Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Is it all about me?

Somehow or other I keep coming back to this question.

As a parent, it was hard to accept that my children's failures and mistakes and even their successes as they got older were their own, rather than a reflection on me and my parenting. I remember when my oldest daughter decided at 17 to take the GED. I had a hard time accepting that it was OK -- good even. I was worried about how it would look, what people would think about me. Fortunatley, I have pretty much gotten past that.

But now I find myself asking the same question as a teacher. Are the mistakes of my students a reflection on me and my teaching?

In a comment to my previous post, Bronwyn indicated that they are. In the not-too-distant past I would have agreed with her; I felt that if my students appeared to be less than perfect, it somehow meant I was not a "good" teacher. But now I have to say that I don't agree.

My students, all learning English as adults, make mistakes in their writing. Those mistakes are probably a reflection of what they have not mastered yet, but they may not reflect at all what they have been taught and taught well. Learning a second language is not a matter of being exposed to the "right" way to do things in English and then being able to do it consistently. This is especially true when it comes to writing. I expect them to make mistakes. And I don't think it means I am a bad teacher when they do.

I would really appreciate hearing what others of you think about this. Obviously, despite what I have written here, I am still somewhat conflicted.


Lesley said...

I feel that one of the paradoxical thing aboout teaching languages is that we should, indeed must, measure our success by the extent to which our learners have become autonomous. Our first task, it seems to me, is to gently lead students to the realisation that they are responsible for their own learning and that we are merely facilitators.

Nathan Lowell said...

Where to draw the line, Nancy?

If your student's failure or success is a reflection of you, then ... what about their choice of automobile? Or career?

Myself, I struggle with students' "not getting it" -- whatever *it* is -- because I want them to find the passion in the subject. It's not that I want them to do something for *me* per se. It's more like trying to share the truffles ...

But no matter how much you love them, some folks just won't take to it and that doesn't make me -- or them -- a bad person.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as an (on hiatus) teacher, I don't think I would ever want to be evaluated on much other than my students achievement. However, that achievement has to be relative to where they were when they started. Taking your students' posts as an example, I think the reflection on you as a teacher is two-fold: (1) The progress over the course of their time with you (2) The fact that they're writing for a public audience at all. Just the fact that you are confident in your ability as a teacher to let your students write for a public domain speaks volumes about you as a teacher (in a very good way).

Anonymous said...

If you work hard, reflect and give it your best, then it's not you. Adults learning a new language may have a hard time and may need more years of practice than an education affords them. I'm with lesley on the idea that we are facilitators, and with nathan about drawing the line. Taking on more than our responsibility means that we aren't being fair to ourselves or to our students.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy,

I started writting a comment ... it turned into an essay ... so I posted it to my blog instead of cluttering up your comments. ;-)

In brief, it basically says I think your students are lucky to have you.


Charles Nelson said...

I can definitely say that my teaching is better now than it was 13 years ago when I first started, and I imagine that my students reflect how I've improved as a teacher. At the same time, student learning is a result of interactions between student and teacher, between student and others, between student and the present environment, and between student and student's previous experiences. It's a lot more complicated than a student being a reflection of just one aspect of the teaching "input."