Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teaching Lessons

Update: Minhee smiles sometimes!
As the semester draws to a close, I’ve begun to evaluate what worked and what didn’t. It’s amazing how many lessons I learned every single day I taught. Here are the very few I remember:

1.      Any class can take an unexpected 180. And a 360.
2.      Bring energy.
3.      And a pencil. And a time-keeping device of some kind.
4.      All the homework you assign comes back and you have to grade it.
5.      Speak slower. Always.
6.      Repeat yourself two or three times.
7.      Repeat. Yourself. Two. *show* or three *show* times. *write it on the board*
8.      Visuals are helpful.
9.      Don’t use words like “visuals.”
10.  Do not use contractions.
11.  R’s are l’s, and you teach “Grobal Engrish.”
12.  “I don’t know; I’ll look it up” is a perfectly acceptable answer.
13.  Have water on hand.
14.  Talk less; make them do the work.
15.  Laugh a lot.
16.  Smile more.
17.  Provide incentive—free homework passes are the new hotcakes.
18.  Have sticky notes with you—because there will be students who need to make an appointment, give an excuse for an absence, or require a copy of last week’s assignment.
19.  They love it when you act things out.
21.  One smile out of twenty is worth it.

We go to the coffee shop sometimes to grade. And not grade.
I like to think I have a couple new tricks up my sleeves for next semester, but who knows. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about teaching, it’s that you have to think on your feet. It’s not even just about fielding the questions:

“Teacher, what’s the difference between ‘quickly’ and ‘fastly’?”

“Professor Elaine, what does it mean to ‘fall behind’?”

“What does it mean when two people say they are living together?”[1]

The rigors of grading are softened by strawberry milkshakes.

It’s about fielding people, and people are crazily unpredictable. I never know when Joey will show up, for instance. Nor do I know what Linze’s excuse will be for missing class on Tuesday—a gaming convention which will inexplicably boost her resume; four days at the hospital due to an ear infection; her father dying: I’ve had all three this semester.

Who knows if anyone will answer the question I ask? Who knows if anyone understands what I’m saying?

The money might be awful—and the students who absolutely refuse to study might be more frustrating than being unable to close the peanut butter lid with one knife-holding hand since the other one is facilitating the mawing of the sandwich made from said peanut butter—but because of all the mental hopping about, I feel like teaching is about as close to being a ninja as I’ll ever be.

[1] You laugh, but all three have come up in the last week. And it took a really long time to explain the difference between “going on a date” and “dating,” and then, of course, what you can and can’t assume about two people “living together.”


  1. Elaine,

    Glad to see you have one of these too!
    I look forward to reading it in the ample free time that I have yet to find. Ha ha ha.


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  3. Yep. That's teaching. It's way more about people than the topic, even at the undergraduate level with people who all speak the same language. Love your blog! Thanks for a great way for me to procrastinate (not grade).

  4. congratulations on finishing your first semester elaine! hope this break is a restful one.