The Case Against Creative Teaching

Confession number one:

Fourteen-year-olds don’t like to hear me talk for more than two minutes at a time. I mean, would you?

Confession number two:

They also prefer, perplexingly, to copy notes from a chalk board (or in my case, a gleaming white dry erase board) over discussing interpretations of literature in their own words, with me or with each other. They like boundaries and clear expectations. They like to be told what to do; or, if they don’t like it, they are used to it. Familiar is comfortable.

Third, most horrifying confession:

I like it when they’re quietly, obediently, copying said notes. I like boundaries and clear expectations. I hate anarchy, especially teenage anarchy.

The remarkable thing about today is that I didn’t feel like I’d been beaten against a reef. Was it because my lesson included only a quiz, note-copying, and listening to a recorded tape of the novel we’re reading? Mostly I sat next to the tape player and looked alternately thoughtful/absorbed and fierce, as if to say, I dare you to fall asleep in my class. I dare you to look distracted. I dare you to chew gum, young gunslingers. But I said relatively little. I’d stop the tape occasionally to clarify Steinbeck’s language and Depression-era idioms, but the quiz, the notes, and the book taught my students today. I just rode in the front and made sure we didn’t careen off the road.

As an earnest student teacher all of six months ago, I recoiled at the thought of having students COPY NOTES. The horror! They should learn how to take notes from a spoken lecture, the way you’re supposed to in college!

But you know, I tried that, and I’ve got two words for you: baby steps. It was chaos. They balked and snorted like a bunch of scared horses.

I retreated to the board notes method, employed by every other teacher in the building. I am offering a modest reward to the book or Master’s class or opportune stairwell conversation that will teach me to bridge the gap between note-copying and real note-taking. Until then, I’ll babysit the World’s Most Boring Teacher trophy.

Sometimes I picture my class, and I compare it the memory of heady discussions of Marxist feminism and Anchee Min at my experimental college in the Berkshires. The gap between them seems the width of the universe.

Today’s finest moment:
“What do you think he means when he says Curley’s got ‘yella jackets in his drawers?'” I ask the kids as we listen to Of Mice and Men.
“He’s got condoms in his pocket!”
“He’s got doo-doo in his pants!”
I shake my head. “Ever hear someone say they’ve got ants in their pants? Curley’s itching for a fight.”
I did an impression of Curley, stalking agitatedly down an aisle, my hands poised on imaginary pistols. Skyler laughed so hard she started crying and had to collect herself in the hallway.

Believing in the dignity of clowns, I remain,
Ms. Magnolia

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