My teaching demonstration, Part II

Two teaching demonstrations down and one more to go next week. I’ll be glad when this workshop is over, much as I am learning from it and enjoying it. I normally spend Friday madly grading, and I hate having to push the mad grading off until Saturday and Sunday because I’m at the workshop all day Friday.

Yesterday my teaching demonstration went okay. The lesson didn’t go as well as last week’s pace line lesson went, but I was also working with a much harder, more abstract topic: metaphors. The idea was that the metaphors we use shape how we think about ideas, basically the idea in George Lakoff’s Metaphors We Live By. For example, we think about arguments in terms of war or battle metaphors (“you shot down my idea,” or “you’ve never beaten me in an argument”) and argument becomes war when it doesn’t necessarily have to be so. I like this concept a lot, and the class got it by the end, but there was a bit of confusion as we went along. Perhaps it was just too complex for my short 10 minutes — but a fun challenge anyway.

But the really interesting parts of the day came first when we were discussing my lesson, and the Business and Computer Science instructors thought I needed to spend a little more time defining “metaphor.” They hadn’t thought about the term since they were in college and spent part of the lesson in confusion. That took me a bit by surprise, since I tend to assume that people — adults at least — can produce a workable definition of the word immediately and are ready to jump to more theoretical ideas about metaphors right away.

And then as I sat in the Business instructor’s teaching demonstration, I experienced moments of panic as she introduced the lesson and asked us to do an activity that I had no idea how to do. She gave us a chart with numbers and asked us to analyze the numbers and come up with definitions of terms such as “unit fixed costs,” “total fixed costs,” “unit variable costs,” and “total variable costs.” I sat there looking at the numbers and thinking, “What???” It’s not that I’m bad with numbers. I’m actually good with numbers and I like them a lot, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around the instructions and those business terms, and I did my best but didn’t figure it out right away.

We talked in our discussion later about how she could have offered us clearer instructions to help us out, but as we were in the lesson, other people seemed to be getting it without the extra instructions. I sat there thinking, “please don’t call on me, please don’t call on me!! Because then I’m going to have to admit that I don’t get it at all, when I’d really rather just sit here and stare at my paper avoiding eye contact with you and waiting this lesson out.”

Later the Business instructor and I had a moment of understanding: we’d bewildered each other, and now we both had a better idea of what our students feel when they don’t get what we’re doing, and the rest of the class seems to get it, and they might have to admit publicly that they don’t get it and feel stupid.

It’s great to be reminded of how students feel sometimes — and not just to be reminded, but to experience it, to feel the intimidation and panic myself.

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