Being Taught to Teach

Teaching Dilemmas Final Project
May 12, 2012, 4:43 am
Filed under: My Papers, Reflecting

The Perfect Bowl of Popcorn

My painting to accompany my paper...make sure to read the whole paper for a full understanding, because remember, I do believe every child can learn!

My painting to accompany my paper…make sure to read the whole paper for a full understanding, because remember, I do believe every child can learn!

We have been looking at dilemmas all year in our Learning to Teach Diverse Learners course.  One thing that I have gotten out of that is that they will keep coming.  I have decided to do my final project in an artistic way because I have been inspired by the last few weeks of our course to infuse art into the curriculum I plan on developing for my students.  I wanted to paint, because it is a passion that I used to have in high school and sporadically throughout college.  Coming up with the subject to paint took some more thinking.  I have dealt with various types of dilemmas during my student teaching including trying to find a balance between caring and authority as well as a balance between rigor and joy.  In addition to these types of dilemmas, I needed to portray something that is multifaceted as my classrooms have been.  Then it hit me, popcorn.  Getting the perfect bowl of popcorn takes a lot of balanced elements and, well, it is nearly impossible.  Every bowl, as every classroom, will hold unpopped kernels even though we strive to get each kernel to pop to perfection.  Sometime we will overdo it in some way that might lead to burnt kernels that will poison and contaminate the whole bag.  Now that last bit of the analogy might be rather harsh, but in reflecting on how some of my takeover days ended, it was those one or two students who I had been careful to keep a closer eye on all day, who inevitably strayed from my learning path and helped diverge the rest of the class off course.

Caring and authority is a dilemma that I have had a lot of trouble with.  It is easy for me to try to befriend my students and as a student teacher it works most of the time, at least up until I am left alone in the classroom and something goes wrong.  Because my authorative voice is not as frequented as my caring voice, students seem surprised by it and also do not know how to respond.  Those who this voice is often directed at can respond by complying or are wary of it and test it.  I have not had much defiance in my first grade class, however I feel like I still have not struck a balance.  I need to find that balance so that my students feel that I am in control and they are safe while they learn under my care.  I have been trying to figure out how this will work into my own classroom.  I believe that this is one of the difficult stages of working in someone else’s classroom.  As I have reflected in journals and has been discussed in class, we are not able to fully be our own teacher in our student teacher setting because we have to work within the culture and confines of a preexisting classroom.  That is not to say that I will have complete freedom in how caring and authority look at the school that hires me, I will still have to operate within the larger school culture, however I will be in a classroom that is mine and my status as leader will be less questionable.

It was easier for me to be out going with my fourth and fifth grade class last semester, partially because the students were older and we could talk about more of their interests.  With my first graders I have slowly learned that I need to show more of my authoritative side in the classroom because it allows me to carry forth our lessons and progress their learning which is something that I deeply care about.  During recess however is when I show a lot of fun caring and play time.  My students have begun to have outside of school conversations with me, started playing basketball or catch and this is a safe place for me to do this without taking away from my authority role as teacher.

Within the class I have tested the waters of how to show my authority voice.  I want my students to understand that their learning is important to me and that I want those little kernels of knowledge to pop for them.  I want them to see this caring and yet also see that I have the power to steer them back on course when needed.  During many of my takeovers I have employed the strategies that my CT uses to get the students back on track, such as beginning to read a poem we are working on (in the blue pocket chart) so they all chime in to bring them back together, singing a familiar song, doing the bump-bata-bump-bump..bum-bum to get their attention, etc.  However, during my last takeover I started using strategies that I had not seen her use and they seemed more useful to me.  Maybe it was because they are more my own style (making them feel more authentic to myself and my students) or maybe it is because of the novelty, but using them put me more at ease.

Through Anna’s class we talked about the idea of authenticity and need to be authentic for our students.  I feel that this comes out heavily in caring and authority.  If we are not authentic in the words we use and way we say it, it is almost as though there is no weight behind what we say.  That is one of the many dilemmas that pile on me as I try to strike a balance between caring and authority. Saying something and meaning it when a student is acting out.  After my first observation with Tim we talked about my tone with students and how they can so easily pick up on subtleties of changes in my tone.  For instance if they ask to go to the bathroom and I say no, with a hint of a maybe in my voice they will keep asking.  I have learned this, but it is not yet ingrained in my voice.  I feel that I can look at my response to my students asking to use the bathroom and you can really see my struggle between caring and authority.  If a student asks me to use the restroom and we are in the middle of a lesson I ask them if it is an emergency.  I care for them in multiple ways, I do not want them to be forced to wait if they really have to go, but I also do not want them to miss out on the concepts we are learning or to learn that the bathroom is a way to get out of work.  Because there is a hint of resistance to my automatic no students often push and question, making me feel like my authority is somewhat lost.  I have realized that this might cause a big problem for my takeover week, so I implemented a new piece of management.  I created a stoplight that always stays on our whiteboard.  When the arrow is on red the students know it is not a time for us to get up from the carpet because we are learning together as a group.  Yellow means that in case of emergencies it is ok to get Kleenex, water or go to the bathroom and green is go, but you always need to ask a teacher first.  So far this is working well and I am hoping that this smoothes out the issue before my takeover.

Another dilemma for me has been finding the balance between rigor and joy.  One of my dilemmas with the balance of rigor and joy is trying to define what joy is.  As I have discussed in a few of my journals to Tim, what my students define as joy and what I define as joy maybe entirely different.  I often define joy as helping my students connect what we are doing in school to their own lives, getting them to put things together, getting them to realize they can do things on their own, etc.  My version of joy is helping my students to see that they are all individuals and can add butter, caramel, ketchup, hot sauce, whatever they want to their popcorn.  I feel that if I were to ask my students about joy, their response would consist of choice time activities, recess and art (granted not all of them would say this).  Of course I think these things are important, but I also thing my students can find joy in every subject, or at least that is my goal for them.  My dilemma is how to help them find that joy can be found in rigorous activities and that the joy of learning is a goal I want them all to have for themselves.  I do not want my students to think of rigor and joy as entirely separate.  I believe that rigor and discipline can help my students achieve the joy of truly understanding something or practicing to be good.  Like when I was young and I played soccer, I hated when we had to run drills in soccer practice, but I didn’t realize that it helped lead me to a place of having so much fun during the games.  I want to have a classroom balanced enough between these two that my students can find the correlations.

Teaching will always hold many dilemmas.  Teachers have to make so many choices everyday that dilemmas are doing to be there, it is just fact.  What is important it reflecting and understanding that each situation, each classroom is going to require its own sets of balance.  Just as a perfect bowl of popcorn does not truly exist, neither does a perfect classroom.  However, I believe it is my responsibility to get as close as possible, get my timing right and pop as many of the kernels as I can, without burning any.


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