Other voices, other rooms, part 3 (plus lunch)

Oh, what the heck.  This is one in a continuing series of observations of other teachers.

A couple of weeks ago I caught part of a freshman biology class, thanks to a colleague I’ll call Natasha B.  We often chat in the faculty workroom, moaning about the dreadful coffee* and swapping impressions of the ninth-graders.  She’s around forty, petite, with a very precise brunette bob, and has a daughter the Snork Maiden’s age who is already at Starfleet Academy. 

I like talking with Natasha because she has a dry wit.  She can be quite cutting, in private, about the students, and I imagined that she would be very no-nonsense in class.  Which she is, sort of.  She started the second half of the class (it was a double period, and there had been a short break) by saying, loudly, “Okay, people!  Break’s over!” and was mostly lecturing on the day that I saw her, telling the students about the beginning of life on earth, and rapidly transcribing notes onto the whiteboard in a clear hand as she spoke.  (As I’ve mentioned, I have trouble writing and talking at the same time, so I found this impressive.)  At one point, a student asked whether they would be responsible for knowing some piece of information, and she said crisply, “Yes.  It’s on the board”–so she is (like a lot of us) still training the students that if the teacher writes something on the board, it’s probably important; I tend to make a jokey little drama out of reminding them, but Natasha’s demeanor was more stern. 

I was a little surprised that she hadn’t just turned this very clearly organized set of notes into a PowerPoint–it seemed like the obvious use of PP.  But then, I have yet to use PP in the classroom–no, seriously!  I do put Word documents or websites up on the screen sometimes, though–sometimes I put short quizzes up there and have them write their answers on squares of scrap paper.  And Dorothea just offered me a PP on Greek theater for the Sophoclean tragedy we’re reading now, so I’ll probably be using that very soon.

Also, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that you use your brain differently when you watch someone write on the board than when someone clicks a mouse and a new bullet point blinks onto the screen. 

Natasha’s lecture style wasn’t just speaking at them; she progressed through the material by asking them questions (“What elements would you expect to be present in the atmosphere at this point?”), and the students also clearly felt comfortable asking her questions as they went along.  And as with Dorothea, I was charmed by how much she smiled–when students answered her questions, yes, but especially when they asked them (“How did the carbon molecules start bunching together?”).  She clearly communicated her own interest in the material and her pleasure when they connected with it–it was great to see.  I think I saw her smile more in the half-hour that I sat in on the class than in the whole time I’ve known her.  It was a pretty traditional class, and I can imagine that if I were a student, I’d have found the structure of it very reassuring.  It does feel good when you think your teacher has her stuff together.

In English, we all seem to recognize that we’re not supposed to be lecturing all the time, and certainly lecturing has limits, but a nice, organized lecture, delivered by someone who communicates great interest in the material, is a very fine thing. 

*By the way, I brought my little one-cup coffee drip thingy to school, and now I don’t drink the nasty coffee anymore; I’m also moving toward better preparation for feeding myself at school.  Starfleet Academy doesn’t have a cafeteria per se, so the high-school students and faculty can: a) buy packaged sandwiches, salads, and snacks from the student store; b) visit the lunch truck that stops by around noon; c) pack a lunch.  I started out mostly packing a daily lunch–I bought my Mr. Bento jar around the time I started this job–but lately I’m doing what many of my colleagues do, and bringing groceries to school so that I can assemble lunches there–yogurt, fruit, lunchmeat, cheese, salad fixings.  It really is simpler and easier than packing daily lunches.  I also keep a couple of Balance or Zone bars and some almonds in my desk. 

Also, Starfleet Academy is a place of unexpected free food, perhaps even more than most workplaces since people don’t generally go off campus for lunch meetings at restaurants: if there’s a meeting, or someone’s birthday, or a special event, the food is brought in (or, in the case of a birthday, potlucked).  Then the leftovers end up in the faculty lounge.  More than once, I’ve worked through lunch and gone in there during the next period to find a serendipitous stack of extra pizzas, or some aluminum pans of food.  We have a stash of plastic bags and containers so that we can save portions for the next day.  And once a month, the parent association provides lunch for the teachers.  So you don’t necessarily need to carry your lunch every day, unless you’re taking leftovers. 

What I need to do now is take an actual lunch break more often.  It’s fun to hang out with my colleagues over lunch when I don’t feel pressed to stay at my desk.  And I think I’d be more productive in the afternoon if I took a real break at noon.  I have only one class after lunch tomorrow, so I should be able to do it then.


10 responses to this post.

  1. One of the best changes in my work habits since starting at FGS is that I now take a real lunch break on most days (made easier by the fact that FGS has a cafeteria). I’d spent so many years eating at my desk that actually sitting down with colleagues and having a few minutes to relax and chat still makes me feel rather giddy sometimes.


  2. Posted by meansomething on October 23, 2008 at 5:16 am

    I wish we had a cafeteria!

    I ate lunch with one of my English colleagues and two of the science teachers today, and it was really fun. Not having a class immediately after lunch was very helpful. I am going to try to do it again tomorrow.


  3. […] take the Snork Maiden to the SA middle-school musical production, meeting up with my colleague Natasha B., who has a daughter in the same […]


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