In March, I taught my first lesson to the 5th grade class at PS 676. That day the students understood that Community-Word Project began, as always, at 1pm on Thursdays, but they did not realize that I would take my place at the front of the class and lead them in an activity of poetry and writing.
When the students entered the classroom, I noticed there was a significant number of them missing. Given spring is the season of standardized tests and allergies, I figured the majority of them were either at home sick or completing test review in another classroom. Admittedly, I was pleased to find a group of less overwhelming size. As an introvert and novice teacher, I looked forward to teaching to a small group and working with students one on one.
My mentors wanted the trainees to incorporate the same opening and closing rituals into our lessons. This structure helped me during my lesson planning process because I understood ahead of time how the students responded to these rituals. Before diving into the lesson, I led the students in a game of Sally/Jackie walker. I was pleased at how the students responded to my leadership. It can be difficult persuading certain students to participate. When I led the activity, many students I had never seen participate before were raising their hands to volunteer.
Throughout this residency students have developed detailed and imaginative accounts of how they can reach their Ultimate (goal) that would benefit the individual and the community. Over time the students each created a superhero that could help them achieve their goals. When preparing for my lesson, I wanted to stay true, thematically, to the residency while simultaneously offering the students something new.
I had the students volunteer to read aloud Naomi Shihab-Nye’s poem “Famous.” We briefly talked about what it means to be famous and how poetry can magnify the beauty in the ordinary. For the main activity I had students complete a worksheet that guided them in writing lines for their own “Famous” poem. I asked them to use their superheroes as the subject and write about what these heroes were famous for in their community.
It was wonderful to see what the students created. I can’t help but wonder how often (or little) students are allowed to channel their imaginations in the classroom. While each school may be different, I feel so privileged to be a part of a program that values creativity and literacy in all communities. A majority of the students completed the worksheet before the end of class which allowed time for sharing. Each student who volunteered stood by me at the front of the class and read aloud a few lines from his or her “Famous” poem.
Throughout the lesson, I saw the cohesive values of Community Word reflected in the actions of my mentors and peers. That week I had a severe cold and even lost my voice at some point during the lesson. Fortunately, I had backup. In addition to my mentors, fellow trainee JiJi and program director Patti Chilsen were proactive in their support of the students and the lesson I taught for the very first time. Each table had a teaching artist that the students could turn to for guidance.
At the end of our teaching training seminars we have a chant that goes I have a voice. My voice is powerful. My voice can change the world. When I lost my voice during my lesson, I couldn’t help but think of this chant and the irony of my first teaching experience. However, I quickly realized that my voice was still evident in both the lesson and support of other teaching artists. I realized how blessed I was to witness the benefits of collaborative teaching.
-Emily Collins, Writer, TATIP Trainee 2015-16