Last spring, Perry Eaton’s advisor at Tufts University put him in touch with Mr. Christy at Beaver. “It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship, not only with a great educator, but with a school unlike any other I’ve experienced,” Eaton said. Since then, Eaton has spent the past year working as a student teacher in Beaver’s Global History Department. He shares his experience below in part two of a three-part series on life as a BVR student teacher. Read part one – lessons learning in the fall term – here.
During the winter term, I was able to take my observations from the fall and put them into practice for the first time.
From November to March, I worked closely with history teacher Randall Northrop to ease into teaching and to ensure students were challenged and engaged. Randall and I collaborated for two 9th grade history sections and a senior elective, using our planning block to construct future lessons and units. Seeing the brain power that goes in behind the scenes to make a class great was easily the most valuable learning experience of the year for me, and it also yielded what I thought was a unique experience for the students in these classes. Randall was an exemplary model teacher, and together we were able to achieve a dynamic in which both of our strengths offset each others’ areas of weakness and presented some interesting new ideas to all three classes. These classes had the chance to write letters to local legislators, debate capitalist ideologies, put Benedict Arnold on trial, and accomplish a whole lot more.
Planning (but not over-planning)
Curriculum looks different at every school. At some institutions, the curriculum is completely locked in place for a teacher. At Beaver, however, planning is very much driven by the interests and skills of a teacher, and more importantly, the questions and curiosities of their classes. For this reason, the process of planning is a crucial step and a delicate balance of looking ahead while remaining somewhat spontaneous.
I quickly discovered what a terrific resource other teachers are in this planning process. Bouncing ideas off others in the department, sharing what has been done in years past, and adding suggestions to new experiments only help to strengthen lessons before they reach the class. On several occasions, I even consulted with a group of seniors to get their feedback on lessons before trying it with my class. While the tendency – especially for a first-year teacher – is to plan far in advance, there’s a point where flexibility is key. Trying new things often means being flexible, both in timing and in the way you scaffold a project. Not adhering to a strict syllabus allows time to move with the pace of the class, not the pace of the teacher.
A year ago I had no idea how much time I’d spend thinking about feedback.
This curiosity was sparked during a faculty meeting where David Ingenthron, Head of the Visual Arts Department, gave a presentation on how his department was trying out new ways of feedback. “Is this good?” is a phrase heard by every teacher from many students, but does an answer to that question provide anything constructive to a student? Beaver emphasizes process and iteration, and if the goal is to continuously improve through self-assessment and peer review, then simply telling a student that his or her work is “good” robs them of this growth experience.
As I continue as a teacher, I hope to find an effective mixture of constructive scaffolding and room for interpretation in which a student can begin to answer for his or herself, “How can I make this better?”
Stay tuned for some final thoughts in my Spring term recap.