April 4, 2014

Reflections about teaching: #1

(note for Smamy - I already had question #1 typed up and haven't had a chance to answer your questions yet. They'll start coming next week. I promise.)

#1 - What do you think your greatest asset is as a teacher?

This one's a little tough because I wasn't raised to toot my own horn but rather to even downplay any compliments given to me. I do think I'm a pretty good teacher - not perfect, certainly, not all the way down the long tail of the bell curve but at least a bit to the high side of average.

When I was first assigned to student teach with Pru Phillips at Crawfordsville High School (Go Athenians!), Pru sat me down and gave me an assignment. I was to list all of the important topics in chemistry - the big topics, chapter-level topics - and put them in an order that made sense to me.I took a few days to come up with a good list of topics and another day to figure out what order made sense to me. Pru looked at my list, asked a few questions about why this topic came before that one, how those topics were connected to each other. She then pulled out the order of chapters in her curriculum. With only a couple of minor reversals, my list and her list were identical. I think that helped convince Pru that I at least knew my material, something I would like to think her husband and one of my chemistry professors, Dr David Phillips, had also told her.

I am a chemistry major, having taken ten courses in chemistry at Wabash after two years of chemistry in high school, and I think I understand the subject very well. There are certainly details that I don't know quite as well as I might, but I understand how the topics fit together, why certain ones must be taught before certain other ones, how specific ideas must be learned so that others can be understood better later. I know which examples problems to pick so that they show the current topic but so that they also lead into the next topic.

There are probably things more important to a teacher, but in a subject like chemistry - where the knowledge can exist as a whole bunch of entirely disparate facts, I think it's important that the leader in the classroom is able to see where the ship is heading. 

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