I have not posted on my blog for quite some time. Why? Because I finally crossed over into the land of “studenthood.” Two years ago I wrote this post for Leadertalk in which I debated whether I should go back to school for a PhD in educational leadership or not. I received some very good comments from some very smart people which made for some interesting discussion on line and at home.
Well, two years have passed, and I have given much thought to this topic. This fall, I finally took the plunge and entered a doctoral program. I have to admit that I went into this venture with both excitement and trepidation. I had not been a student in 20 years. Did I have the discipline necessary to complete all the required work and still give my full attention to my responsibilities as a school principal?
After completing the first two classes, I can say that I am still alive and ready for more. I learned a lot about inequity and social injustice in our educational system, and I re-learned the importance of paying closer attention to legal issues as a school principal.
However, the most valuable lesson I learned is the difference between good teaching and poor teaching from a student’s point of view. I experienced both this past semester.
As an evaluator of teachers, I talk about the importance of engaging students in deep, meaningful discussions and one of my teachers (let’s call her Teacher A) was a master at that, while the other teacher (Teacher B) simply lectured to us from notes written years ago. As I work with teachers, I talk about assigning work that develops critical thinking skills and applies to the reading and discussions taking place in the classroom. Again, Teacher A forced us to read, think, and write about topics applicable to the focus of the class and to our positions as school leaders, while many of Teacher B’s assignments were unrelated to the subject of the class. Instead, they were simply busy work.
Students need to have their work graded and returned in a timely manner with comments designed to help improve their learning. I re-learned the importance of this basic principle of good teaching this fall. Teacher A returned all of our work the next week of class, and it was filled with thoughtful comments for me to ponder. Teacher B only returned one assignment to me all semester, and all she wrote was a letter grade on the paper. How in the world was I supposed to improve my work when my papers were not returned to me? (Did I mention that our hard work would be used for her own research?)
Finally, students deserve a teacher who respects their opinions, allows them to share in class, and takes an active interest in their lives. That defined Teacher A. I could not wait to for the next class session to arrive. I felt valued as a student and as a person. Her passion for education was contagious. Teacher B never really showed any interest in us as people, and she spent way too much time talking about herself and her professional and academic accomplishments. No doubt she was an expert in her specialized field, but that never translated into good teaching.
So what is the biggest lesson I learned this past semester? That is an easy question to answer. I need to continue to help teachers in my school be more like Teacher A – student centered, caring, open. I expect teachers to use student work for their own growth and learning by returning it in a timely manner and by providing insightful comments to improve learning. In addition, as an evaluator of teachers, I need to provide immediate feedback, both positive and constructive, regarding their work as professionals.
What an eye opening experience these two classes have been. I have witnessed the great and the mediocre in teaching, and I hope I am a better educator for it. I will have both of these teachers again in future classes. I certainly know what to expect from each of them.