Friday, February 26, 2010

Groundhog Day

Repetition can be fun. Junior year of high school I was the Rat King in a stage production of The Nutcracker—a play, not a ballet—two days of which we performed for elementary school students from local districts. On the field trip days, we performed the entire play 3 times. As the Rat King, I’d terrorize the toys, body slam the Nutcracker, get stabbed by him, die a laughing death ala Fezig from “The Princess Bride,” and bow during the curtain call. And then we’d do it again. And again.

Up until then, I’d never reveled in the boring drudgery of repetitive work inherent in cubicle life. Back then it was fun to be a cog in the machine; it seemed like a feat to hit an imaginary reset button and say the same lines and do the same actions and tell the same story three times in one day. And I guess I still feel a little impressed with my robotic repetition now as I give the same lesson to 4 different Year 11 classes.

Teaching is a strange beast because the idea is to give all the classes the same lesson, and yet to tailor the lesson to the needs and learning styles of each particular class. The goal is to differently teach the same thing. I realize teachers all over the world face this same situation, but I still feel like going through the same motions here is unique.

For starters, students stay in their own classroom. I occasionally bring them up to the computer lab, but when I’m teaching in the classroom, I go to their classroom. I’m a teaching nomad, a traveling salesman with no home office, a birthday party clown improvising a place to perform my bag of tricks.

Also, and I take full responsibility for this one, I’m too lazy to write out the lesson on paper before I take it to the masses. Since each lesson follows a pretty basic formula, it’s not difficult to mentally commit the outline and then extrapolate as necessary in front of the class. I like to think teaching from memory brings a certain flavor of spontaneity and is more likely to yield a tailored lesson. On the other hand, carefully worded definitions may not be taught uniformly to each class.

But that spontaneity is so important. By the fourth time through the Microsoft Word Standard Toolbar, my eyes start to roll back in my head. There’s no reason anyone needs to be that familiar with new, open, save, print, cut, copy, paste, and spellcheck.

From a scientific standpoint, it’s interesting to give the same lesson over and over and over because watching how students respond to the same material speaks to the collective personality of the class. 11.1 is smug and occasionally overconfident. 11.2 is moody and bi-polar. 11.3 is earnest and seems to try hardest. 11.4 is contemplating whether to continue attending school.

In any case, I jumped through my last hoop for this week with 11.4 earlier today. We’ll start the new cycle with 11.1 on Monday.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Identical chalkboards in 11.1, 11.2, and 11.4.

These girls were sitting in the back of my 11.1 class inexplicably cutting up magazines. I told them to stop.

I didn't realize they paint the grass at our field by hand—with actual paint.

1 comment:

Cale said...

At my school they painted the rugby field by hand too, but they didnt use paint. They went into town and came back with buckets full of what appeared to be used motor oil or some equally noxious, viscous substance. You always had to be careful of not ruining your clothes when you were on the rugby field.