A Reflection on Intangible Rewards

 

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.

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My “cabane” of 15 year old ladies, Lac du Bois 2006.

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…

SPACE CAMP!!!!!

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*.

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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.

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The Beaners!

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,

Elizabeth 🙂

*Team Bean: named after Alan Bean, an astronaut aboard the Apollo 12 mission.

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Tu vs. Vous

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Most people who know me well know that I am passionate about two languages: English and French. What can I say, I love the written word and am not prejudice to its country of naissance. But there is one thing that I think that the traditional romantic languages have over our beloved English tongue: the word VOUS.

By definition, the word VOUS in French translates to either the formal YOU (ex. addressing a superior and using this tense to show respect) or to the PLURAL YOU. To scatter across the country a bit, it means “y’all,” you guys,” “you’s guys,” and “you’s.” 

The French word TU, by contrast, is the informal YOU and is used only when speaking to ONE person. It is informal, but it is personal.

I’m sure at this point, most people are reading this wondering why I’m giving them a lesson in French, but allow me to circle back to my original point. In the English language, we do not have a VOUS vs. a TU. We only have a YOU. YOU can be plural; YOU can be singular. 

In my observations at Mount Vernon Presbyterian, I am starting to notice a few things about various styles and how teachers maintain a rapport with their students. When speaking to a large class, the teacher is most often speaking in the plural VOUS form. Example: “Ok, guys (vous), let’s talk about these quizzes!” “Alright, everyone (vous), time to take your seats.” And throughout the lesson, we as teachers are often referring to the kids in the plural (vous) form.

What happens, though, when we start to focus a bit more on the TU? The personal, individual YOU. I know what happens– as a teacher, you will see increased engagement and respect from the students. And with increased engagement and respect comes a desire to learn. The students know you know them, you care about them, and now they want to learn more from you. Getting to know the students in a personal level with the class makes a huge different in the classroom rapport.

This principle of the importance of the TU exists not only in the classroom, but also in the assessment environment. Specifically, I will mention that I spent the early half of the week with Ms. Maggie Menkus, 6th grade English teacher. Her 6th graders were performing various scene’s from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and Maggie recorded the children’s performances on her iPad. She stressed the point that she was filming because each student was getting an individual grade for his/her performance, and she was planning to watch these performances and look at each student individually. Specifically, she said,

“I will watch each video over and over again and focus on each and every one of you individually. I want to see you shine! I will be giving you feedback individually, specifically for you.” -Mrs. Maggie Menkus

By saying this to her students, I believe that it gave them a sense of their own importance; she was acknowledging and recognizing their hard work. They knew that Ms. Menkus was going to be watching these videos in her spare time and watching them individually. Furthermore, at the end of class, after each group had performed, she gathered the class around her and asked for feedback for her. What did the students like? What didn’t they like? Nearly each student raised his or her hand and had a reply to her. Maggie listened to each student and truly looked engaged with what that child was saying. She didn’t brush the child off and went on to ask even more questions of that child, encouraging him to speak more, to share his emotions, to offer suggestions. As an observer, I saw that this was not only mutually beneficial from a content standpoint for both Maggie and student, but also beneficial from a relationship building standpoint. Maggie was showing that she cared enough to hear from each student. She was actively listening, asking probing questions, all the while learning and growing her relationship with the student.

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As a human race, we all like to be personalized. No one likes to be just a number. We want people to know us, and we need relationships to exist. 

As a budding teacher, I have this piece of advice that I have coined on my own: 

Get to know your student as a TU and not solely as a VOUS.

 

All the best,

Elizabeth

Veering Off Course

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I saw this quote a while ago, and ironically, on that same day, Marie gave me the same advice. She told me that as a teacher, your lesson plan, which you may have outlined in detail for hours, is merely a rough draft of what you’d like to happen. If, for example, you have dictated on your lesson plan that you will be teaching your students adverbs on Monday, but by the end of class you recognize that they still don’t get it, the onus is on you.

