Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

I’ve learned a lot over the past year working as a teacher…Being a teacher really puts your self worth and self esteem on the line, literally, as you serve yourself up in front of a class as an authority on a topic. Your competency is tested in the most unsuspecting ways- when there are unexpected disruptions or changes in schedule. You are constantly receiving feedback on your performance from your students whether you like it or not. Their progress, level of understanding, apathy or enthusiasm all reflect on the teacher’s ability. A teacher is challenged and complimented by her students’ inquisitiveness; a teacher knows that she has done her job if her students engaged in learning, yearning to know more.

I’ve learned that student behavior often serves as a way to monitor or offer feedback about the effectiveness of my teaching methods, but it’s sometimes difficult read or interpret the behavior of students in a class of fifty. Their reactions are as varied as the number of students in the class. And the reasons for their reactions are equally varied. On the other hand, it’s important not to take it all too seriously or personally. One must keep a perspective on things- like when my students seem inattentive or overly talkative- there may be many reasons for this (ranging from discussion of the latest hot gossip to boredom in the classroom). When I encounter such situations, I try to manage a healthy dose of self-criticism.

I do think though, that the younger the students the more accurately their behavior serves as an indicator of teaching effectiveness. Young children will act out easily if they are disinterested, or are not given direction. They have not yet internalized socially conditioned filters that temper most people’s actions.

Lately I’ve been wondering if my students are enjoying my classes. I worry that they are bored, or disinterested, and if they are entertained. I wonder of whether they are enjoying the class and therefore motivated to learn. I feel a certain amount of pressure to use creative, new methods to capture my students’ attention. I teach at a college with class sizes of 50 students, which makes it difficult to make the class interactive.

I’ve learned that understanding the traditional teaching styles that students in Taiwan are accustomed to can yield valuable insight. For example, I only recently realized how a structured, formal teaching style is an important demonstration authority in the classroom- and that this is what Taiwanese students often respond to. My personal bias is that the standard lecturing style of teaching is often mind numbing and boring.

My teaching style is more casual. I like to circulate around the classroom as I speak and I don’t usually use a microphone. I want to create a more relaxed and intimate classroom atmosphere. It’s my style to be more approachable to the students, but with that perhaps comes a loss in authority. For me, using a microphone seems too formal and restricting and it would lead to B-O-R-I-N-G standard lecture! I realize that I had made some huge personal assumptions after observing something that happened in my classroom the other day, my students were busy engaging in a group activity, and naturally the noise level in the classroom had reached a critical level.

Since I needed to close the activity and move on to explaining some new concepts, I used a microphone to announce the end of the activity. Then, I began lecturing about the key points just learned in the group activity.
(Oddly enough, I had never even noticed that there was a microphone available for use in the classroom before.)
Almost immediately, I noticed a difference in my students’ attitude; the contrast was astonishing. They responded attentively to the formality of my speaking with a microphone. It was clearly evident in their body language and changed posture. They really did “sit up and take notice.” I suppose that the students in Taiwan are more accustomed to lecture style classes or have been conditioned to view the use of a microphone as a sign of authority in the classroom.

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