Thursday, March 5, 2015

SOLSC #5: How to give the right guidance?

Each day during March, I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC). All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days. My slices will be primarily about teaching preschoolers. Check out the Two Writing Teachers  website for lots more reflections on teaching. Thanks especially to Stacey, Tara, Anna, Beth, Dana, and Betsy for hosting this writing challenge. 


Each teaching day for the past four years, I have worked alongside a Teaching Resident, a beginning, novice teacher, who will lead her own class in D.C. public schools the following year. It is exciting and challenging work, as I try to guide a new teacher in the midst of working with young children. 

For me, there is almost a constant tension between "the way I'd like things to be" and the daily reality of "why are you doing that? have I explained and demonstrated the need to do otherwise? shown you the why behind what I'd like?"  

How many things do I 'swallow,' do I keep to myself, as I - on the fly, in the midst of the cacophony of the teaching classroom - try to discern what is the most important thing to say out loud? I don't want to overwhelm my Teaching Resident with all my thoughts! (Save that for the blog, right?) She is doing a very good job; she is very much on the right trajectory, as the year progresses and she begins to take on more responsibility. But, my thoughts are always whirling...wondering what is the right feedback to give at this particular time. Here is just one small example.

Our Teaching Residents are working on their master degrees, going to school in the evenings while teaching by day. It is a rigorous year, with unending demands. As one part of her grad work, my Teaching Resident was videotaping herself delivering a sample lesson. She decided to work with a small group in our early childhood library - a space just outside our classroom. 

[My swallow: Why do our teaching programs expect such static, sterile sample lessons? When does a preschool teacher ever get to work with a group of four students only? How realistic is that? If I were watching that videotape, I'd be much more interested in what is happening in the rest of the room while the teacher is focused on four children!]

She had planned a lesson on sorting, using our beloved found objects...preschoolers would sort them by size, color, material. 

Here, I spoke up, complimenting her on this lesson idea - "I know the children are going to enjoy exploring this with you; this is work we know they love - so many great, hands-on materials."

This is authentic work for our class; the children have built this collection themselves, bringing in these inconsequential objects from their homes. (We have an ever-growing supply of these materials - I see the beginnings of a materials library!) It is so awesome that she chose to extend our exploration of these objects through her small group work.

Then she called select students to do the work. 
(My swallow: Does she realize that she will not be able to hand select children in her class next year? You are teaching every child, not just the ones who behave in the way you can handle best. )

She left the room with the small group. Out of sight, out of mind, to some extent...though I really wanted to be a fly on the wall out there, hearing her teach. 

When she finished the lesson, she seemed frustrated that the taping didn't go as well as she had hoped. She said one preschooler was very difficult, that she kept saying, "I don't want to do this. I don't want to be out here. I am missing my Mommy."

My mind races with swallowed feedback, a rush, a torment of questions:

What do we know about how children learn best?
Why was she so sad? 
How might she be soothed, in the midst of your teaching?
How do young children respond to being taken out of their routine, out of what they normally do?
What kind of control or choice did the children have in this learning?
What were her needs? 
Were they being met?
What do we know about how children learn best?
How might you have set up this same work in the midst of our classroom, as an exploratory center, for children to choose of their own liking?
How might you have made the lesson more palatable? 
How might you have engaged her?
What do we know about how children learn best?

But there is no time to say all this. It is time to clean up, to line up, to head to the playground. We can only speak to one another in passing, as we continue with our day. I decided to say the piece that keeps repeating in my head. I say simply,

"I hope that you will find time to reflect on the lesson for this one student, how and why it wasn't a successful experience for her. What do we know about how children learn best?"

Gnawing thoughts continue - will she take the time to reflect? In the midst of the rigor of working in this classroom, going to grad school, applying for a teaching position for next year, will she ever have the mental space to think about this? How can I help her see how essential it is to think about this? 

Unbelievably, a day later, I continue to have this gnawing feeling that I haven't coached her well enough, that I haven't 'gotten through to her,' that she doesn't understand me fully.

I remind myself to breathe in, breathe out.

This I know for sure -
my Teaching Resident,
just like any young child,
will learn as she goes, as she grows, 
through cause and effect, 
through failure and success, 
through reflection.
She has learned so much already, and
in time, with time,
she will understand, do, and learn more.

Maybe she will challenge herself to do the same project inside the classroom next,
in the midst of the whirling energy of preschoolers.
Maybe she won't.

Rest assured,
she will learn as she goes, as she grows.

I am not her only teacher.
I am not her last stop.

What do we know about how children learn best?
What do we know about how teachers learn best?


  1. You're asking so many great questions, Maureen. I'm sure if she's working with you she sees how you reflect as an educator. She might not do it now, but she will grow to be a reflective practitioner because of the time she spent with you. I'm quite confident about that.

    Enjoy your snow day!

  2. Your reflection is right on. Know that she has a wonderful mentor; whatever she takes from her work with you will mold her into the teacher she will be. Lucky her!

  3. Your reflection is right on. Know that she has a wonderful mentor; whatever she takes from her work with you will mold her into the teacher she will be. Lucky her!

  4. You worded this so beautifully. I think people can be born with that innate thing that makes them stop in their tracks and check in with a child. Offering up that I miss my mommy too sometimes. Asking which object her mommy might like the best and why. Sometimes we can teach that empathy and redirection, sometimes not. The gift of being human I guess. Your piece reminded me of the importance of reflection.