“Am I an Effective Teacher?”

Mrs. Kristin Whalen is a PLTW teacher who has earned credits in Introduction to Engineering Design (IED), Principles of Engineering (POE), App Creators, Medical Detectives, and Automation and Robotics (AR). Kristin’s hobbies include spending time with her husband and one-year-old daughter, listening to podcasts, running, and trying new foods.

Prior to teaching PLTW classes, I was a high school biology teacher at a small rural school in Illinois. I had the textbook essentially memorized and guided incoming freshman through a course requiring rote memorization of vocabulary words and science concepts. I threw in the occasional lab to spice things up, I had a great rapport with students, and I thought I was an effective teacher.

After a few years of this, I uprooted my life and moved to Ohio for my husband’s career. On a whim, I interviewed for a PLTW Engineering job. Although I met the basic job requirements, I had never even heard of Project Lead The Way. Within a day of my second interview, I was offered the job, accepted, and still wasn’t even sure what “PLTW” actually stood for.

I don’t think I entirely realized what I had gotten myself into until two months later, when I arrived at my first Core Training class at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. “Overwhelmed” is an understatement. I had gone from a job where I was confident and comfortable, to something totally out of my wheelhouse. I sat down, feeling totally out of place and anxious to be a “student” for the first time in five years.

A few days in, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. But two long weeks later, I received my certificate for IED and left campus with a new sense of pride and accomplishment – I even remember saying to my mom, “I feel like I see the world differently now.” I had rediscovered my love for learning and reconnected with my natural curiosity, both of which can be so easily squashed in the day-to-day of traditional teaching.

Teaching PLTW has challenged the way I look at education and has helped me to see that being an effective teacher actually looks a lot more like failure than most are comfortable admitting. I often wonder – am I an effective teacher? I am by no means an expert, but if you wonder the same thing, ask yourself:

How do you handle failure, and more importantly, how do your students handle failure?

How comfortable are you, and your students, at trying unfamiliar things?

My Automation and Robotics students spend days building robots, and they fail.

My App Creators students work for hours writing code, and it fails.

In my POE class, I try things that I have never done before and fail.

In our classroom, we all fail together, but more importantly, we all learn together.

If students leave my classroom comfortable with failure, I feel effective. Gone are the days when students need a teacher to “give” them information – anything they need to learn is literally at their fingertips. What teachers need to do is present students with problems to solve and let them see that failure is a natural and beneficial part of the learning process. Effective teachers are the ones who not only embrace this, but make it part of the culture in their classroom.

You can watch all of our class “fails” on my class Instagram or Twitter, using the handle @PLTW_Whalen.

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.