You must be willing to adapt for your students. The students come first. Not your lesson plan.

This is something that makes remarkable sense to me. In business, if you didn’t accomplish what you wanted to accomplish by 5PM, well, you could stay until 2AM until it was completed (believe me, I’ve done the legwork there!) In class, however, you have a limited amount of time. You can’t keep the students until 2AM until they know their adverbs like the back of their hand, just so that YOU can sleep peacefully that YOU did a good job following your lesson plan.

Teaching is a very selfless job, which is why it is so rewarding to me. The students come first in all regard. Not your carefully crafted lesson plan. This past week’s snow is an extreme example of how lesson plans cannot always be the final say. Every teacher and student modified his/her week. The learning must go on!

Having worked the majority of my career in sales, people always said that there is no high like the feeling of making your first sale. Well, when I made my first  sale, I felt nothing. I told my boss with forced enthusiasm and went about my day, as if nothing had happened. Now, immersed in my internship, I finally feel something great: I feel the extreme elation of teaching something to a class or to a student individually and actually seeing that lightbulb flip on over their head, indicating that whatever you said CLICKED. They understand something you said. You have taught them something. To me, this is more of a high than making a sale. It’s energizing! It’s rewarding!

Perhaps an element of this post has a good bit to do with the title of my blog, “My Life’s Lesson Plan.” We are taught from a young age that we should know what we want to do and we should take x,y, and z courses to achieve said goal. Do a,b, and c activities. Volunteer. Play an unusual sport. Learn to yodel. It’ll make us more competitive for a particular college. Then in college, we are told the skills we need to be successful in some career path we claim to be our own when we are but 19 years old. There we are, years of making our own life’s lesson plan! It’s organized, it’s detailed, and it should launch us into success. This is exactly my story. I did all of the right things to have a strong business career. My lesson plan was flawless.

High School Graduation, 2006

My High School Graduation, 2006

But clearly, I’m no longer ascribing to the same lesson plan. I’m deviating and propelling myself into the land of education. I’m adapting. I am both teacher and student.

I feel very blessed to be at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, a place that is mentoring me and adapting with me. This School clearly is paving the way for learning in all of its forms. They are encouraging me to modify my business-oriented lesson plan and are providing me with such powerful tools and experiences that I know will make me a great teacher. I am learning with my wonderful team of supporters, and perhaps they are learning from me as well, as an “outsider,” with some different ideas and perspective.

One of the trends I’ve noticed from being at the School, is the common belief that we are all constant students. No matter your age, your highest-earned degree– you are always a student in some form.

We are all learning and adapting!

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All the best,

Elizabeth

 

Unique New York, Unique New York, Unique, Unique New York

…well, today I am experiencing something with which Atlanta, Georgia is becoming all too familiar: the snow day.

Snowpocolypse 2014

Snowpocolypse 2014

"Looks like rain to me..." -Annie, my cat

“Looks like rain to me…” -Annie, my cat

I must say, if you were to ask me weeks ago about my emotions regarding an impending snow day, I would have probably done a backflip, a karate chop, stood on my head, juggled with a tiger– whatever it took to express my excitement.  Now, however, as I am growing more and more in love with my new position, I am a little saddened by the snow day! I miss my kids, the classes, the challenges, and my new co-workers. The one benefit, however, was my 7:30AM wakeup call, as opposed to my normal 5:30AM cockaldoodledoo. 🙂

In speaking with my esteemed colleagues over the past few days via email, we have come across some interesting questions and challenges that I will focus to uncover during the tenure of my internship. Many of these posed questions are more “mind benders;” there is ample room for debate, for conversation, for analysis. If you all know me, you KNOW that I love a good analytical topic! #EnglishMajorsUnite 🙂

Thus far, I have been primarily focusing on the teachers’ teaching in the classroom. What do they say? What is their demeanor? How do they design their classroom? I keep a running train-of-thought Word document with incompleterunonsentancesthatmakesensetonoonebutme simply detailing my observations. Now, I am having even more experience in the classroom, as in I am teaching, so it brings a different challenge to light for me:

How can I tell if a student is learning?

