Teaching more than content

This comic is based upon a story submitted by a friend and colleague of mine. It demonstrates that at some point in your career as an educator, you will inevitably be faced with delicate and decisive moments where what you need to teach goes far beyond the content of your class, and is far more important as well. Read Tal’s story below, and if you want your teacher story to become part of the 180Dayz teacher book, send it to me at 180dayzcomics@gmail.com. Check this link for more details about the project. Thanks! https://180dayz.com/180dayz-new-teacher-book/

tals-tale

It was about 3 weeks into my student teaching, which happened to be taking place during summer school (so you know all the students “REALLY” wanted to be there). My mentor teacher had to step out of the class for a moment to use the restroom. Not long after he left I heard some students sitting at a table near the back of the room murmuring. I dismissed it as merely some small chat, but within what seemed like five seconds the murmurs began to spread across the room like wild fire. Suddenly, a student on the opposite side of the room yelled out, “Raise your hand if you’re straight! Okay, now raise your hand if you’re gay!” A second later another student chimed in, pointing to a classmate and yelling, “Hey, why aren’t you raising your hand? You’re gay!” To which the student hollered back, “I’m not gay, you’re gay!”
I have no idea how I got the class silent so quickly, but I probably yelled something like “HEY! STOP, STOP, STOP!” I proceeded to talk about how this wasn’t an appropriate way to go about any of this, and that if someone wants to “come out” it should be on his or her own terms. I explained that we need to ensure our classroom culture promotes a safe environment for such, and emphasized that if I was uncomfortable with what just happened, it meant that someone else in the room was probably also uncomfortable.
At this point one of the girls in the class blurted out, “You’re interfering with my education,” implying that I needed to stick to my content and not diverge into monologues meant to teach morals. I responded by saying that this WAS part of their education; that learning how to communicate in a respectful and empathetic manner was indeed just as important as the physics we were learning in class.
About this time my mentor teacher re-entered the room. We continued the conversation with the class for another few minutes, and then sat in silence for about 30 seconds to allow processing of what just occurred. Then, the same girl that said I was interrupting her education glared at me and asked, “Can we get back to physics now?”
From this experience, I have two lessons for new teachers:

1. Remember that your content is not the most important thing that students will take away from your classroom. They are learning academic and social skills. Hopefully they remember an activity or assignment 20 years from now, but our most important job is to shape our students into the best humans they can be.

2. It is never too late to pause class, or reboot, or go off topic if that’s what the class needs. The room can change in seconds from one little comment. Don’t panic. Don’t think you did something “wrong” or that you have bad classroom management. Go with it and use it. You can learn from it AND they can learn from it.

Best,

Tal SebellShavit
Physics and Astronomy Teacher

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