I recently started up an old Sunday ritual that has been helpful along the way in my teaching journey: short reflective sketching sessions. It is something that really helps me reflect on the week I had, while relaxing my mind by “free” drawing and listening to music. I like to listen to TedTalks sometimes and this Sunday I came across Ji-Hae Park: The violin, and my dark night of the soul, which I highly recommend. Reflection, I have come to realize, will play a major role in my teaching. I will be reflecting after each work week, month and school year trying to see what I can improve, eliminate, or experiment with in my teaching.
Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.
Here is what came about from this Sunday’s reflective session; this is a sketch that I have been adding to week by week. Writing down what comes to mind during and after my sketching gives me raw insight to what was weighing heavily on me, or what left a light impression. I highly recommend all teachers, and students for that matter, create their own “ Sunday Reflection” –the results will be powerful for that I am sure of.
I recently watched a magnificent TED Talk by the ever engaging Rita Pierson in her presentation Every Kid Needs a Champaign one of her points is that teachers need to connect with students. To champignon students we must respect them, listen and most of all understand them. This, to me, has been the anchor that sets the tone of what kind of teacher I want to be. Working with children as a new teacher with be stormy at times and choppy at best with rare bluebird sky moments. I am not being negative, quite the contrary, I am setting myself up to not burn out like so many do their first couple of years as a new teacher. I am beginning to realize that my love of children, the joy of learning new things with them, and relishing in the “cute” things they say will not be enough to fuel me in my career quest. I will have to dig deep within myself and hold back what I want my students to understand and focus on understanding my students as individuals first.
This seems easy to any right minded adult – respecting another human being through conversation and understanding. But for whatever reason it is hard to think this way with children. Yes, they are immature compared to their teacher in terms of physiology, and psychologically. But does this mean we cannot connect with them from a place of understanding and respect? If all children felt this from teachers, I am more than sure they will be open to what the teacher wants them to understand in the classroom. Connection is a vital concept for teachers, and the root of creating connection grows from the simplest of seeds: kindness.
Vivian Gussin Paley, speaking at the 92Y Wonderplay Conference 2008, reminds us that the most important aspect for a new teacher is not the curriculum, but that we must be kind to each child. We must connect with them, and let them know we respect them through conversation and the kind of play and talk they want to have. Paley stresses that this (above her infamous “Play” practice) is the most precious lesson new, and experienced teachers can share in the professional education world. If educators (new and experienced) focus on being kind to their students, the connection will follow.
This is a poem I shared with my cohort this past week- it was a great exercise for getting to know my classmates, and for our teacher to get to know us. It also lets our poetic voice shine for a brief moment (insert snaps all around) and is an assignment I will be sure to use in my classroom. I have also added a recent painting of mine that I created when thinking of my hometown, that I miss so dearly.
Where I am From
I am from the ski boots patched with duct tape,
From the wooden snowshoes older then my Dad
I am from the fire logs piled high on the back porch (that crackle and sigh when ablaze)
From the red toolbox that dirties your fingertips and smells like ripe metal
I am from circles and squares that bed my mother’s flowers
From the heavy shovel that sees spring and summer long after winter
I am from fireweed, and moose poop that should plague my yard… but doesn’t
I am from small furry escapees free from Mr. Black’s training kennel
From the old man who runs every day rain , shine or snowstorm
From the village with street names that inspired many paths (down Stanford, stopping at Brown and rounding Berkley)
I am from a land of flannel and extratuff’s where the “odds are good, but the goods are odd”
From a place the raven has supreme power and sleeping bears should never be poked
I am from fresh halibut and smoked salmon
From fried bread and where mayo is added to everything
I am from a land that houses many memoires
Carved in the purple mountains
Flowing through the Kinik arm
To freeze in time on the Portage Glacier.
This is my home that I carry with me , this is where I am from.
Cover of You Can’t Say You Can’t Play
“…structure begins to be revealed and will soon be carved in stone…a ruling class will notify others of their acceptance, and the outsiders learn to anticipate the sting of rejection.” –V.G.Paley
I recently started reading Vivian Gussin Paley’s You Can’t Say You Can’t Play, the colorful cover and magical title singed to me. What does she mean with this almighty classroom rule? The quote above caught my attention immediately. Feeling a painful thirst for her meaning behind this phrase, I drank in the opening passage, honing in on the words sting and rejection. They play so well together I thought; I also noted the knot in my stomach while reading them. This guttural reaction surprised me, and then it didn’t. Paley speaks of the very present and worrisome part of life: rejection. Paley sheds light on the first experience of rejection within beginning stages of a ruling class in her kindergarten students.
““Popular” was good, “unpopular” was bad, and the unlikable ones were blamed for their faults” –V.G. Paley
We all can recall the first time we tasted rejection or served it (all too easily) to others, and chalked that up to to be an unfortunate staple in our school experience. Paley brings forth raw insight to the immediate division of students: the popular vs. the unpopular. All educators have experienced being “popular” and “unpopular, and yet it seems, most do nothing to discourage this division in their classrooms. Our classroom is a community, and a community divided is one in peril. If we where to adhere to classroom rules like Paley’s You Can’t Say You Can’t Play, then I think, the results would be those of a caring community among students. Students all want to belong, be heard and feel safe among their peers. But, the popularity divide keeps that from happening. By eliminating the division that is popularity, students will all play together, and take this outside their classroom community. Learning that exclusion and rejection are unacceptable in a community is something students can carry with them outside the classroom.Breaking the social divide, and carrying this sense of belongingness throughout their lives is a lesson students can pass on to others. As educators, we should strive to bridge this popularity gap, not only for our classroom community, but for the better of our communities outside the classroom.
Got a Meeting?: take a walk
I came across this Ted Talk “Got a meeting? Take a walk”by Nilofer Merchant at the most amazing moment right after a hike with a friend (let’s call her sunny). I came home reflecting what a wonderful time I had on the hike and what great conversation I had with Sunny. Some if the best conversations, ideas and realizations have come to me during a hike, bringing me to my thought “why not take a hike in the classroom?” What I mean is, if there is a connection to fresh air, walking and thinking, why shouldn’t learning in the classroom take a hike?
Though I think this is a great idea, and most likely not the first of its kind, I am pondering how to make it effective for students. Obviously taking a group of 20-38 students on a hike would create all sorts of distractions from the topic of discussion, but what about small group conversations? And for that matter, it doesn’t need to be in the wilderness, this could happen in city and suburban areas. The fresh air and physical activity will stimulate critical thinking of the discussion, and the students could draw from their surroundings as well.
This could be an effective tool not just for student learning but for teacher- to -teacher conversations. One-on-one meetings could happen during a walk, and staff meetings could happen on an actual hike. Imagine the creative energy that would flow during this kind of meeting, and how it would strengthen the community of the school and staff. How to make this a reality in the school community I will be a part of as a future educator will be on my “to do” list.
With the start of my K-8 certification program a few weeks ago, I have already begun to change my thoughts on what the definition of schooling is and what it means to me to become a teacher. Before orientation for this program, my idea or vision of what I would look like as a teacher in the classroom was based on my own education. I am learning from class discussions that it was mostly “traditional”.
I know this will be a question throughout my journey of becoming a professional educator; I will ask myself why I want to teach when up late working on a school project, when I come across a burned out teacher, or student for that matter. I will ask this question many times as a student teacher, and during my career. I know it.
It’s a question I ask myself and it is hard to formulate a answer into words. That is why I loved our assignment of selecting five images to tell the story of why we want to teach. So to end my first blog musing on why I want to teach, it seems fitting to attach one of my five images. After all, they do say a picture is worth a thousand words.