You know, here’s an interesting story. Mrs. Amy Wilkes was kind enough to allow me to stand in for her class and teach a performance task that had to do with basketball stars and algebra. Now, if you know me, you know that I have many great skills, but math is NOT one of them. I avoid the subject matter like the plague. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed trying my hand at teaching this lesson because I knew how the students felt. I knew what questions they likely would have. I could look at a child’s face and be able to tell the difference between actually understanding and just saying they understand. I was on a complete high after the bell rang and the kids left. They were smiling and seemed to enjoy the lesson. While I am not a trained math teacher by any means and the last math class I took was in 2008 (sidebar, I got an A…it was statistics…I think my dad cried tears of joy), my point was that I felt the EMPATHY for these kids, as I felt that I understood what they were going through. Believe me, I was one of those kids not so long ago. I loathed math class. BUT just one week ago, I TAUGHT a math class! What a challenge! What an emotional success for me! Sure, there were some kids who understood the material right off the bat, but there were some students who struggled, and I felt I helped them! 

I tell that story to contrast to another. Like I said with the above, I have natural empathy when I teach a subject that I don’t know. I feel I ask the correct probing questions to assist the kids in coming to their own conclusion. But, interestingly, I felt myself  struggle a bit more when teaching sweet 5th graders punctuation. Now, let’s back this up. Correcting punctuation is as fun to me as solving a Soduko puzzle is for a guy who loves numbers. I love it. But…why do we say “children’s” instead of “childs’?” Why is it “Mrs. Wilkes’s house” versus “Ms. Collins’ house” versus “Mrs. Graham’s house?” To me, the lesson of the possessive use of the apostrophe, in all its forms,  just came naturally. I don’t know why, but I just understood it! As I stood in front of the 5th graders, I felt that I was actually LESS CONFIDENT teaching something that has been a “gift” of mine for 26 years. While the students nodded and participated in the activity that I created where they wrote on the white board (ahh, that good ol’ activity has been fun for kids for YEARS!), I still wasn’t as confident as I wanted to be. What questions might that anonymous student who didn’t understand have but was too afraid to ask? How could I address it?

At the suggestion of Mr. Chip Houston, I recently took the StrengthsFinder assessment and discovered that my top 5 strengths are the following:

  • Input: I have a craving to know more about my subject
  • Empathy: I can sense people’s feelings by imagining myself in that other person’s shoes
  • Ideation: I am fascinated by ideas. I can find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena. (See above hashtag of #EnglishMajorsUnite! 🙂 )
  • Relator: I enjoy deep, close relationships
  • Individualization: I am intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. I have a gift of figuring out who can work productively together.

I found this assessment to be fascinating because this is the first one that I’ve taken that is applicable to me as an educator as opposed to a business person. I do love personality assessments, and I know from my Myers Briggs that I am an INFJ (Introvert, Intuition, Feeling (MAJOR FEELER), and Judgement). When I see my results from the StrengthsFinder, I see traits in me that make me recognize why I will be a good teacher. Input and Ideation– I have these traits because I want to know AS MUCH about my subject (as well as other subjects and teaching styles) so that I can be the best teacher to my students. The more knowledgable I am, the stronger of a resource I can be to them. Empathy, Relator, and Individualization are not surprises to me. These traits are just something that I know about myself as a whole. I am warm, I love my students, I want what is best for them. I see them individually, and I care deeply.

