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Reflecting Upon Sixteen Months of Teaching

[Ms. I is a second-year teacher in a high school in Brooklyn.]

As tends to be the case in major life events, my high school teaching career began when I least expected. Midway through the school year, I was welcomed into a wonderful school community. I shed tears of joy. For sixty seconds, I was elated. Then, reality hit. I realized I had so much to learn even though I was now the teacher. So, in order to continue to learn about teaching and learning, I would now have to bring my attention, awareness and understanding to my own classroom performance.

An Irish immigrant and a mother with four degrees and years of professional experience, I was terrified. I asked myself: “What will I teach? How will I teach? What will my students be like? How will I know if they are learning?” I felt unprepared. Sixteen months later, these four questions are the focus of my current reflection.

At first, “Global” content terrified me. I wanted to teach English, not social studies. In Ireland, I remember studying the Irish potato famine in high school. How was I going to teach “Global”? One lesson I learned is that life itself is rich with content. Sharing stories about places I had visited — Turkey, Greece, Rome, London, Berlin and Paris — made my lessons come alive. Then when I began to tune in to classroom whispers, I learned what my students’ already knew about the Panama Canal, the Caribbean, plantations, World War II, 9/11 and current global issues. Sharing stories ignited our class discussions and helped us move beyond content coverage along the continuum to share lived experience. I intend to proceed with my calendar of lessons and my daily lesson plans. In the future, I will also listen carefully for the whispers, and consistently implement strategies such as exit slips and essential questions to learn what it is my students already know.

My second challenge was, “How can I move my teaching beyond the ‘Banking’ method?”
I noticed that when I brought personal artifacts from home, such as my son’s costumes and a microphone, the level of student participation increased, and we all grew as a community. DA brought in his grandmother’s broom stick which became our Egyptian scribe’s staff. JC’s pipe cleaners and shoebox became a diorama representing workers struggling during the industrial revolution. JD’s mug was used as a prop by a Pharaoh in ancient Egypt.

Then, the SMART Board arrived. It was a major turning point in my teaching method. Now, there were new roles I could assign to engage my students. NC and SB went from failing to passing as they avidly took the SMART controls. CT modified his behavior to ensure that he would be assigned as co-pilot. PowerPoint projects doubled in quantity while the quality of student-produced content soared. Use of the SMART Board “set the stage” for learning. In the future, I will emphasize assignments that offer students choices and require creativity in means as well as accountability in outcome. I will also continue to seek ways for my students to employ technology in the classroom.

The third question: “What will my students be like?” As a parent, I know that in many ways “the apple does not fall far from the tree,” and that loving parents want what’s best for their children. As I engage in frequent contact with parents I am learning to listen, trying to learn from each parent’s perspective and to facilitate what we understand to be in the best interest of each student. In the classroom, I appreciate that each student’s behavior is dependent upon context variables (social, physical, technological, etc.). I am learning that variables can originate in a student’s immediate or home environment and while some are obvious, others are hidden. I am constantly mindful of modifying seating plans, activity groupings and class roles. I am learning that my students share a similar question. They are curious about me too. As my students begin to see that I care, and as they begin to feel respected in my classroom, our mutual trust grows. In the future, I will try, with my words and actions, to show care and respect so students can feel they have an active and vital role in being themselves.

My fourth and final challenge: “How will I know if they are learning?” I believe that a teacher uses many of her senses in assessing a learning situation. CC taught me that even though he might be sitting still with arms folded, that is how he processes information. I am learning to openly observe my students. RC and JD require advanced level work; they perform best when challenged. TV and AO need time to make it “perfect.” So I have learned to collaborate with them in setting timelines for their work. I have in the past sixteen months created a battery of homework assignments, projects, quizzes, and exams. In the future, I intend to continue with my traditional assessments and incorporate new methods such as an audience behavior rubric.

In closing, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit my colleagues’ classrooms. Mr. K reinforced the importance of setting classroom tone. In addition to reminding me of the importance of connecting with students, Ms. P helped me make a definite adjustment to the pace and focus of my lessons to improve student concept knowledge. Mr. S encouraged me to keep my lessons alive by acting courageously and letting go. Finally, Ms. V, my mentor and peer has been an invaluable resource in terms of content, classroom management skills and expert opinion. I am grateful to my school community and I am happy to be still learning.

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3 Comments:

  • 1 Jessica
    · Dec 17, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks for the inspiring entry. We just finished our semester and I definitely needed a little boost; your post did just that. Happy teaching in 2010.

  • 2 Evan
    · Dec 30, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Very thoughtfully written and uplifting. You illustrate, very well, what the expanding role of an educator is and will become. I wish that more teachers shared your sense of dedication.

  • 3 Tom
    · Dec 30, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    I think teaching is among the most difficult jobs on earth. Your tale is perhaps universal but also specific to the issues facing teachers and students today, in NY. Very interesting how you relay the problems and challenges and also the fun and successes of your class room experience. Thanks.