I've been teaching since 1974. I've always approached my work with a fair amount of confidence in my ability to create a safe, productive, and meaningful learning experience for my students. During my early years in the classroom, I emulated educators who had impressed me during my high school and college years -- those who were able to challenge me and bring out the best in me by employing the best teaching practices at that time. Through the years, I developed my own style of teaching, still relying on what I had learned from those early mentors, but also incorporating effective new strategies I picked up along the way.
One might think that today, with almost forty years of experience, I might have mastered the art of teaching. I will be the first to admit that I have not. In fact, I've come to the realization that mastering the art of teaching is an impossible task, because what it takes to be an effective educator is constantly evolving.
I had a great day of classes today -- despite the fact that today is Friday. Fridays are notoriously challenging for teachers. By the end of the week, our students are tired, and so are we. Just getting ourselves to school on a Friday can be a challenge. Teaching five classes of high school students on a Friday can be downright overwhelming at times. But today was different.
I attribute the success I experienced in my classroom today to my visit to Notre Dame High School in San José yesterday. I had the privilege of observing two excellent young teachers in two 85-minute class periods. Notre Dame employs a 7-period, rotating block schedule. One day each week, all seven classes meet for 45 minute periods. On the other days, either even or odd classes meet for 85-minute blocks. St. Lawrence Academy will be switching to such a schedule next year, so I spent half of my day yesterday learning how to make effective use of an 85-minute class period. I learned a lot!
Although my classes today were only 53 minutes long, I employed some of the teaching strategies I observed at Notre Dame. I was pleasantly surprised to see how effective they were with my students. Yes, I've been teaching for many years, but my classroom observations yesterday reminded me of the importance of keeping current with best practices.
I am well aware of the need for continual professional growth. I wouldn't go to a dentist who practiced dentistry the way it was practiced in 1974. Similarly, I cannot teach the way I've always taught. The world is different today. So, too, are high school students. To provide a credible learning environment for today's youth, teachers need to employ new strategies and practices which integrate available technology, which challenge students to think critically, and which empower students to take a more active role in their own learning.
I'm grateful for the wake-up call -- and I appreciate the opportunity to approach my last five years of teaching with a strong desire to be a better teacher than I've ever been.