Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hannah Emerson: Reflections on Teaching Practice

I grew up completely immersed in and surrounded by education. With absolute appreciation to my mother, a classroom teacher for 30 years and now an assistant principal, I spent many adolescent afternoons helping her at school, sitting in on teacher meetings, assisting in dismissal, organizing and decorating her classroom, and almost always eavesdropping on conversations with co-workers about the good, bad, and everything in-between. Often hearing what needs to change and how she is going to make it happen. I remember watching my mother fill out lesson plans, IEPs, and many other forms of paperwork on the regular. Only noticing through naive eyes she was not showering abundant amounts of attention my way, I failed to realize the volume of insight I gained from observing her faithful allegiance to education. Being a teacher is demanding, and my participation in the workshops with Lynn only furthers my understanding of what it takes to be an educator of any capacity.

Honest commitment. Each workshop deserves an equivalent amount of time for both the planning session and the classroom lesson. The classroom teacher’s undivided engagement and participation during the planning and the lessons are critical components. One pattern I’m noticing throughout my time with Lynn is how the teachers’ engagement, more often then not, directly parallels the students’ engagement. When the teacher is not actively taking part in the group experience, various students mirror the same mannerisms. When a teacher is invested, the student is invested; when a teacher is distracted, the student is distracted.

Unyielding patience. Observing Lynn, I perceive how many students can be initially hesitant when asked to actively participate. Remarks of “I don’t know how”, faces of confusion, raised eyebrows and arms crossed. It was not until almost halfway into the workshop that many of the students began to let their arms down and open up to the experience. Maybe the students became honestly interested, maybe they felt pressured to participate, maybe it was simply succumbing to the fact of practically being knee-deep in it, so why not jump all the way in? Honestly, I am not sure; however, what I do know is for many students, their engagement was not immediate. It took extra time and effort than I initially expected. Lynn remained stunningly patient, never getting frustrated in the least. Near the end of the first lesson, many students were discovering on their own, yet, with a handful of students still ever-so-skeptical to take the leap, Lynn offered even more guidance.

Openness to improvisation. Being able to improvise is as important as clear, detailed planning. Over the last couple weeks, I watched how flexible Lynn is when the lesson plans do not always fit the mold of the classroom. If the planned activity is not effective, she shapes it to the students instead of forcing participation in an activity not fit for their energy or cognitive level. With a clear understanding of how each classroom is different, Lynn’s use of improvisation provides the best experience for the students possible in the moment.

I am fully aware it takes heaps more than commitment, patience, and improvisation to be an educator; however, these three aspects I can clearly see in both Lynn and my mother. Their environments and experiences are generally different, and as an artist who is highly curious and enraptured in wanting to learn everything about education, they both inspire me. Dripping with excitement over the holidays, I began participating in those similar conversations with my mother that I use to overhear as a child, but unlike before, I can now confidently share my own opinions and observations thanks to my experiences with Lynn.

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