On that note of individualization, and perhaps a little bit off topic, but I wanted to share why I love middle school. The kids with whom I’ve come in contact are, hands-down, wonderful. Perhaps, some would say, that’s because they haven’t gotten to know me yet, and in part that might be true. But this is one thing that I know. They are all GOOD kids. Their hearts are in the right place. But a 7th grade boy is a 7th grade boy. They have goofy jokes, they occasionally think bodily odors are amusing, they will sometimes need to be called out in class, but they are GOOD. Girls, same thing, They will be caught up in drama, pass notes in class, occasionally make an unfriendly remark, but they are GOOD. I know this because I was once a middle school girl myself. Everyone who reads my blog was once in middle school. Being in middle school is tough, and part of the growth is sometimes testing boundaries and being escorted back to your place. As a teacher, it is important to be respectful of that, and I’m grateful to be a part of this time of their life with them. Some would argue that its the toughest time in life, and I daresay I do agree. Each child learns different and acts different. How cool is that?! 🙂

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5th graders “Tebowing”….just because!

So, I look forward to continuing my journey in education. I will focus on how to tell if my students, unique and individual, are learning. How can I help them? What a beautiful challenge I have before me!

Everyone be safe and warm on these snow days!

Mom and dad, hope you’re enjoying Florida this month, hope it’s not too warm for you guys or anything…. 😉

All the best,

Elizabeth

“You’ll find your style…”

“You’ll find your style, kid.” -Jim, my first real-world boss at Sprint

When I landed my first job right out of college, I was a deer in headlights. I was working in the business-to-business sales function with Sprint. Essentially, my job was to cold call into other businesses (law firms, advertising companies, etc.) and try to sell them Sprint’s wireless devices and services. We sat in a nice corporate office and went into teeny rooms without windows to make our cold calls in attempt to get a single meeting.

Well, that was the pinnacle of success at Sprint; yes, I got a single meeting. Just one. From my hours of cold calling. ONE. How’s that for productive labor?! Well, on that ONE meeting, I remember sitting there like a bump on a log. I said maybe three words and gladly let my boss, Jim, do most of the talking. (And he was a TALKER!)

Realizing that perhaps sales wasn’t my natural skill-set, Jim let me go on other meetings with more tenured salespeople to learn their style, hoping to form me into something I now realize I never would become. I went to meetings with my bubbly, girly, and giddy friend, Fariba; I went to meetings with the sweet-talking, smooth-dressing Puerto Rican, Freddie; I went to meetings with with the laconic, vastly intelligent Georgetown grad, Ryan. What I learned was that each of them was different. Each had a style that worked for that person individually. I knew that I could not be naturally effervescent like Fariba. I certainly couldn’t make women swoon like Freddie. And I don’t think I had the brain cells to oar through a meeting like Ryan.

Sprint co-workers, with Ryan, Freddie, Fariba, and me in the middle

Sprint co-workers, with Ryan, Freddie, Fariba, and me in the middle

I WAS ME. I AM ME. WHAT WAS MY STYLE?

This theme of finding one’s own style has carried on with me throughout my entire post-grad career. It existed in my old sales job, but now it arrives once more in teaching. Because I believe I have an innate proclivity toward teaching, I am excited and cannot wait for “my style” to reveal itself.

It goes without saying that I have always admired Marie’s style. And since it’s been a while since I’ve been a student, I’ve enjoyed watching her classes from a teacher’s perspective and learning from the way she conducts a lesson.

Just a few days ago, however, I had the pleasure of being invited to Mrs. Alex Bragg’s classroom! Alex, in my opinion, handles her class in a very different manner than Marie does, even in ways as simple as aesthetics. Alex has what I would call the perfect classroom. If there was an interior designer for classrooms, Alex would be it. (Alex, if you’re reading this, can I hire you to design my classroom one day?! 🙂 ) For starters, her whiteboard is sectioned off into different categories, which makes it easy for the students to find their homework, agenda, important info, etc. I LOVE this idea.

