Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Ms. Hall, one of the PSE 4th grade teachers. After observing her teach for a few days we began team-teaching, during which I studied GrapeSEED curriculum in order to familiarize myself with the songs, stories, chants, and games. While I find working with K4 students mentally and physically draining (despite their cuteness), teaching fourth graders was absolutely invigorating. These students have greater capacity to understand larger concepts, contribute ideas to discussions, and add their own spicy personalities to the environment. Additionally, because they are older, they know more English, making communication much easier. I still have to give step-by-step instructions and speak slowly, but I don’t have to spend so much mental energy simplifying my speech. I don’t really have many pictures of 4th grade because I was otherwise occupied, so you’ll have to take my word for it. 😉
- They loved to sing, especially in weird voices.
- They begged to be spritzed with the water spray bottle to help them “cool off” after they returned from outdoor recess.
- They shared their strange Japanese snacks with me every day.
- They loved to write in cursive (and their handwriting rivaled mine).
- They were enthusiastic about competition between teams.
- They hated losing “table points” for misbehavior.
When Ms. Hall asked me why I chose her classroom, I admitted that I selected that class simply because I enjoyed the different personalities in the classroom, the comfortable atmosphere, and her teaching style. I especially admired how this teacher constantly sought to adapt her teaching strategies to engage students, for example: creating new memory games to reinforce content, asking students to stand up in their chairs while they sang (if they were lacking enthusiasm), or calling students out on their tone of voice or facial expressions. These kids were hilarious and exasperating and loud, SO LOUD!
To give me more experience with the curriculum and classroom management, Ms. Hall soon had me teaching Read-Write, which I discovered was a part of the lesson that looked super easy, yet was actually challenging to pace and move through each individual step. Some lower level students required extended time to complete activities, yet in order to keep the lesson moving in that 40 minute time block I had to push them forward with the knowledge that they would complete unfinished sections during early work the following day.
See, I was homeschooled, so I learned at my own pace. No one else held me back from speeding through content, yet I also wasn’t rushed through activities. In fact, I was given extra time to finish if necessary.
Thus, I had to adjust my mindset when teaching this class, even though it was difficult to see kids fall behind their peers. So, I learned to time each section on my phone, assign extra work to “early finishers,” and monitor the work of lower level students while seeking out “teachable moments.”
By carefully observing Ms. Hall teach and listening to her instructions, I began habitually using the labeled clothespins to ensure students were called on equally, giving and revoking “table points” as rewards and punishments, and waiting for students to be silent before I spoke. (And honestly, I was getting sick and losing my voice, so I just waited for students to “hush up” before I even tried to talk.) If students took too long getting ready for an activity or belligerently kept yapping when they were supposed to be listening, I learned to say things like, “You’ve wasted too much time messing around, so you just lost two minutes of game time.” Tip: Game time is precious.
Ms. Hall is incredible. After classes we’d clean the classroom and she’d take the time to review her notes and critique my strengths and weaknesses. Having taught in the states for 10 years, she knows practically everything, and she gave plenty of golden advice (most of which I promptly forgot when actually teaching, but some of it stuck). 😉 I thought it was extremely kind of her to sit down and plan out the following day’s lesson with me just so that I’d feel comfortable teaching while being observed by my professor. It was 9 pm; she was tired, she hadn’t eaten dinner, and yet she was trying to help me feel prepared and comfortable. I remember thinking that was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me, and I’m truly thankful she took the time and effort to help me organize my part of the lesson.
Plus, I knew that while I was being observed by Dr. Hong, she was outside the classroom praying for me. Some people take their job seriously. I honestly wasn’t anticipating any teacher to care about my readiness or comfort level; experiencing it was mind-boggling.
One of the most important lessons Ms. Hall taught me (through example and firsthand) was the impact of encouragement.
Regardless of how much I screwed up a new game I was introducing (and barely managed to salvage through adaptation), or failed to pace activities accordingly, she always made sure to pinpoint things I did well, and offer constructive criticism in areas I could improve. She often made comments like, “I like how you’re doing _____,” or “I thought ______ activity went really well,” or “You have good classroom management.” One particular night she said, “You’ve got the chops for it, girl.” And I couldn’t wipe off my grin all the way home. Reflecting on her praise revealed how crucial it is to seek out and verbally praise students for exhibiting good behavior and work effort. By having an awareness of my speech and intentionally choosing meaningful words of encouragement, I have the opportunity to build my students’ self esteem while establishing rapport. Essentially, little words of genuine praise carry great weight.
The next few days of team teaching went much more smoothly, and with Hall’s guidance, I slowly figured out the various parts of the lesson and thoroughly enjoyed the students and the materials. One day, Ms. Hall tucked herself behind the piano and let me take over the first part of class (likely to see what might happen). She was always pushing me to take on new responsibilities, and I thought that was splendid, so I always said yes. Teaching is fun, really. There’s never a dull moment, which I think Dr. Hong discovered as well during her evaluation. 🙂 When I prodded her for feedback after teaching, her first comment about my class was, “They were so loud!” They really were, but honestly, introduce me to 10 year old boys that don’t yell and wrestle with each other and girls that don’t whisper and giggle… 😉
I know I’ll teach ELLs, and I know I’ll strive to be a good teacher, yet there is so much to learn from field experience (especially in a foreign environment) and seasoned teachers that I cannot gain from college classrooms. This is why summer teaching internships are so vital for education majors. Big ‘thank you’ to Ms. Hall and those out of control 4th graders! 🙂