The continuing agony and the ecstasy of the risk-taking teacher

Why is it that after more than five years of teaching for a living I still feel like a noob so much of the time?

I think it’s because I’m continually reinventing my lessons in hopes of creating the best learning experiences that I can for students; therefore, I’m rarely in my comfort zone.

I’ll confess that while I was in primary school and high school, and university, there were educators who I loved and there were educators for whom I had no time at all.

Why do I still feel like such a newbie?

Why do I still feel like such a newbie?

The best ones were those who gave their hearts and souls to us. To coin a phrase from R.E.M. frontman Micheal Stipe, those teachers gave us their “everything.” And it showed. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that time spent with some of those great teachers was life changing.

Maybe that’s why I feel so much pressure to provide awesome learning experiences for my students. I won’t say that I always succeed, but I do my damnedest to do so.

For sure, that’s why I’m constantly retooling my lessons as I did last week for the library research lesson in my second-year marketing communications class.

For the last couple of years, to introduce students to library research, I’ve brought in my college’s librarian to give students a brief tour of how to use the library databases. Students were obviously bored during the lesson in past years. And, when they submitted end-of-year research reports, I’d find that very few students had used the library for any of their research.

I figured that students were probably uncomfortable using the library data banks despite the annual introduction. So I decided it was time to throw out the bath water on this one and really clean up this baby.

Instead of a 45-minute crash course, I developed a two-hour lesson with help from the college librarian, Jill Baker. Jill generously gave me almost two hours of her time several days before the lesson to devise a fun lesson in which we would introduce students to Boolean logic and then challenge them to investigate an issue and report on it.

Another colleague, market research professor Melanie Christian, gave me a fun real-life scenario: the college’s YMCA fitness centre wants to build a swimming pool, but its attendance is too low. In order to justify such an expansion and expense, it must increase attendance from 7% to 25%. Management is interested in investing in a smartphone app that could better connect student members to the facility.

We told students that finding the right search terms in a data base is equivalent to learning a magical incantation that will lead students to the right information. We then challenged students to use Boolean logic to find credible articles supporting the purchase of a fitness app. They also had to justify why those sources were trustworthy.

Fortunately, the feedback students gave us was positive. They worked diligently throughout the two-hour lesson, and many of these second-year students said they felt comfortable for the first time using the college data banks.

Wow. Awesome. Exhilarating.

Sure, the lesson still needs plenty of work.  But it’s a start. I took a risk. I tried something new. And students learned.

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About teachingteacher

Business communications instructor, journalist, corporate communications writer and media trainer ... and Masters Candidate M.Ad.Ed.
This entry was posted in adult education, Blogging, Course design, Reflective Practice, Transformative learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The continuing agony and the ecstasy of the risk-taking teacher

  1. Teaching on the edge of my comfort zone is a great place to be. When things turn out well, as your library lesson did, they are often wildly successful. When they fail, and I talk to the class about how and why they fail, I show a human side that students connect to. A win no matter what happens.

  2. I agree, Kate, 100%. In teaching, authenticity is everything. Students will forgive you a lot if you show you care and that you’re human.

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