Additionally, also on the topic of organization, Alex bullets out what the class will be doing for that specific day, line-item by line-item. This is something I will bring into my classroom. As a former business person, I think this notion is perhaps even more beneficial for the classroom than for business meetings. In business, when you give a presentation, you always provide your audience with an agenda of what you will be covering for the day. As having been both an audience member and a presenter at work, I have found it to be a necessity. As a presenter, it helps with pacing; as a (potentially bored) audience member, it helps you to know where you are in the scope of the allotted time. All in all, it allows for both the presenter (teacher) and the audience (students) to be on the same page. Alex also joked that her pet peeve is the class coming in and saying, “What are we doing today?” Well, problem solved! 🙂

Alex coaching her class through an interactive assignment

Alex coaching her class through an interactive assignment

Finally, I want to touch on Alex’s teaching style versus Marie’s. I find that Alex’s extremely organized classroom space matches her demeanor with the kids. Alex monitors the noise level and is quicker than Marie to call out any potential misbehavior. As a result, the kids are less chatty and more business-oriented; it is clear that she has instilled that in them. Marie, on the other hand, giggles self-deprecatingly at herself as she writes on her white board with her medical field handwriting and arrows pointing to and fro. Her kids can be found sitting on the floor or occasionally sharing a thought aloud with a friend. Marie gives her children a great deal of autonomy.

After Alex’s class, I asked her about her rapport with the kids, and I really liked her philosophy. She says that she starts off the year giving the kids more autonomy and less rules and expects the best from them. If, however, their behavior starts to slip, she begins to take away some of the privileges originally granted. That way, in time, they start to ask for the privileges back and become more well-behaved as a result in order to regain their once-enjoyed freedoms.

Alex also touched on how every teacher wants to be the “cool, fun teacher,” but that’s not always a good or easy thing to do. Not always the right thing to do. I like Alex’s overall philosophy because I think that she falls right in the middle. She is not as relaxed as Marie, but she is not as stern or “iron-fisted” as some other teachers. Her students respect her but are not as free-flowing as the students in Marie’s classroom.

The barrier between being a friend and being a teacher is another common thread that I see in teaching. It seems that many young teachers struggle with this boundary. I have overheard some teachers say that they want their students to be quiet and disciplined. When he or she (the teacher) walks into the room, he/she wants the students to know that it is time to be SILENT and to do WORK. SERIOUS. TIME. I know already, that this is not me. I do not ever want my students to fear me. Marie has repeatedly told me,

“The more your students like you, the more they want to learn from you.”

I believe this thoroughly, but I know that during the first few years of my teaching I am not always going to be liked. Kids likely aren’t going to be running to me for a big bear hug like they do to Marie. Confidence is key in teaching, and I know that in my first few years, I may have to be tougher that I’d like to be. What I want, though, is to never be feared. I disagree with that completely; it’s Machiavellian. I respect my students. I believe in their individuality. I believe that everyone has a story, no matter their age, and like Plato (arguably Maclaren) eloquently said,

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Perhaps you may find this post to be a bit rambly (hmmm…English teachers can invent words too, right?!), but good-heartedness is one of those topics that can throw me on a soapbox. I am most comfortable being more soft-spoken and warm as opposed to a disciplinarian, and I know that this will likely be something for me to work on. I have been VERY TOUGH in business, and I cannot say that wearing a hard outer-shell brought me much happiness. I never felt good about myself.

All in all, I just find it fascinating how each teacher is just so different in his or her style. Marie is comfortable with the beautiful, happy chaos within her four walls; Alex has created a respectful, clean, positive environment for her students;  some teachers aim for a more of an iron-fist approach; and there are some styles that I have yet to see or even fathom. That said, I am eager to see more styles  because I learned so, so much from watching Alex and look forward to getting more involved with her classes.

Thank you, Alex! 🙂

All the best,

Elizabeth

Becoming Ms. Collins, Day 1

YOU GUYS!

I did it! I completed my first day of school on “the other side” today. It was an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience.

I started my day bright and early, arriving at Mount Vernon at 7:30AM. Now, this is a jolt to the ol’ body clock, which has been operating on a primarily 9AM start time for the past four years. This, my friends, is something that I will need to get used to.

