Friday, April 15, 2011

Teaching and Learning

I came across my Practicum Journal the other day. As a senior in college, in the midst of student teaching, on the road to graduation and teacher certification, we were required to write a journal entry every day. I would spend time before and after class, jotting down notes, reflecting on the day. I would type it up in a long, rambling Word document and add to it each and every day. Some entries were several pages long, others just a sentence. Those are some of the most meaningful to me. On the last day, I printed out the stack of paper, spiral bound it, painted a cover, and arrived at class ready to show off my hard work. To my surprise, the professor handed us each a ribbon, told us to tie it up and put it away; to refer back to it someday. I couldn’t believe all my hard work, my sweat and tears, wouldn’t even be looked at. I had always been a reluctant student, but I have to admit, I had cried my face off that day. I cried leaving the school where I was teaching, wishing I could stay there and keep learning, I cried while thanking and saying goodbye to my professor/advisor who had gotten me to this point; I didn’t even know what it was I was crying about. Learning and teaching is all about growing, and sometimes growing is just plain hard. That isn’t always a bad thing. Reading back, that journal was one of the most meaningful components of my education. I keep it in my desk drawer and refer to it when I’ve had a challenging day in the classroom or an exhilarating day in the classroom. It reminds me who I am and why I am here. Reading back through my 25 year old self’s mind, I am astonished at how I have gotten to where I am. As an undergrad, I struggled every day. I never could find the hours in the day to focus in class, get the homework done, get the sleep I needed, get to my myriad of part time jobs, get the bills paid on time, do my laundry or make my bed. I never could figure out what combinations of majors or minors would make me happy and help me to build the future that I wanted. I tried everything. I let myself fail. I tried again. I added to my student loans while I struggled to figure it all out.

Everything changed the day I began my student teaching experience. I wasn’t even sure this was something I wanted to do, just one more lengthy requirement on the road to graduation, toward the gateway of being a grownup and working some sort of career for the rest of my life and saying goodbye to being a kid. My life changed forever the day I began teaching. I was terrified of my high school students at the onset of this experience, and I’ll never forget calling my Dad at 5am, waking him up, in sheer terror and panic, and asking for advice. His only advice to me was “so what”. To understand the delivery of this advice, one would really have to understand my father. It was more of a loud, stern, reverberating earthquake of an exclamation than a phrase. My father has never been a master at the art of subtlety, and his blunt advice got me through those first few scary dark mornings. When I worried what those rebellious and reluctant teenagers thought of me, my ideas, my rules, I told myself “so what”, and to my surprise, I won them over. I am so glad I chronicled so much of it, or it may have escaped my memory. I hope to someday recapture the energy I had then. I threw myself into my student teaching experience, teaching full time 5 days a week with a 45 minute commute each way, taking a 3 hour seminar every Tuesday night an hour and a half from home, taking an intensive studio painting course, and working full time as a bartender to pay the rent for my studio apartment, which wasn’t much bigger than my car. At that time, I may have been better off just referring to my car as my home, because when I wasn’t working, that’s where I was. For 13 weeks, I did not have one day off. I worked sun up to sun down, I rarely slept, I’m still honestly not sure when or if I ever did my laundry. I probably wouldn’t have remembered to eat if it weren’t for the fact that in my tiny apartment if I were to roll out of bed in the middle of the night, I would have crashed into the refrigerator. And never before or since have I had so much energy or passion for life. I spent every day in awe and inspired by all of the opportunities and accomplishments I found in the classroom that year. The experience wasn’t my road to the boredom of adulthood, it was a return to seeing life through the eyes of a child, with the sense of wonder and amazement and possibility that so many of us lose with age and experience. I think I owe a lot of that to the habit of taking a few quiet minutes each day to write it down; to reflect, to give thanks, and imagine. So here I am, starting this, to inspire myself and maybe others, to connect and to share ideas. I am in my second year of teaching art, and sometimes I find I am in such a whirlwind of art and teaching and life, that I don’t take the time to appreciate and reflect. I am accomplishing a lot, organizing student art shows, developing a rewarding rapport with my students, and recently being appointed co-coordinator of a regional art show which I have been so fortunate to have participated in for the past two years. I am still learning as I go, fine tuning my day to day teaching style, my curriculum design, my displays of student work, my assessment tools, and my hopes and dreams for the future. It is here that I hope to take note and capture not only the big hurdles, ideas, and accomplishments, but the little day to day tidbits that make this career so awesome. I look forward to sharing all of these things with you and hearing what happens in your classrooms, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment