Fifty Years of Teaching
By the time building administrators realized I was not following policy, my students were learning, successful, happy, and thriving.
|by Bill Page
Regular contributor to the Gazette
March 1, 2009
A teaching aphorism declares: “You can have 20 years of experience or you can have one year’s experience 20 times.” I’ve had fifty years experiences teaching in elementary and secondary schools, in colleges, in radical, innovative schools, in bureaucratic nightmares, in elite academies and ghetto schools. A half-century has whooshed by since my first day of teaching, September 9, 1958. This year I will turn 77 years old and have begun writing “My Memoirs”, not because I am famous or even notorious, but because of implausible, my one-of-a-kind, experiences in unique and extraordinary contexts. I am eager to share my once-in-a-lifetime valuable lessons that others may compare, contrast, or reflect on their own experiences. Here are some notes from my event-filled journey:
Totally unprepared to teach, 27 years old, and with no interest or experience whatsoever, I reluctantly accepted a stopgap job as an eighth grade English teacher. I didn’t know anything about teaching, and I had a lousy attitude, “If I don’t like teaching, I’ll quit, whether that’s at the end of the first day or first week.” Furthermore, I didn’t like kids. I didn’t dislike them either–I just didn’t know what they were, what they were like, and had no interest in them. To my delight, I loved the job and got a kick out of the kids. They were funny, and I laughed at them instead of yelling and griping as some of my fellow teachers did.
Striving day-by-day as a new teacher, I suffered asinine school policies, contradictory directives from administrators and useless advice from colleagues. The prevalent teaching-learning concept was based on fear, intimidation, reward and punishment, negativism, and ordinate-subordinate relationships. Many teachers seemed angry at the kids and obsessed with control. I found teaching expectations so contrary to my own goals, I became perplexed and disillusioned. Unlike my schooling experiences where boredom and fear of failure ruled, I wanted interest and satisfaction for my students. What I was supposed to do as a teacher had no connection to what made sense. I quickly developed a teaching mantra, “I will do what makes sense.”
Still “just a teacher” after fifty years, I am delighted to share my successful teaching strategies. (I shall share my many unsuccessful techniques another time.) However devious, unorthodox, unheralded, and sometimes unprofessional or unethical my teaching-learning methods, they are all researched, tested, and proven—by me. Besides my guiding mantra and the abundance of constant, honest, and innocent feedback from my students, I can attribute my different-but-successful teaching to four factors:
With my naïve, stubborn, iconoclastic procedures, I was a long way from traditional teaching expectations. Administrators encountered difficulty dealing with me. One principal wrote in my file, “He has the courage of his convictions;” intending it as a derogatory entry. By specializing in teaching “troublemakers”, who had already failed standard school procedures, I “got away with” some circuitous methods. Having more success with the problem learners than some teachers were having with the good kids got me even more problem kids and prevented me from quitting or being fired. Here are strategies I developed that permitted me to continue my unorthodox, expedient procedures that made sense and brought success.
I acquired expedient teaching strategies through:
I endured and exploited lessons of:
*Desperation and panic
Through these procedures, I learned to be a successful, satisfied teacher of successful, satisfied students.