I was greeted with hugs and smiles from the faculty, and immediately upon entering the Middle School building, I was “put to work.” I was to watch over a class of ten or so girls, who make up the MS Chorus. Now, here’s the thing– the girls were jazzed from #1- their break post- snowpocolpyse, and #2- the fact that, yes ladies, Bruno Mars performed at last night’s Super Bowl. So, yes, they were well behaved, endearing, and polite, but I was perplexed as to whether or not I was commanding enough authority over the room.

This brings me to one of my first issues I’d like to learn as a teacher. How much noise is too much noise? What is/is not appropriate behavior? I think Marie said it best today, when she told me,

“There is always going to be a certain amount of noise in a Middle School classroom. At times it can be frustrating, but it is a fact of life.”

Her saying that nailed it in for me. I think what I gathered is that the noise and appropriate behavior factors are something that I as a teacher will learn with time. It’s like having a ear for music. In time, I will know what is the right noise level and behaviors entail. I don’t chastise myself for not being more firm with the ladies this morning, but rather it was a great learning experience for me. I was the adult in the room, and they were not doing anything “wrong” by social standards. As I said, they were kind, sweet, and well behaved. Just infatuated with Sir. Bruno 🙂

My morning was spent glued to Marie’s hip (what a saint she is!) in the teachers’ workroom as we discussed some activities for the days and other odds and ends about Mount Vernon. I’m grateful for her constant candor with me and know that she is the best resource I could have ever asked for. She helped me organize my binder, which, as I look at it now, I see that I should beautify in some way! After spending some time in the workroom and meeting a constant stream of new faces, Marie and I headed to our first period.

Today, Marie taught two classes, literature and freedom. Her classes were, to me, the most valuable part of my day. I so enjoyed the students– their personalities, their innate intelligence, and, because this is a thing with me, I was beyond impressed by their manners. Staying on the topic of manners, something else Marie told me that resonated was,

“Always say please and thank you to the students. If you set a good example, they will likely follow. It sets a good example, and it’s just polite.”

If my mother is reading this, she knows how strong of an emphasis was placed on manners when I was growing up, so she knows why this would echo with my being. Overall, though, it is so beyond important to teach each student with respect, and that is something that I see Marie do constantly. It makes such a difference.

Another observation I had on the same line as respect was the way Marie validated many students’ answers to her questions. For example, she would say, “Yes, Madeline, very good, and I really liked the way you worded that response! Very clear, thank you!” This stuck with me because I can remember the multiple occasions even at a college level when I would raise my hand, aching to grace the class with my brilliance, and when I responded to the question, the teacher would merely glide over me and onto the next student, and so on and so forth. Eventually, it’s demotivating as a student. While I can remember this in college, I was a “big girl” and didn’t get my feelings hurt, but I believe that each person, especially when struggling with the woes and gawkiness of middle school, deserves a compliment here and there. No one has received a compliment they didn’t wish to hear. I plan to emulate Marie in this practice when I become a full-time teacher.

Last observation I will touch on was Marie’ use of levels in the classroom. Frankly, it reminded me of my days in theatre at Woodward Academy, when our drama teacher was constantly telling us to use the space around us. Go upstage, go downstage. Kneel. Marie did all of these, and I find that it serves multiple purposes. First of all, as this is a 21st century classroom, kids have laptops in front of them, oftentimes open. As Marie circulates at random, it clearly would discourage any student from doing anything not related to the class at hand. Additionally, it makes the classroom more dynamic and the students are more engaged and less likely to zone out. Lastly, Marie kneeled next to a student today who was responding to a question, and it created a very real conversation for the two of them, as Marie was now at the student’s individual eye-level. Marie was completely engaged with what the child was saying, and it showed empathy on Marie’s part and you can see how the relationship is built in the classroom. It reminded me, in part, to this video on design thinking in a classroom concept.

Overall, today was incredible. I am left exhausted from the new schedule and drained from the mental stimulation and excitement, but I am wired with enthusiasm and happiness. I cannot wait to come back in tomorrow and have a whole new experience. What a journey this will be!

