Saturday, March 1, 2008

Getting off in the workplace...

I was talking with one of my colleagues this week. She said, “God, wouldn’t it be great if every room here at a TV with a DVD player that worked, and a projector for the computer with one of those Smartboards®, and a computer that worked, like, all the time…(deeply contented sigh).

Right there in front of me, I witnessed a professional orgasm.

This got me thinking about the things in my professional life that get me excited like that, so I made a list. It’s in no particular order, and keep in mind that I teach primarily foreign languages.

Workbooks with good practice exercises. There’s a lot of stuff out there, but very little of it approaches practice in a way that connects well to what I teach. I do a lot of trolling for this stuff and, every once in a while, something comes in that really works. When I open it up and see that I can totally use what’s there, I get all tingly.

Technology. I’m a guy. I like my toys. I lobbied for two years to get a projector to run from my laptop for the presentations, exercises and games I use in class, and it is the shizzle! Gimme more! I had access to a Smartboard® years ago, and I shake at the thought of having one again.

Useful, fun websites for my students. I spend a fair amount of time in my classes showing my students how to make full use of the incredible resource that is the Internet to help them study language on their own. To that end, I show them everything from how to use an online dictionary (and the forums that go with it) to how to use online translation algorithms to translate a website from, say, French to English. Armed with this information, they can go and explore the rest of the world! When they come back with some nugget of interest to them, it always gets me excited.

Office supplies. Damn, but I get drooly just before I open the Staples box at the beginning of the school year! What’s that about? I mean, it’s just paper clips and markers! It’s embarrassing.

Audio and video my first-year students can use--that is not dorky! Why is this so goddamn hard for people to produce?! If I ever leave the classroom (hell, I may not even wait that long), I’m so totally going to make a pile of this stuff and make a mint!

Quality, creative writing from my kids. I’m not openly effusive about it when I get it, but I absolutely go foolish over some of the stories and journal entries my gang hands in, especially if it’s from students whose work shows that they really worked on it and who made real progress. Nothing makes a teacher love the job more than good demonstrations of learning!

Exhibitions that leave lasting impressions. My students each complete a semester-long project that is composed of a research paper and a classroom presentation. The classroom presentation requires an activity that actively and directly involves the class in learning what the student has researched. In any given year, I’ll have a bunch of these that are really good but, every once in a while, I see one that everyone really connects with, that they talk about long afterwards. I had one last year on traditional cultural art from Mexico, where the student produced a video that introduced the concept (she’s given me permission to put it on YouTube, but I haven’t done it yet), then she gave each of the students a small hand loom to show them how to make their own tapestries. The looms were made of cardboard, but there was clearly a lot of time and creative energy given to this idea, and it totally paid off. There were kids walking around the school weaving little tapestries for days after! It attracted all kinds of attention, and it was wonderful to see.

Faculty workshops where we get to collaborate and share. This happens pretty regularly at my school, and I look forward to it every time. I work with an amazing bunch of professionals, and I really get energized when I have the chance to plan, create and connect with them.

Having the right classroom experience for the day. Teaching is a lot about good preparation, but there’s a necessary need to adapt to circumstance. I pride myself on being flexible, and I’m not afraid to depart from the plan when it will make for a better experience for everyone concerned. Of course, this means I’ll make adjustments when my students are exhausted and just not into doing what I’ve got on tap, but the best thing is when they’re really ready and willing to go, and I have to keep up with them. When they go well, those classes always leave me emotionally and physically spent, but with a smile on my face.

So, what does it for you professionally?


Mrs. Chili said...

I, too, love office supplies. I'm particularly enamored of really good white board markers and fun paper clips and binders....

My professional experience would be made better by a lot of things: collaborative workshops, like you mentioned; better access to professional development and training (even better if that development and training were actually relevant - imagine!); technology that is not only up-to-date (can I have more than a 19 inch t.v. and a dinky DVD player?) but that actually WORKS more than 50% of the time; an online forum for my hybrid kids that comes closer to approximating teacher-student contact..

I could keep going here - and I'm hoping to find some of these things in whatever my new position will be...

The Grammar Snob said...

I do so have a thing for office supplies. It's just not right.

Some of the things you mentioned there were exactly why I wanted to be a teacher as a kid. Getting all loopy if someone turns in a kick ass paper. Fantastic.

Kizz said...

Sometimes when I'm hating my job (not to be confused with my career) I go to Staples on my lunch hour just to look around.

It'd be so nice if people just CAME to theater. That would make the professional experience better for me. If it were cheaper to get space so people could just walk in and see what they see and feel freer to experiment with that which is not tested and proved already.