Part of the reason I came to France (fortunately, a large part, because it’s a large part of the life here) was to learn something about teaching.
Teaching is in my blood: my mother is a teacher, and therefore I’ve been surrounded by teachers all my life. But, being young and a student myself, I’ve had few chances to have a classroom to myself. As an assistant, I’ve moved up in the ranks just slightly. I’ve gotten to observe a variety of teaching styles, been in diverse classroom environments, and have received many different advice nuggets from a new crop of experienced teachers.
A good synthesis of all of these observations clicked for me recently, and I’ve stumbled upon my first one-liner lesson in teaching:
Being an effective teacher requires personal and professional confidence.
Standing in front of a classroom is intimidating. High schoolers can be a tough crowd, especially when I know that I’m not much older than they are. I’m always slightly afraid that they won’t like my lesson, won’t learn anything, that when they’re giggling it’s because there’s something between my teeth or I’ve swiped chalk across my face. I also have a tendency to drop pens and bump into things as I walk around the classroom, neither of which improve my street cred amongst the pupils.
I’ve realized that the students and I seem to enjoy my lessons most when I am confident in what I’m doing. My current favorite lesson to teach is a simple Shakespeare monologue, for pronunciation practice. I make them repeat each line after I read it, then I go over the problem areas, contorting my face and making funny noises to emphasize the TH and H sounds that French doesn’t have. In short, I totally embarrass myself. And somehow, when I do it on purpose, it makes me feel more connected to the class and what I’m teaching. I like this lesson best because I’ve done it, I know it works, and what’s more, it’s something I’m excited about. In short, I’m really confident in it, and we all enjoy it more.
Confidence, both personal and professional, comes partially from experience. I can already tell the difference between Teacher Anne of September and Teacher Anne of January. I also have more of my own classes now, which gives me a lot of responsibility and freedom that I probably couldn’t have handled a few months ago. I still always feel slightly out of my element because I know that I haven’t really been trained for this job — which affects my confidence. But now whenever I start thinking that way, I check myself. It’s more helpful to fake it. After all, the students know nothing about me. For all they know, I’ve been teaching for years and years.
I say “personal” and “professional” because of the two layers I implied above — personal confidence is the ability to shake off the feeling that these excessively image-conscious (because it’s high school) pupils are commenting on my appearance or any general human awkwardness I exhibit. Professional confidence is the confidence in lesson plans, or the effectiveness of classroom management techniques. In order to be in command of a classroom, you need both. It’s part of the reason why teaching is so challenging. Spending all day embroiled in the complexities of interpersonal communication, with a large amount of responsibility for the success or failure thereof, is emotionally draining. But I also find it incredibly rewarding when it works.