Friday, January 17, 2014

The Teacher is the Decisive Factor

I am teaching a new course this semester: Educational Psychology. I'm really excited about this one! But there is always a little fear and trembling with preparing a new course...or at least, there is for me. In this way, I am thankful for my friend, Pat, from whom I inherited an excellent syllabus and much good advice for structuring this course. From those starting points, I'm putting my own fingerprints on the course, which is--I believe--what good teachers do.

We are right at the beginning of this new semester, and I'm still setting the stage in this course. Earlier this week we dealt with introductions and our syllabus; today was our first "real lesson." I wanted to get students thinking about the practical value of educational psychology, the way understanding child development and developmentally-responsive practice and learning theory impact and influence learning.

 So, of course, we watched movies!

I showed clips from three films that demonstrate different approaches teachers might take with their students. And while we should remember that this is Hollywood's take on the profession, I think there is a truthiness about these teachers. Here are the three clips I showed.

From Ferris Bueller's Day Off...

From Dead Poets Society...

From Pay it Forward...

We watched all three of these clips, and the question I asked my students to consider about each teacher is, "What does he believe to be true about his role as the teacher?"

Some insightful discussion ensued about what we can tell about someone's beliefs by examining their actions.

I asked my students to reflect on the atmosphere each of these teachers--fictional though they might be--had created in their classrooms. Certainly the students have a role to play in learning, but I wanted my students to think about the impact and influence of the teacher. In that light, I shared this quote from Haim Ginott, which I have seen shared several times before in regard to the role of the teacher:

I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.

The teacher is the decisive factor for how--or even if--students learn. Yes, students have a lot going on in their lives too, but I've come to agree with Dr. Ginott: the teacher sets the tone.

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