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Vovestomosanehe

February 14, 2009

“In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved.  Indeed, most of their vices are attempted shortcuts to love” (John Steinbeck, East of Eden).

I am certain, too.  And along with being loved, I am certain that people want to be recognized, to be seen, to be noticed, even if they sit in the back of the classroom and pretend not to want recognition. 

I spent several hours after work today reflecting on my teaching and analyzing data I’ve gathered on my students this semester and last semester.  The data show a positive trend:  my students are working through material at a higher rate this semester than they were at the same time last semester; and last semester, they had been working at a higher rate than they had in previous semesters, according to the school advisor. 

When I reread the above Steinbeck quote, I recalled the thoughts I’d had about why my students are doing better and better in my class every semester.  I think their improvement has less to do with my math and teaching skills than with my interpersonal skills. 

On the reservation, many people have a phobia of math that stems from stereotypes developed by whites during the boarding school years; many white teachers found it difficult to teach math to American Indian students, so they simply assumed that “Indians can’t do math.”  And many Indians now believe it, too.  I don’t know if I have a single student who actually likes math; most simply tolerate it.  And several fear it to the point where their minds shut down and prevent them from comprehending or retaining information.  This happened in the past to a number of students who are currently succeeding in my class. 

Why are suddenly succeeding?  Because I make my students feel comfortable, and because I push each one of them equally hard to achieve.  I loosen them up and relax them when they arrive in class by greeting each one of them by name – even the ones who hide in the back and pretend to not care – and by asking them how their evening or weekend was.  I make an effort to remember everything my students tell me about their personal lives so that I can bring it up in conversation, showing them that I heard them and that I cared about what they had to say.  I try to joke around with them as much as possible to lighten the atmosphere, and I try to increase their confidence by asking them leading questions when I help them with problems so that they end up coming up with the answer rather than me – at which point I can say, “See, you knew the answer all along.”  “Oh yeah,” they’ll respond, nodding their head in pleasant surprise at their abilities. 

Do you remember when a teacher you had would notice something unique about you or your work and make you feel good about it?  Or when they would goof around with the students in class?  That’s what I try to do – to be the kind of teacher I always loved to have when I was in school.

I absolutely love being a teacher, but I actually don’t like teaching very much; I don’t like hearing myself talk for longer than a few minutes at a time.  What I love is having the opportunity to spend hours each day helping people to feel good about themselves, to feel noticed, to feel special.  It’s such a wonderful contradiction that the more one gives of oneself, the more fulfilled she fills inside.  It’s not a selfless act I do, it’s a totally selfish thing because it makes me happier than any other day job I could imagine.

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One Comment
  1. I just knew it! You were born to inspire, you’re good at it, andI hope it continues to bring you joy………

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