I teach kindergarten. Little kids running all over the place soaking up new ideas, concepts, skills of all kinds. It’s great. But I also teach graduate school as an adjunct professor at a small private college. The program is designed for career-changers or young teachers who need that Master’s degree to even get their resumes on the pile. I usually take on instructing one or two courses each year, all within the literacy realm. I love sharing research, thoughts, ideas and practices about working with kids in a roomful of motivated, but often scared or clueless adults.
People think it’s funny that I teach both ends of the age spectrum, but who better to help new teachers find their way into their craft than someone who deals with it all on a daily basis? One of my biggest complaints about my own undergrad and grad education concerned the out-of-touch professors who didn’t know the daily issues facing teachers of that time. And my grad students get the real skinny on life in the “trenches” when I come racing in breathless and barely on time from yet another meeting on the latest initiatives to come down from on high, after spending the day trying to motivate little ones to learn something they have no interest in. It certainly is an eye-opener for those newbies, and I don’t hold back much.
The first year that I took on the role of professor was quite the learning curve. I dealt with everything from chronically late arrivers full of the damnedest excuses to a young grad student my daughters’ age fighting a returning cancer to an outright cheat. The phrase, “this is grad school, folks, not high school or even college,” did little to stem the complaints about the amount of work, my high expectations and my demand for participation in discussions. I was floored. The cheater was a second career woman in her early thirties, at that time a social worker for the city. She handed in a lesson plan that was so perfectly written, it didn’t sit well with me after reading the crap she had been giving me all semester. So I googled large pieces of her lesson and after just a few minutes I got a hit. She had printed it right off of the internet, slapped a cover page with her name on it and gave it to me. When it came time to do her oral presentation of the lesson, it was obvious she had not even bothered to read it beforehand. When I looked through her paper, I discovered that not only did she not edit the original teacher’s name out of the work; the teacher whose lesson she scarfed was a colleague of mine. Busted. On a lot of levels. Unfortunately for her future employer and students, that college (which I left after a couple of years due to disillusionment on my part) did not automatically fail or throw out cheaters. In fact, the woman told me with barely disguised rage that I was ruining her perfect 4.0. Incredible.
I quickly acclimated to my new role as college prof, realizing that I had a whole lot of academic freedom in designing my courses. That was all I needed to know. I have a field day putting together the syllabus, with a focus on practical application of research and helping these prospective teachers develop a repetoire and an understanding of learning and teaching. I get a lot of positive feedback at the end of the semester, even from those who complained about the work load. They know what’s good for them, and I hope they carry that philosophy with them into their own classrooms.
Last year I taught a course introducing the Writers’ Workshop model to my students. On my first day, I always do a survey to find out where the students’ interests in education lie so that I can customize and differentiate my instruction for them. I teach grad school the same way I teach kindergarten- no hypocrite here. When I later read the surveys of the fourteen students, I was taken aback by the levels they were hoping to teach. I had everything from pre-school teachers to grad professors, including elementary, middle and high school teachers. What a challenge for me! I loved it. I hope they did too.
In the past, over all of these years, I have given seminars, taught Teacher Center courses, and run workshops. In spite of a few negative experiences, including one where a colleague from my own school went off on me in front of a roomful of teachers, I truly enjoy working with adults who will soon be working with kids. In this way, I get to extend the reach of my teaching even more. Not only have I taught over five hundred little ones through the years, I now can exponentially reach thousands more through the careers of my grad students. How completely gratifying.
I am such a geek.