Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Inspiring Teacher Series: Interview with Brendan Halpin

Welcome to The Inspiring Teacher Series - a tribute to inspirational K-12 teachers and college professors, and what we can learn from them and each other about the craft of teaching. Now let's meet...

Author & Teacher
Boston, MA

Bio: Brendan Halpin is the author of the memoir Losing My Faculties as well as several novels for adults and young adults. He's in his thirteenth year of teaching, and he lives in Boston with his wife Suzanne, their children, and their dog.

What inspired you to teach?
I just kind of fell into it. I had to teach English in order to participate in this program that took me to Taiwan after I graduated from college. I was kind of dreading it, but when I got there, I actually enjoyed it. The idea that work was something you could enjoy rather than just endure was pretty revolutionary to me, so I decided that was probably a job I should pursue.

Losing My Faculties is one of my favorite teacher-written books, especially because of your humor and unabashed honesty. How how the book helped or hindered your connection with current students and teachers?
Thanks! Honestly, it hasn't affected it that much at all. It wasn't enough of a runaway bestseller to have really penetrated the consciousness of most people I meet. I think it's had a pretty corrosive effect on my relationship with some of the teachers I used to work with, but I don't really talk to those people anyway.

What teaching methods are most helpful in guiding students towards their goals?
I would say whatever methods allow the teacher to teach with passion will help students. I've had and seen great teachers that lectured nonstop and great teachers that have students work in groups. I don't think one method is necessarily better for all students, but if the teacher is really engaged and having fun, the students will be learning more.

What would you like to improve about your teaching?
I'm still just so disorganized. I really admire and envy people who just naturally know how to keep everything where it's supposed to be.

What is the one thing you wish you'd known when you started your teaching career?
A few things, actually:
1.) You can successfully ignore whatever the administrators tell you in those meetings on the first couple days of school.
2.) Almost every workshop you're forced to attend will be dull, insulting, or both. Try not to take it personally.
3.) A lot of people who've been teaching for decades are very wounded. Try not to judge them too harshly. You'll get wounds of your own.
4.) The wins you'll get along the way will be better than any other reward and will make it all worth it.
5.) There are a lot of different settings in which you can teach. Keep moving till you find the right one for you.

Any words of wisdom for teachers who want to be entrepreneurial - such as balancing a teaching career with a writing career?
I would say don't expect to do anything else that requires a lot of energy or creativity in your first three years of teaching. You need time to establish your bag of tricks before you can spare any creative energy for other projects.

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