Conjure Your Better Angels

I know, over two months since my last confession, but if I don’t (re-)start now, I may never, so something short. A piece of advice about teaching I don’t want to forget:

I’ve been helping students with projects and worrying that I may be giving too much away, giving too much help, making them my projects instead of theirs. At least if I give help, I should check for understanding before I let the students loose: ask good questions to make sure the kids get whatever is important about whatever slick technique I just used to give them what they didn’t know they wanted.

So today, Aaron Vanderwerff, a teacher I really respect, was visiting, and watching me interact with one of these students. Of course I couldn’t let her go without checking for understanding—not with Aaron watching!—so I asked a couple really good questions, uncovered a little misunderstanding, fixed it, checked again, and let her go.

Of course it shouldn’t take shame or guilt to make me a better teacher, but hey, if it works…

Then, walking home, I realized: I don’t need Aaron to do this. All I have to do is imagine him, or any other teacher I respect, watching me. I can think of him as the good angel on my shoulder, watching to see if I’m really doing my job.

(Note the connection to Steve Leinwand’s ignite talk at Asilomar, about which I have not written.)

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Tim Erickson

Math-science ed freelancer and sometime math teacher. In 2014–15, at Mills College in Oakland, California.

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