I told someone that I love my students. They asked me if the feeling was reciprocal. At first I was taken aback. Why tf wouldn't they? I’m amazing.
I thought it over and told them what I’m telling you now.
I’m pretty sure that my students like coming to my class because I made them turn in anonymous evaluations mid year. They all pretty much said the same thing in the evaluations. They were thankful that our classroom was a safe space where they could talk about ideas. When I say safe space, I do not mean free from provocative or harmful content. I mean that my students generally feel supported by each other enough to be able to explore ideas that they normally wouldn’t.
I genuinely believe that my students were telling the truth when they say this because they have become very open and honest in the classroom. I believe they are becoming more open and honest because I work to make sure that they feel comfortable enough so that they can be open and honest. I talk to them like people I esteem; people who I know have great things to teach me. I talk to them like people who have something to offer to our classroom conversations. Because I do this, they have become comfortable enough to offer insights to the classroom about the various texts we discuss.
I also put a lot of work to make sure that my students don’t feel like they are learning. I want my students to feel like they are at a kickback shooting the shit with friends. To create such an atmosphere, I don't call on students. They rarely raise their hands to speak. They just speak when they feel like it. I show them in various ways that my opinion is not The Opinion that they need to learn. I try to make them understand that I want them to reflect on the ideas and come to their own understanding of the text. I don’t want them to believe what I believe. I don’t want them to find what I find important. From my students reactions to me, my hard work has paid off. There have been several times where I posed an argument, my students knew what I believed, and they argued against what I believed. In arguing against what I said, they weren’t trying to prove me wrong. They worked to come to a better understanding of things with me. Working with my students to learn about ideas is what I aim to do. I know that I am doing okay at teaching because they feel comfortable learning ideas with me, not simply learning ideas from me.
I also think that I do a good job at teaching because there have been several times where I posed a philosophical problem and the class ended before we could figure out the problem together. My students stayed after class talking to each other about the problem at hand. My goal is to fall in love with ideas. I feel that I am doing my job when they show that they truly want to wrestle with the ideas.
I gotta say that I can’t take the blame for creating the classroom environment that I described. The responsibility also falls on the amazing ass readings. I TA for a Global Existentialism class. We’ve read Zera Yacob, Simone Weil, Aurobindo, Shariati, de Beauvoir, Sartre, and Nishitani. (We will be reading Lewis Gordon’s Existentia Africana and Etokes Melancholia Africana soon.) The readings beg for exciting/illuminating conversation!
My students are also responsible for the environment we’ve created. They’ve learned to trust themselves and trust each other to share insights that they have. They’ve had to work through feelings that they weren’t capable of saying anything “smart” or “deep” enough to contribute to our class discussions in a meaningful way. Their decision to work through these things and take a chance on themselves, on their classmates, on me, is the main reason why we have been able to create such an awesome classroom culture.
I also feel it important to note that I don’t have a perfect classroom. It’s not the case that ALL of my students LOVE EVERY SECOND of being in my class. It’s not the case that EVERY student in my class is just falling in love with philosophical ideas. Some students are more interested than others. I think that’s to be expected though.
With all of this said, I have to say that there are a lot of ways in which I can improve. It has taken some time to be able to read my students, to figure out what kind of activities they will take to. It has taken me time to develop an intuition about how they will receive certain texts. I am not the best at foreseeing issues that might arise. For example, I might think that my students will fall in love with a text as I do but they might appreciate it for different reasons than me. I can definitely work on trying to foresee what they will take to so that we can have even better discussions. I can definitely work on seeing the questions they might have in advance so that I can craft better questions to help them think about the subject matter. I teach 4 classes. I teach the same thing in each of my classes. The first class I teach is always the guinea pig. Oftentimes, I find out what doesn’t work with the first class that I teach. The “mistakes” I make in the first class enable me to ensure that my other classes are 10 times better. I put mistakes in air quotes because to stress that I don’t think the first class goes horribly. I just feel bad that the conversations aren’t always as structured or productive in the first class.
Most of all, I wish I could foresee the way the conversation would go before I went to the first class so that we can have more of a productive conversation. I haven’t figured out how to achieve my goal yet but I hear that this is a common problem for people. I am sure that it will take years and years for me to figure it out. The prospect of it taking years for me to improve doesn’t bother me. I am excited about finding ways to improve more than I have already!
I also think that I could improve my trying out different innovative teaching techniques that I’ve heard about recently! Just tonight I was talking to a colleague who has coloring books prepared for her students to that they could relax as she lectures. The same colleague found a way to incorporate dance in her education class. I hope to be as innovative in the classroom as her!
Teaching truly is an art and I hope to continue to get better at my craft:)