vs. skills-based teaching, so I think I'll just stop here. I have papers to correct, after all.

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