Friday, September 12, 2014

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 11: The Best Part of the Day

There are studies that review the best time to drink coffee, try for a baby, exercise, eat, sleep, and what hours during the day are typically the most productive.

Has there been any study on the best part of the day for a teacher?

I have a feeling the smart alecs would say something about the beginning moments of a Friday afternoon, when the entire weekend is in front of you and you can leave the stress and anxiety of the classroom for a couple of days. The mushy types might try with something about the early morning moments before any students have even arrived, the coffee is still hot, and you can close out the last-minute preparations in the stillness of an empty classroom.

My best part of the day? Smack dab in the middle of "the moment." Teachers know what that is. That moment in of a discussion when a really solid point has completely hit home, and you've just realized it. And you take it and run with it. The students are better than understanding what you're trying to tell them; they're buying it, allowing it to become part of their thinking, and using it to rethink about all the things they've learned before.

Depending on the students, this usually happens to me about once a class, once a week. This week, my 4th-year students - who are taking my class as part of their last three classes before they graduate from the program - gave me that moment. These are evening students, so I'm teaching them some brain-busting writing skills between 7:30 and 9:30 at night, after most of them have been at work all day. On the first session of this class, most - if not all - of these students came to me to express the stress and pressure they're feeling at this point in the sequence, and how this class ultimately is the bridge, the answer, the key to their graduation. We were talking about the beginning stages of research that they'll need to do to write their capstone paper, a business proposal. We talked about how research is often particularly difficult for technical education students because it's not linear. A few students gave me a skeptical look, so I elaborated more: the best research will propel, narrow, and direct more research. How ever I said that idea must've struck the magic chord. Each pair of eyes staring back at me in silent contemplation looked like a mix of dumbfoundedness and delight. They were almost angry that it had taken so long for someone to tell them these things.

That is the kind of moment that keeps a teacher teaching for a lifetime; the kind of moment that sends chills down your spine and back up the back of your neck. I felt my cheeks flush and my heart flutter, and all I could do was stare back at them and try and gauge what they needed to hear next. Even the recounting of these kinds of moments rekindles those chills and elicits a coy smile. It's also the hardest part to quantify and prove to policymakers and stakeholders when they start asking about value in education and teacher quality. There is no other way to describe that gut feeling that everything those students thought about research prior to that moment was now changed, moved, even obsolete.

For me, the best part of the day can't be pinned down to a particular hour. In fact, the spontaneity of moments like these is motivational. I strive for moments like these, so I push and push to see if I can make one happen. I look forward to those moments all day long, and that keeps me positive, engaged, focused, and on a constant lookout for opportunities to make my work better.

And if a moment doesn't appear, there's always 3:25pm on Friday afternoon.

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