Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Just a Little Observation I Made

At Shippensburg, we are required to have thirty "self-initiated" hours of observation before we graduate with a degree in Elementary Education. In addition, this semester I have to observe for fifteen hours for my education classes, none of which can be included in my total of "self-initiated" hours. If we choose to observe a classroom at the elementary school on campus, we sit in a darkened room behind a two-way screen and just watch children in class. If we choose to observe in other schools, we sit in the back and, as inobtrusively as we possibly can, watch the children in class.

Some people seem to be born into the role of teacher--they have the social skills necessary to do the job, not to mention the personal passion, the skill with children, and the all-around drive it takes to maintain responsibility for a group of twenty children. Other teachers aren't so lucky, and depend on textbook techniques to lead a course. There's nothing wrong with textbooks--these tools will undoubtedly become invaluable in the future of any teacher, and there are many things even the All-Pro Teacher-of-the-Year-type has to learn before stepping in front of a gaggle of gradeschoolers. However, my personal opinion is that textbooks and "time-tested techniques" can only take you so far, and to become a particularly excellent teacher, a teacher that children will remember through all of their school years and possibly beyond, a teacher who makes a difference, a teacher who makes learning seem less like a chore and more like a joy, it takes a spark.

No matter which group you currently or eventually fall into--the "Natural Born Teacher" or the "Textbook Case"--one question remains. What good does observation do? Seriously. No one teacher approaches a subject in the same way, so the probablity that observation ties directly in with technique is moot. Learning about teaching through hours of monotonous observation is like learning to play baseball by watching a major league game. No matter how long you sit in front of your TV watching Barry Bonds slug home runs, no matter how many boxes of Cracker Jack you buy in the stands of your local stadium, the only thing that's going to improve your ballgame is hands-on work. The same thing applies to any occupation. I know from experience that if you want to be a movie theater projectionist, you're going to be completely and utterly lost until you have that film in your hand and an open projector unit in front of you. The more time in your life you dedicate to drawing, the more lifelike and realistic your next sketch will look. The only way you're going to improve your teaching technique is to get in front of someone, whether it be one student or a full class, and just teach them something.

It's not that observation is a terrible thing. A little something can be picked up or reignited in your mind when you observe a classroom, just like anything else you observe. It's just that in education, that "something" can be picked up within two hours, and fifteen hours in a complete college education, let alone in one semester, stretches beyond pointless into the world of overkill. Viewing the FOOD NETWORK ten hours a day won't make you a gourmet chef. Watching a lot of pornography won't make you too much better at sex. Observing a classroom environment won't make you a better teacher. It's just a waste of a student's highly valued time.

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