At the end of the year during senior year of high school, our school does a program called Career Study. In the last three to four weeks of school, the Seniors will go on an internship, shadowing and working with someone in a field that interests them.
In these past couple of days, we’ve had our first experiences working in Career Study with teachers at our middle school. Currently I’m working with a Spanish teacher and an English teacher.
When I’ve talked to teachers about teaching, many of them have cautioned me not to become a teacher. This often puzzled me. Almost always, these teachers were teachers who had made a significant difference in my life. They made me see the world differently, treated me like a human rather than just a student, believed in me, spent extra time working with me, inspired me, and pushed me to be better. If all of these teachers made inexpressibly significant impacts on my life, why would they caution me to not try to do the same for others?
Ultimately, this usually comes down to frustrations with aspects of the job that don’t directly involve working with students. This was all of the “extra stuff” that teachers talked about in our interviews with them. Teachers also sometimes talked about feelings and fears as though they really weren’t making a difference in their student’s lives at all.
These first couple of days working with teachers has given me those feelings first hand.
After the first day, I couldn’t help but be a little overwhelmed. Being in school from a teacher’s perspective made me feel even more aware of what can and should be different about school in order to engage students and empower them to lead fulfilling lives in the 21st century.
Some notable moments so far:
- Working with students in an English class where students were working in groups and reading out loud. While students read in their groups, I answered any questions they had, talked about the book they were reading, and helped them answer questions about what they were reading. For some groups, it was the first day of starting a new book. They had to write in a chart what they wanted to know (curiosity) about the story and then once they read a chapter, they would write what they learned. When I was in middle school, I did not enjoy filling out these charts for books. Like everyone, I was curious about the story but didn’t have a desire to write my questions down in a packet. Is there a better way for students to express their curiosity about a story before they read a book? There are probably many ways a student could research what they already know. These students were reading Deborah Ellis’ The Breadwinner. Could students create mini presentations or conduct brief research on Kabul, Afghanistan? What is the food like? The weather? The clothing? It’s history? I think if students could pursue those questions and do some digging on there own, they might be able to learn more about the story they’re reading and this activity might be a little more engaging. Maybe this could be more of a group/class discussion about what they already know about this war torn, complex part of the world that is both wildly different from them and startlingly similar.
- Having students work in reading groups like this at first made me feel a little unhelpful. I would start the class by introducing myself to each group and asking them about themselves and their names. Afterwards, the groups would begin reading outloud and then work on the above mentioned charts. I would try to go around to each group and help prompt their curiosity and to help them realize what they already know by asking them questions about the setting and their own experiences. While this created some good discussions, it was often brief and didn’t always feel the most helpful. But these feelings came, of course, from simply the fact that I am knew and did not have a relationship with students yet. Also, sometimes students ned time on their own to discuss without a teacher.
- In the Spanish class I’m working in, the 8th graders are preparing for a final exam by doing a review packet and using quizlet to quiz themselves and each other on verb conjugations. Rather than simply using technology to just use it, this seems to be an excellent use of technology.
- Sometimes when students are working in groups, it might not be most effective to just come around and ask “Do you have any questions?”. Sometimes it might be better to ask them something a little more specific. Student’s questions and curiosities seem to arise when you sit down with them and explore something together.
- Occasionally I’ll feel a little bit awkward when interacting with the students, especially 8th graders, who are now at the end of their middle school careers and are about to become high school students. But, when I remind myself of what I was like in middle school and everything I was curious about and everything I already knew, I remember how extraordinary they all are and how really, we’re just like each other. When I treat them like I treat my peers and friends, interacting with them isn’t awkward and I don’t forget how old, smart, curious, creative, and witty they are.
Mary and I are hoping to have a prototype finished by this weekend to hopefully use early next week. I’m excited to be able to try to use what I’ve learned this year in a real classroom in a school where I first realized that I could do anything.