Community-Word Project’s Teaching Artists Training and Internship Program has a classroom internship component. Pairs of trainees are assigned to join Teaching Artists teams to gain hands-on experience working in NYC classrooms.
I was assigned to a third-grade class at P.S. 84 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was mentored by Teaching Artists, Felipe Galindo and Phyllis Capello, both brilliantly talented and accomplished in their fields. It was an enlightening opportunity to observe their classrooms and learn by their examples. I watched the teaching artists in action and observed the ways in which they intervened to ensure a smooth class despite behavioral challenges.
Ms. Phyllis began each class by having the students sing “This Little Light of Mine” while she provided musical accompaniment. It was a ritual that the students loved and that helped to center them at the start of each class. One week, one of the students began to throw a tantrum at the start of the song. He became very disruptive, covering his ears with both hands and screaming, “I hate this song!” He was a student that was often excused from assignments or given time out by his classroom teacher and so I had guessed that he might be a special needs student.
I watched as Phyllis took him aside and intervened. She asked him to select a song that he liked for the class to sing next week instead. The following week, he arrived prepared with the song “Home” and got up in front of the class next to the Teaching Artists, using a pointer to tap the lyrics on the butcher paper as he sang along with his classmates. In future weeks, Phyllis was able to return to having the class sing “This Little Light of Mine” without having the student act out.
I noticed that Phyllis and Felipe often employed creative ways of getting students’ attention. When the students began talking out of line, Phyllis often played a quick melody on her ukulele, which immediately drew their attention back. Felipe sometimes began clapping his hands as a classroom behavioral management tool, which caused the children to stop what they were doing and pay attention. Sometimes they said to the students, “Let’s meditate and be silent for 30 seconds,” and this countdown worked well to quiet the classroom.