Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Song of Myself:Student Teaching Experience

Song of Myself:Student Teaching Experience
Janet Girardeau

   When I entered Graduate School in Educational Theatre at City College, it was for several reasons. I had worked as a teaching artist in many settings (schools, camps, prisons, senior centers, after school settings) and felt a graduate degree would help strengthen my skills and weight in the job market. I was in need of  training in more current practices, deep and thoughtful stimulation from leaders in the current field and exposure to in-school practises by dedicated in-school Theatre Teachers. I was ready to commit to teaching in a deeper way while still keeping the acting career I have always loved a part of my life as well.  

City College Educational Theatre Program has been everything I have wanted it to be and more. I have gone through the program slowly, juggling a family and work responsibilities. I have tried to savor each and every experience, watched many colleagues go before and start after me and exultantly watched them graduate taking notes and wringing our collective time together dry for meaning, experience and learning. When it came time for student teaching, I have given it a considerable amount of thought. I wanted to spend my time with two people whom I admire, respect and who I could also pump for wisdom, inspiration  and advice,

Jennifer Katona, our fearless leader in Stream A, advised us to put together a “dream list” of teachers we might like to student teach with. Consideration based on contacts, friends’ experiences, job experience and a lot of field work in the schools already has been helpful. Honestly, any experience would be helpful experience but I wanted to use careful consideration so I could feel (when I’m slowly paying off my loan for years to come!) that I really made the most of the experience.

 I’m ecstatic to report that my first semester has been nothing short of amazingly fulfilling and everything I hoped it would be. My friend Jenny Lombard had invited me to see her Shakespeare work with her fourth graders and I had ended up staying and seeing her storytelling classes with third and second grades also. This led me to conclude that she has a firm grasp on how to get the most potential out of each child, how to really and truly enrich the creative environment of the school with her creative endeavors and how to stimulate the intellectual curiosity of the students. I asked her if I could student teach with her when the time came, and she said “Sure!”.

    Planning my schedule when this Fall approached involved turning it upside down. I’m an older student. I consider myself pretty loose and flexible, but the time commitment involved in student teaching(even part time) is HUGE. It’s also delightful- the very best part of my week hands down. Jenny felt I would get the most out of the experience if I came there on Thursdays and Fridays, two heavy workdays for me, so I changed my work schedule and lost some income, but she was right. I got a chance to see and help her do the same lesson more or less FIVE times on Thursdays. This meant I could lead a different part of the lesson each time, as I learned it, and then a full lesson as well. Then she could give me notes and I could practise again on Friday with her last third grade storytellers class of the week. This repetition proved to be incredibly helpful to me.

      What I have enjoyed most is her calm, steady, no nonsense approach. Yes, she gets sleep deprived, tired and cranky, just as I seem to do way too often. But what I am most impressed with is that year after year, day after day, I have witnessed her being present 110% and bringing her all to the kids. She is constantly revising her lessons, going over them to make sure she is presenting the lesson in the best, most effective way possible. She is constantly challenging the kids to do the same, to bring their best selves to the work. What I admire MOST is that she challenges the kids to step UP in terms of performance. She breaks down her subject, be it fairy tale theatre, shadow puppetry, improvisational games, storytelling skills or Shakespeare, Then, she doesn’t talk down to them. She talks UP. Everyone in the room sits a little higher and feels a little richer after the first five minutes. They listen attentively and are challenged and stimulated. She enhances their intelligence. The boys and girls laugh at the romantic language but then they leap up to become a soldier, woodsman or King and cannot wait to try out the exercise, story or language. In a matter of minutes she has 30 kids in the palm of her hand.

     Jenny Lombard has given me step by step instructions for how to become a successful classroom teacher. I tend to have way too many ideas and a hard time harnessing them into a workable approach. She has consistently and patiently shown me how to break those ideas down and organize them into a workable, manageable series of meal-sized lessons that again, improve literacy, socio-emotional skills, writing and reading comprehension, following directions, creative writing and speaking, and links her lessons effortlessly into the Common Core. I see her students walk out refreshed and excited by learning. I see Jenny tired but energized at the end of the day.

     She has likened teaching in this way to acting in that visualizing and focusing on an objective is the key. Getting yourself and your students to another place by the end of the lesson, and focusing from the get-go on where you want them to be by the end of the lesson, at a new and different destination, is the aim and goal. Everyone is changed by this artistic endeavor. As Maxine Green(Philosopher in Residence at Columbia and Lincoln Center Institute) has stated, “Imagination is the capacity to open spaces, to see the world differently, to be transformed.” Jenny is one of Theatre Education’s foot soldiers.

  What we’re trying to do in this noble profession on most days is just survive but occasionally enrich. To give the children back to themselves. To play.To quote Maxine Green, to “live in ambiguity”. To expose the children’s artist souls to themselves for them to rediscover, explore, enjoy and then do with as they can and as they wish. I have been so lucky to study by the side of some of these gifted comrades. To quote Jenny, “While student teaching can be inspiring, your first few years of teaching will be hard, hard and harder,” so the enrichment is a gift that comes back to reward both student and  teacher.

            Have you reckoned a thousand acres much? Have you reckoned the earth much?
            Have you practised so long to learn to read?
            Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

            Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the meaning of all poems,
            You shall possess the good of the earth and sun -- there are millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
            You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
            You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

                                                            Walt Whitman

                                                            From “Song of Myself”

1 comment:

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