This statement is built out of my experience as a lead teacher for a variety of subjects in both formal and informal settings, in the classroom and outdoors, and to a range of ages, including my experience as a student-teacher at the Kennedy K-8 School in Somerville, MA, and my work as a science teacher in the Cambridge Public School district. It is also influenced by my studies at Tufts University. I do not claim perfection in any of the following, rather, they serve as goals and reminders in my own professional development. (PDF here)
Respectful Discourse: I strive to teach my students how to have peaceful, collegial discourse with their classmates about the academic content. This not only allows students to engage more deeply with a subject, but it also gives them a format for successful interactions in their personal lives. It means learning how to express one’s opinions, how to respectfully disagree, and how to understand different points of view.
Clear Signage: I aim to run my classroom like a “mini city” with excellent signage. If a student has finished an assignment, for example, there is a system in place so that they know where to put their finished work and what to do next. If the mechanics of the classroom are clear, I can focus my attention on academic rather than logistic or managerial questions. Clear directions provide students a structure within which to be independent, creative, and productive.
Inquiry-Based Learning: I believe students are most engaged when they see that the lessons address their own interests and take up questions that they themselves develop. I aim for thorough understanding through deep discussion and exploration, and would rather my students understand one concept thoroughly than many concepts superficially. For example, when my third graders wanted to know why you can’t add denominators when adding fractions, I developed a lesson for this question. We added fractions both the right way and the wrong way, and used numbers and manipulatives to explore what our answers meant. The students now understand not only how we add fractions, but why we add them the way that we do.
Challenging Content: School should be challenging for students of all levels. When I see a student off task, I ask myself, What is the task? Is it too difficult? Too easy? My goal is to help the students who struggle to improve, and also to find material that will challenge the higher-level students. I differentiate my classroom by providing opportunities for higher-level students to delve more deeply into a topic, and by providing lower-level students with additional help. I am aware of the level of each individual and teach accordingly.
Multidisciplinary Learning: I like to explore a theme from many different angles, often combining different subjects. For example, I designed a project for a high school natural history class in which students drew maps of the campus and labeled twenty wild plants. The project required students to research the plants and their qualities, to learn botany identification skills, and to explore their campus in a new way. Many students drew a cattail marsh on their maps and noted that cattail is edible. At the end of the project, we waded into the marsh to collect cattail pollen, and then made the pollen into pancakes! Similarly, I have combined ELA with music, and math and science with art.
Learning Through Stories and Music: I am personally interested in storytelling and music, and I try to incorporate them into my lessons whenever I can. I use both techniques to introduce concepts, to convey feelings, to get students excited, to focus attention, to build classroom culture, and to help students remember. Stories and songs add to the fun of the classroom, and help me build rapport with students.
Technology: I love finding ways of bringing technology into the classroom. This can be anything from maintaining a class website and online chat forum, to creating short films or animations with students, to utilizing smart boards and providing alternate ways for students to interact with the curriculum. Incorporation of technology adds an extra level of excitement for students, and websites and class-produced media are also great ways for students to show off their knowledge and to involve parents in their child’s learning.
Community: If school is like a village, then classrooms are like families, each with their own culture and structure. I am always thinking about how my own classroom “family” can contribute to the larger “village.” Are there festivals to partake in? Traditions to start? Aspects of school culture to emanate? Are there opportunities for students of different grades to teach each other? Can we start some inside jokes? I strive to cultivate a positive, cohesive community, both within the school and with parents and neighbors, through active participation and direct communication.
Autonomy: One of my favorite teaching quotes is, “Get out of the limelight so that your students may shine.” Young people want to be given responsibility, and as their teacher, one of my roles is to know the level of responsibility that each student is capable of. My idea of a perfect classroom is one in which students are taking the reigns, taking ownership of their learning, and I am serving as their guide rail.