Image

Me and Marie, from 2001 to 2014…and we look the EXACT same, right?! 🙂

All the best,

Elizabeth

‘Twas the night before…

Well, I know what many people are doing right now. A few of you are likely already asleep–something I told myself to do a while ago, too– a few of you are agonizing the grass-growing, paint-drying rendition of the Super Bowl, and some of you are cursing this Sunday eve, as it marks the inevitable coming of a Monday. The beginning of yet another work week. If you posed that question to me last week, I would have been somewhere between Super Bowl’s option #2 (actually, still guilty of that) and the last. I hated Mondays. Another start with the predictable. Pick up where I’d left off with my processing. Listen to the deafening monologue of sales ratios, profit margins, and ROI. I’d wake up each morning, lay in bed for as long as humanly possible, look at the deep circles under my weary eyes, count the soft wrinkles which are starting to dance across my fair skin, and ask myself: What are you doing? This is not you!

Tonight, however, on this Sunday, I am a different person. Tomorrow, I pursue a dream and a challenge I’ve always imagined. Tomorrow, I become a teacher. No longer just an “Elizabeth,” but a “Ms. Collins.” A “ma’am.” A “miss.” A teacher.

Why have I always wanted to become a teacher? Well, that question is a simple one to answer. When we are young, our minds are open. Young children look at people at face value. They do not judge  based on race, gender, physical appearance, or mental state. Children look at people and immediately find the good. They want to believe in the good. When I think about myself as a young and shy little girl, I remember how much I loved and respected my teachers. To me, they were paragons of virtue and intelligence.

As I grew older, I began to understand the value of their patience. If I may make a nod to the dear teachers who taught me math and science– Mrs. Dervan, Mr. Carrington, Ms. McCreery, Ms. Bulleit– so many more to list– bless you all. I scored slightly above average on the math portion of the SAT and steered clear of all of those classes for the rest of my life, but I will never forget their kindness, their patience, their late hours spent with me, finding different ways to explain what was to me, the unfathomable. I made it through, and their impact, not the subject matter, was and is invaluable. That, to me, is a teacher.

Luckily for any parents reading this, I promise to never teach any child math or science above a second grade level 🙂 No, my passion and my strength in life is language arts. I hold a BA in English Literature from Miami University in Ohio, and I also minored in French. In the business world, I was ashamed of my liberal arts major, but now I see the value of my hard work and wouldn’t trade it for any “marketing major” for a million dollars. I want to have a bigger impact on this world and share the knowledge that I have acquired throughout the years and hopefully positively impact some students the way many of my great teachers did with me.

I will be working at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta. About two years ago, I reached out to my middle school English teacher, Marie, who is now a teacher at the School, to ask if I could pick her brain about the world of teaching. She did more than allow me to pick her extremely intelligent brain. She completely pulled me under her  wing and brought me into the world of Mt. Vernon. I spent a day shadowing her in the fall. She introduced me to her coworkers, and I recognized then and there that this was where I needed to be. I felt that I finally belonged somewhere.

When I look at Marie and several of the other great leaders at Mt. Vernon, I think that they are the types of people who I wish to emulate. I have never held another job where I felt this way. I plan to write an entire post about Marie’s impact on my gawky 8th grader-self back in 2001, but for the purpose of this post, please know that it was vast. She is an incredible person, and I am so lucky to call her a teacher, a mentor, and a dear friend.

My eyes are growing heavy, but my heart races with excitement. I know that it is time to sleep (if I can!), but I will continue posting throughout my journey with this amazing team at such a great school. I am blessed beyond blessed and cannot wait to move forward with this great dream!

All the best,

Elizabeth

Ps- A humbling “side effect” of this career transition was the overwhelming support I received from family, friends, and, surprisingly, coworkers. I cannot thank you all enough, and without you all, I would not have had this strength. Thank you, thank you, thank you. ❤