The Evolution of Teaching

By Lupe Fisch

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The students sit at attention. They focus on their young teacher. Tension fills the air, along with a little fear. The teacher has a severe look on her face; her eyes are watchful, scanning the small classroom for inappropriate behavior or a lapse in concentration.

The first task is dictation. The pupils open their makeshift notebooks, pick up their pencils, and laboriously write what they hear. The young teacher circulates menacingly, monitoring each student’s progress with skepticism. The only one that has a little difficulty is Julieta, but she’s only three and hasn’t learned to read yet, let alone write. She scribbles earnestly, inventing her own script as she goes.

That was my first classroom. At eight, I would convince my half dozen younger siblings and cousins to gather on the patio, where we would drag end tables from the house to set up a classroom.

We laugh now at their willingness to endure the severe, 19th-century pedagogy that characterized my “teaching” then. They were great sports, and from this vantage I marvel at how early in my life I loved managing a classroom. Fortunately, my path into the profession has led me to some wonderful mentors and teachers; and it helped me transform those early, draconian impulses into a more thoughtful, student-centered methodology. Teaching has always called me. I tutored peers in high school and college, and when I finally had my own real classroom in graduate school, I felt like I had come home.

One of the things I enjoy most about teaching is its constant flux. Students bring their brilliance, their fresh perspectives, their desire for learning; and teachers adapt and hone their craft. Teaching in general--and second-language acquisition in particular--have evolved significantly in the twenty-plus years I have been in the profession. The language classroom has become more communicative and more task-based; and technology has allowed teachers to customize homework to prepare students for more meaningful class activities.

For me, teaching is, at its core, a dialogue--both with students and other teachers. My current focus of growth centers around this. I am working with colleagues at the Global Online Academy on the meaningful use of feedback and assessment; and I’m learning to exploit the robust tools on Canvas to customize instruction for my students, all of whom are at slightly different places in their trajectory. I am grateful for the energy, struggles, and richness of perspective that they bring to this dialogue.

They are already making me a better teacher.