As the end of the semester draws to an end, I would like to reflect on what I've learned this year:
Planning makes life easier.
(Disclaimer: I am a planner and an organizer. It makes me feel comfortable, and if you aren't a planner, what follows may sound like madness you! )
The classes for which I did most of the planning before the semester started ended up being less and better work in the long run. Moments of genius 5 minutes before class sometimes happen, which result in an amazing lesson; however, those are few and far between. When I know what I need to accomplish for the day, week, month, I find that I am better able to hone my lesson plan to meet my students' needs and the course's objectives. I like having a long-term plan, and even though it always changes after the first week of class, I think it's important to have a goal for the course's timing and schedule. This makes life easier and the lessons better.
It's important to listen to the students.
Sometimes it's just whining, but sometimes it's valuable advice and commentary. They're the audience... it's important to listen and respond to them.
Grading will still be there tomorrow.
After some wonderful conversations with my colleagues, Danielle and Natalie, I have realized that all grading doesn't necessarily need to be finished that night. It's not always (or usually?) necessary to get two hours of sleep when I have to teach the next morning. Because, of course, it will be there tomorrow!
It's important to have a sense of humor.
While I love laughing, I am naturally inclined to seriousness. Sometimes I have to remember to lighten up a bit. There's a running joke in one of my classes that I always keep them late and that they never get out early. I always look at the clock, astonished that we only have 10 more minutes! I've embraced it and have learned to laugh about it, too.
Lower level ESL students often don't understand jokes (due to language and cultural differences), but I've been trying to make more jokes (OK friends, I know how you feel about my jokes...) and laugh. It's also fun to see which students laugh and when they start to "get it."
Speaking of jokes, here' s a good one I saw on Facebook (Thanks, Gracielle!): What are Santa's elves called?
Answer: Subordinate clauses
Here's another, of my own: What do you call Mrs. Claus after she decides to leave Santa?
Answer: Independent Clause
OK, so maybe my sense of humor is why students don't laugh at my jokes...
Reflection is important
I never really had students reflect much after the courses are over. I am usually too worried about getting through everything to provide an opportunity to reflect. However, I highly value reflection, so I decided to incorporate it into the last day of my writing course. They wrote a letter to future students explaining what they learned, what they would have done differently, what they are glad they did, and any advice they had. The results were thoughtful, funny, and well-organized (the importance of this cannot be understated). I was amazed at their self-evaluation and insight into their actions. They actually advised future students to do all of the homework (they didn't always), to trust that what the teacher has them do will make them better writers, to go to the Writing Center, and to participate in class. I was thrilled with the results and so very proud of their accomplishments.
Sometimes I feel as though I learn more than my students in a given day or semester, which is making me into a better teacher (I think). I hope to be able to post more during winter break, as I won't have lesson planning, teaching, and grading to fill my time!