What’s in It for Me?

Two people commented on my last post, about how working with Bernice got me started on marking for confidence.

First, Evelyn said that she thought many teachers would have seen Bernice as “resistant or difficult or careless or smartass.” I think most of those judgements are accurate.

She was resistant–she did not want me to “go over” her work with her; she wanted to keep herself out of a situation she had doubtless been in many times before, where a teacher pointed out where she had gone wrong and expected her to fix her errors. The teachers may sometimes have been encouraging, sometimes sarcastic, or bored, or exasperated, but always Bernice would have been in the wrong. I think most students would be resistant to our teaching if the resistance had not been worn out of them.

She was difficult, or at least she made the situation difficult for me. Her confidence and her resistance made me think that my usual way of handling the situation might be wrong. I found it difficult to be suddenly presented with a need to change my teaching strategy, and pressured into doing it on the spot.

And she was a bit of a smartass. I like that in a person.

Many students in adult literacy or adult basic education are resistant and difficult, and will be a little smartass if they feel safe. It’s part of the package. They want what they think we’re offering–a path to a better job, a better life. But they don’t want to go back to those feelings they had in school before, when they were measured and found wanting.

barbara said, “For me the core question is: what am I getting out of the situation for myself?  … Sometimes when I am down or crabby what is in it for me is to make someone wrong/show me as right.”

I recognize that scenario, although I think it is pretty brave of barbara to point it out in broad daylight on the internet. She goes on to say, “When I give in to that I always feel crummy after, like eating so much sugar it makes me sick.”  I recognize that sick feeling too.

So, trying to avoid that sick feeling, what’s in it for me? What makes me love teaching? What do I get out of it?

Above all, I think, a puzzle to solve. A class comes in, and the goal is that they should learn the skills and content laid out for the course at hand. What can I do to create the conditions for that to happen? A different puzzle with every class, with every student, and a chance to bring into play things I’ve learned since yesterday, or last month, or last year.

What’s in it for you?  What makes you love teaching?

8 thoughts on “What’s in It for Me?

  1. Pingback: Bernice Shows the Way | Working in Adult Literacy

  2. Your post is lovely Kate. Among other things it revealed the black and whiteness of my reply. It’s certainly true that students are “resistant, difficult, etc.” AND that is not necessarily a bad thing. Mining situations for the teachable moment is what teaching is all about really. When I was teaching, I sometimes got absorbed in the students lives and personalities and forgot to stand back and look for what I was supposed to be about – teachable moments. Write on!

    • Evelyn, good point about reminding ourselves why we are in the classroom. I find that to avoid falling into the “chat zone,” bringing all kinds of activities to class is important. If there’s too much down time, it’s easy to get caught up in the humanness that goes along with teaching. I have to watch myself because I can easily get chatty and then the conversation goes too far.

      I read your response, and I thought, funny, when I write or talk about teaching, I seem to write/talk about my motivations and philosophy more than I do things like curriculum, teachable moments and technique. I guess I kind of take it for granted that I’m teaching skills. I want to improve how I do that, but somehow, learning those things seems more like mechanics–I put my heart into it, but to me, that’s not necessarily what teaching is all about. It’s my underlying belief systems and reasons for teaching that have led me into this profession, so those are the things that come to mind when I’m asked about teaching.

  3. For me, what makes me love teaching is when I see a student start to stand up a bit taller, use eye contact a bit more, smile a bit more, maybe ask for what they want a bit more. And I just know that the confidence they’re getting is rippling out into the rest of their life, into their role in their family and their community. That’s what makes it worthwhile for me, particularly in the field of adult literacy.

    • YEAH! Isn’t that awesome? It’s great when you can see how they’ve progressed, and in ESOL especially, how they aren’t as embarrassed about their speaking, which means they speak more, and you can actually understand them. Other students see that progress and are inspired, and a lot of them tell one another how good they are doing. It’s gorgeous.

      • For me, it’s also knowing I’ve made a difference, even if it’s just that I’ve helped keep my students out of trouble for a couple of hours!

        For a long time, I was so frustrated and angry about the way immigrants have been treated in our county (Prince William, VA). I would rage against the infrastructure and politicians that kept beating them down. There was no place for that rage to go, nothing I could to help these poor people. Then I got this job, and not only could I help them, I could help those who most needed it, and through that, help their families and the community. Hands down, this is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.

  4. LOVE the question, and thanks for asking it (though you might regret having done so, once you see how long winded I’m about to get).

    I teach ESL in a male unit of an adult detention center. When I look at my students’ faces, I see beautiful, needy, sick people who have missed out on a lot of things in their lives, things l like stability, safety, basic necessities, healthy parenting, unconditional love, mental and physical health care, education, spiritual connection, etc. And I think, “I can’t give them all those things, but I can give them what I have through teaching.”

    I see my students’ potential. I see their intelligence and creativity, but I also see their fear. It’s my job to encourage them learn to their fullest potential and allay as many fears as I can by breaking down barriers, using honesty, kindness and humor. For me, it’s a kind of mothering, a nurturing of the mind and heart in a safe environment with clear boundaries. It’s rewarding, but it’s not all lovey-dovey, either. My students are incarcerated for a reason. They’ve done some terrible things, and they need to take responsibility for their actions by serving time. That time should not be wasted.

    Most of my students have not graduated from high school. The majority dropped out in middle school. Some never got past elementary school. They feel stupid. I tell them I do not have stupid students, that I am proud of them, that I know how difficult it is to learn another language, how difficult it is to learn anything and to change.

    I see my students as human, and I want them to see me as human, too. When the connection is made correctly, it’s like we are holding mirrors up to each other, teacher reflecting students, students reflecting teacher, endless images of a dynamic that can only be found in a classroom. That’s where real learning starts, for all of us.

    I think I get more from my students than they get from me.

love to hear your ideas or experiences!

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