556. Observing Teachers

I’ve worked with several teachers during my years as a volunteer. They all convey their expectations to children in different ways, and though there are some consistent rules and traditions at the schools I’ve volunteered in – though each school is a culture in some ways, the messages teachers convey through words, tone of voice, and body language vary quite a bit.
Some teachers seem to be saying, “I’m the TEACHER in this room! You’d better learn what I’m teaching!” Others come across as being full of projects and ideas that children should hurry up and get involved in; they’re less authoritarian, but still convey great expectations. Rick Last, the teacher I work with this year, is clearly the teacher in the room, and has ideas, projects, and great expectations of his own. But he leaves a little more room for the children’s priorities than some other teachers I’ve worked with; he gives them a bigger role in deciding what to expect of themselves.
As a volunteer, I consider it a privilege to be allowed to work in the schools. Back when I was paid, it was also a privilege, but it was one I had to pay for by attending meetings, filling out forms, hearing complaints, and conforming to various standards. Now, I have the freedom to teach, and to watch other teachers teach, and learn from them.
I used to hear some people say that all teachers have different styles and different strengths, and say, or at least seem to imply, that all styles are legitimate. On the one hand, that sounds nice and open-minded. And since I was a teacher with a style I considered outside the mainstream, I was tempted to incorporate that all- inclusive mindset into my own thinking.
But some of what I saw teachers do and heard them say struck me as just plain wrong – counterproductive and/or destructive. And some of it still does; I haven’t totally shed my tendency to judge. That’s okay; the system isn’t perfect, and some people who shouldn’t teach still get to be teachers. And even good teachers can get better. Pointing out problems can help make solutions happen.
And yet I don’t spend a lot of time in school criticizing teachers. I spend most of my time teaching children, appreciating teachers, and learning from both. Sometimes I see or hear a teacher do or say something I never thought of doing or saying, and it turns out to be very effective. Sometimes a teacher does or says something that reminds me of my teaching, and I get to either appreciate myself a little more or do some useful rethinking.
I hardly ever observed teachers during my teaching career. It would have been a good thing to do; I could have learned a lot. But school systems tend not to allot a lot of time for that, and teachers tend not to go
out of their way to transcend the limits of the system and see other teachers teach. Too bad.

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