Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Enthusiastic Teaching

"Mrs. Torres," said one of my students recently, "you really care about this stuff don't you?"

I was a bit taken aback, and said, "Well, if I don't care about it, how can I expect you to care about it?"

"You'd be surprised," the student said. "You're different, because you seem to be passionate about what you're presenting."

Of course I loved the compliment, but my overwhelming feeling was that it was sad that this student, and maybe others, feel that some of their instructors don't care about what they are teaching. I believe it is my responsibility, even if I'm NOT feeling it, to present material as if it's important, it matters, and yes, that I have a passion for it. If a student senses that you are bored with the subject matter, well, game over. Seriously, how can a teacher expect a student to care if it's presented with a so-what attitude?

The key is to find material that does inspire something in you. I don't care how many times we watch a clip of Maya Angelou reciting her poem, "Still I Rise" it practically brings me to tears and I don't mind the emotion in my voice; they pay attention. And as I explain Angelou's background to the students and they begin to grasp what she has overcome personally and culturally, it can't help but affect them in a way that it wouldn't if I just gave it to them on paper to read.

Easy to say about teaching inspiring poetry (which is far from my favorite subject matter, by the way--I'd prefer to skip poetry entirely--shhhh don't tell anyone!), but what about teaching apostrophes or run-on sentences or, heaven help us, MLA formatting? One way to inspire enthusiasm is to honestly explain how important the overall concept is to the students' ability to communicate in an educated, professional manner. Then, make it into a game. Do a speed quiz. Throw paper balls at the right answer. Make an obstacle course. Award prizes. If I'm not so excited about where to put your periods in an MLS citation, I can get excited about my students trying to unravel a rope puzzle before moving on to the next quiz question.

Every day and every lesson does not have to be a circus act, but an instructor's overall attitude about the subject matter can make or break a class for a student.

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