Well, here I sit on the last day of my spring break. What can I say? This past week’s weather was more than any of us Atlantans could have asked for, with temperatures in the mid-70’s and ample sunshine. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, I’m proud so say that I am representing my Irish heritage by rocking an “Irish tan,” which, simply put, is my regular skin tone, slightly more red and with even more freckles. This, of course, is the direct effect of me sitting outside for about an hour one day. Hey, we Irish folk take what we can get!
Throughout my spring break, though, I have had time to do some serious reflection, as much has occurred during my teaching internship since I last wrote. In fact, I’ve been so engrossed in my life at Mount Vernon Presbyterian, I fear that I have neglected my blog. Sincere apologies! If it’s any consolation, please understand that I have been been more immersed mentally and physically than ever before in my life, and I have never been happier.
Where to even begin?
As most of you know, I have been spending that majority of my time under the wing of Marie Graham, working primarily with my beloved 7th and 8th graders. I have single-handedly taught several entire classes for Marie, with my favorite being her 7th grade literature course. Currently, we’re reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by one of my dear college comrades, ol’ Billy Shakespeare. I love reading aloud with the kids, helping them learn to annotate the eclectic writing styles of our friend, Will– a challenge for even our most skilled adult scholars. Seeing the kids’ minds “click” into gear as they begin to unmask the daunting facade of Shakespeare and hearing their laughter as they start to understand the comedy within the play, I know that they are enjoying the hands-on activities that I plan for them, and that they look forward to learning. Seeing this class unfold before my eyes is the greatest reward of all, and moments like this are like a warm embrace, confirming that I made the best career choice of my life.
In that same vein, I had another magical teaching moment when I had the opportunity to sub for the middle school French teacher, who was absent. Now, in my previous post, I shared a bit about my passion for the French language. When I was in high school and then after my first year in college, I worked at a French language camp, Lac du Bois, in Hackensack, MN. My father found this camp when I was a sophomore in high school, and my family shipped me to that wild blue yonder with but one year of French under my belt. Scared doesn’t even begin to encapsulate the emotions I had regarding my parents’ insistence, but I came away from 6 weeks of camp with high school credits, a new-found confidence, a strong level of fluency with the language, and a passion for the French culture. I returned to the camp for several years, ultimately becoming a counselor, or a mono. The camp is taught in 100% immersion, and this is my preferred way of teaching and of learning another language. Subbing for that French class refueled me with the same excitement and energy that I have always had for French. More importantly, however, were the students’ reactions. They were captivated, and we had fun speaking French together, giggling through grammatical errors and comment dit-on‘s and je ne sais pas’s. The class flew by quickly and the students left smiling, but most importantly SPEAKING French. As a former French student in their position, I know the enjoyment of finally stringing a sentence together that is comprehendable. So what if it’s not 100% perfect– it’ll get there– but you communicated a message! Seeing someone learn French via immersion-based teaching always reminds me of the “Rain in Spain” scene from My Fair Lady. I hope to one day get the opportunity to teach French as well as English. I’ve never been a much of a braggart, but this is something for which I know I have a gift.
So as you all see from the above, I have been a camper for quite some time. (That statement is one that I never thought that I would make, but thinking retrospectively, it’s true.) While this next topic will require its own blog post at a later date, I do want to reflect a bit on my adventure to…
…wait for it…
Now, my 20- and 30-something year old friends had a good laugh at my expense upon hearing of my pending adventure to Space Camp, as most of us grew up with the commercial for the Camp which would play regularly on Nickelodeon in the late-80’s and early 90’s. It was a goal for most of us to one day attend the Camp, and I’m proud to say that I did and that I now hold the certificate and the pin, officiating my completion of the Pathfinder program.
My own intellectual curiosity was peaked and stimulated as we learned about space, but my mission was different from the students’ and the other teachers: my mission was to successfully manage 15 twelve-year-olds as their sole chaperone in our group, Team Bean*.
As my path is different from the average teacher, I understand and appreciate the dynamics of any randomized group, and I recognize that not much changes as we go through life. If you take a group of 15 random people, you’re going to have a loud, bubbly person, a troublemaker, a class-clown, a stud-muffin, an intellect, a disinterested person, and so on. That’s life. As we move through life, we come to recognize who we are in a group: what do we contribute? Watching this at a chaperone level, however, was a beautiful challenge. I saw this group of adolescents commence with hesitation, as perhaps they were not put into a group with their best friend(s). On the last day, though, you could see a complete transformation. We’d gone from “Team Bean,” to the affectionate “Beaners,” a name I dubbed for my energetic little ducklings, which stuck and made the kids laugh.
We were a team that I would call a success story. We had our issues ranging from discipline, nausea, forgetfulness, and fatigue (I can relate to this last one!). I flexed my skills as an authority figure here and was grateful for the experience. Any and all issues were resolved with love and care. Perhaps my biggest fear as a budding teacher is the discipline factor. You aim to keep the kids in line, but you don’t want them to fear you because at that point, you’ve lost them. They are human beings and need to be respected. Finding the balance of [distant] friendship and disciplinarian is a challenge, and there were times when I worried I was too tough or too soft. By the second day, though, I found my groove and this A-Ha Moment was monumental. It increased my confidence, and I am interested to see how this plays into the classroom setting in these next upcoming weeks. I knew I did well, as my kids hugged and laughed with me, even if I had to remind them to listen or to stop talking. As a sensitive kid myself, I empathize with how some students’ feelings could be hurt by being asked to do something as simple as pay attention. Because of this empathy that I bring, I feel that I have a nice warm touch about my discipline skills. I plan to talk more about this at a later time.
Overall, Space Camp was a wonderful success. I bonded with the sixth graders, a group that I did not know as well as my other older students, but I’m grateful that I have a foundation with them. I’m flattered when they continually ask me if I’ll be teaching at Mount Vernon next year and if they can request to have me. It warms my heart like nothing else. What a compliment.
These past several weeks have given me so much to think about it. I see how teaching is hard work, as I have recently stayed up late thinking about a student’s performance, hoping for the best; carrying on French email conversations with a handful of French students, who requested that I simply speak with them as much as possible; and thinking about how I can make a lesson on Shakespeare even more tangible and interesting. This internship is NOT work for me; it is a passion. I’m consumed, and I love it.
So, here we go into another week of school, and I’m brewing with energy and excitement! I’m grateful for my Irish tan, but I miss that haven of a classroom.
Let’s go, Mustangs!
All the best,
*Team Bean: named after Alan Bean, an astronaut aboard the Apollo 12 mission.