I believe to be an excellent teacher you must be able to give up the power. Teaching is listening and following. Lesson planning is an integral part of teaching, yet, my current goal for myself is to forget about them when I enter the classroom. I tend to be task oriented. I have objectives for my students. I want to make sure that there is order, and structure. However, I don't want to do this at the expense of learning. I'm currently reading Feel-Bad Education by Alfie Kohn, and he states, "What matters is not what we teach; it's what they learn, and the probability of real learning is far higher when students have a lot to say about both the content and the process" (Kohn 97). In one year, what will my students remember from my classes?
In October 2012, I wrote the following:
Memory and Associations
I have spent a lot of time lately remembering. Why did I ask my parents for dance classes as a child? When and why did I fall in love with dance? What do I remember about my first years of tap and ballet classes? How did my teachers make me feel? Do I remember learning plié, tendu, or any step? No matter what age we start dancing, we enter a world of steps and combinations. We learn a specific movement, it’s name, and we repeat it throughout our dance training, perfecting and making it muscle memory. Yet, what if our students do not continue their dance training? What if today’s class was their last dance class? Would this change how we approach and teach our classes? The reality is that most of our students will stop their training. That alone does not change to teach technique and dance vocabulary as I know it will instill discipline, work ethic, concentration, ect. However, it has made me consider what else I am teaching through my attitude, language, and teaching environment.
I feel that if I take these two ideas together, I am one step closer to finding my voice as a teacher. What good is it to teach technique and add one more step if my students leave class bored, frustrated, and discouraged? Is it worth it to fill every minute of class at the expense of _______? Does it benefit my student to limit their choices to a specific list? How strictly do I adhere to the structure of a dance class? Am I willing to change gears in the middle of the activity? I want to listen, really listen to what my students are telling me through their words and body language, and I want to go on their journey. This may mean dancing like a snake for the fifth time in class or free dance in the middle of barre or watching those ants crawl across the studio. I know their are limits to running with their ideas, but I find myself too often saying later, wait, after, not today, out of time, all of which mean no in one way or another. How can I say yes? How can I be creative, and make it work within the framework of class? How can I cultivate a love of dance, competence in movement, and teach the whole person?
There are so many next steps. But for now I'm going to start by asking my students. I am asking what we should start class with, how we should end class, what we should do next, how can we do this or that, should we try this again, and I am going to run with their ideas.
Teaching is knowing how to say what you want to say. To this day the most difficult part of teaching for me is word usage. How can I use my words effectively to inspire, instruct, and redirect? How can I use age appropriate images, vocabulary, and instructions? How many words are necessary, and when is it best to just listen and observe?
I am a talker; I feel comfortable talking to anyone at anytime. I love telling stories and am prone to hyperbole. Lack of words has never been a problem for me. I give advice when it isn't asked, and am always happy to share my perspective. Yet, I feel strongly that teaching is listening, observing, and guiding rather than telling. I have to constantly remind myself to think before I say anything. It much more likely that I will say too much when teaching rather than not enough. Lesson planning includes not just what I am going to do in class, but how I am going to say it.
I have started making lists of phrases that have worked for me. When I am driving in the car, I practice the words I am going to use to teach a phrase, or introduce an activity, or what I'll say to Susie Q when she starts throwing her dot. Sometimes I immediately regret something I say in class, and I'll add that to the list of things to never say. For example, "eyes up" will get students looking at the ceiling, not just off the floor. And while that sounds like common sense, in the moment it's very easy to blurt "eyes up" rather than "look out on the horizon."
What words or phrases have been successful for you when teaching? What words do you avoid? Next time, I'll share the start of my list!
This week I had a conversation with two students that left me speechless.
Student A: "I love being in time out."
Student A: "Because you don't have to do anything."
Student B: "She likes time out because no one can mess with her."
This extremely intelligent young student knows that if she acts up, she will be put in timeout, and no one can bully her there. It was a life changing moment for me. It made me stop and consider the many reasons a child may act up in class.
I was blessed to follow up this enlightening moment with the Hope Stone Teacher Training this weekend. Dr. Ana Trevino-Godfrey spoke to us about discipline and behavior redirection. She said that the first thing we should consider when a child acts up is "What does this child need right now?" Maybe a child needs to be heard, to feel validated, to feel like they fit in, release some extra energy, to be loved, to feel safe, or maybe they are just plain tired and hungry. Sometimes all it takes is to acknowledge how the student is feeling. But there is always a reason why, and to give them a choice in the way out of it, empowers the student.
That student needed a way out, and the only way she knew to communicate that was by misbehaving. I have personally never had an issues with this student in dance class, but now I know that she needs some extra love and peace in her life, and I am going to pay close attention to her interactions with the other students.