On Teaching a General Education Course

As we enter the second month of school, I think now is an appropriate time to discuss the difficulties I have had with teaching a “Gen Ed” class.  I have one class that is not a music class, a class that is part character development and part study hall.  It is a zero credit class, and the kids know it.  I thought it could be a fun class to teach, one that kids typically look forward to going to, and that they might just learn something from.  But I soon found that teaching this class was incredibly difficult for me.  I’m used to teaching music classes, with music kids.  Even teaching choir (which was another growth area for me) has been accessible – challenging, but accessible.  At least those kids (for the most part) chose to be in choir and want to be there.  A Gen Ed, by definition, is a required class that nobody is excited about and unless the teacher really knows what they’re doing *cough* is relatively dreadful.

So I do my best.  I try to keep things moving, changing topics much more frequently than any of the others that teach this class, and try to talk about things that these kids care about.  This week we started a unit on Honesty.  I asked them to discuss what they do and don’t like about their teachers, and to encourage complete honesty, I told them not to write their names on their papers (and I would give those present credit for turning one in).  I told them, if they wanted to write me down as their least favorite teacher they could – that I wouldn’t go home and cry myself to sleep about it, I just wanted them to be honest.  When I went to read the papers, I was prepared for the worst.  I know that I don’t have the control in that classroom that I have in other classes, and I thought that half the kids would say I was incompetent.  Here was the surprise – not one did.  It’s possible they were scared that I’d recognize their handwriting and hold it against them, but not one said a bad thing about me.  The even bigger surprise was that two kids even said positive things about me.  Here’s some of the questions I asked, and their responses (verbatim):

What makes your favorite teacher a good teacher?

“Because she’s nice to me and she have alot of pasion like win I talk she don’t say to me shut up she says becuqit.”

“Because she doesn’t yell at me.  She understands everything in the classroom.”

What do you think that teacher thinks of you?

“She thinks I’m a bad student”

“I think she thinks that I can do a better job of focusing on work.”

I was floored.  How could a student in that class think I understand everything in the classroom, that I have it under control?  Do I really stand out that much because I never tell students to shut up, and ask them instead to “Please be quiet”?  Because I don’t yell at students?  I’m sure some would argue that if I yelled more or told the kids what I think most minutes of the day (Okay seriously, shut up.) I would have more control over my classroom and maybe even a more productive one.  But I really try to avoid negativity with kids, and try to be positive.  And apparently some of them noticed.  Not all – but some.  And sure, it’s possible that they thought I would recognize their handwriting and think better of them, but the truth is – I honestly have no clue who it was in that class who thinks I am a decent teacher.  I may never know.  But it sure made me feel better knowing that at least two kids in my class are happy that I’m there.

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