Who’s the Teacher Here?

Hi everyone, my name is Julie Boutwell, and I was just recently asked to write TCW’s new weekly education blog.  I am currently the Acting Director of our Providence center, and have also worked as a first grade and pre-Kindergarten teacher over the years.  However, lest you think that I am some kind of super-authority on the field of early childhood education, allow me to share with you a sad tale from my first year as a teacher that might just change your mind.

After I completed graduate school, I was hired to teach first grade at a school in which classroom observations were the norm rather than the exception.  On more days than not, there was someone – a director, a colleague, a college student, a consultant – in my classroom scribbling down notes documenting my every move.  One day, my boss, the Director of Education, came to observe a math lesson, and I must admit, I thought I was going to nail it.  I had carefully prepared my lesson, sorted and organized my materials, and actually practiced what I was going to say and do.  In fact, I had already pre-congratulated myself on my smashing success (with the Rocky theme song playing in my head, of course).  

Well, guess what – it was a total, unmitigated disaster.  Highlights from the lesson included:

*  me losing track – on more than one occasion – of what, exactly, I was trying to teach;

* my students chattering and giggling throughout – except when I asked them a question,

   at which time they would immediately clam up and stare blankly at me;

* swords made out of Unifix cubes;

* a child who, after being asked to provide two numbers that add to 13, replied

   confidently, “Rabbits eat carrots”; and (the worst part)

* my boss actually laughing at the ridiculousness of what she was seeing.

I have to say that on this particular day, my students learned almost nothing about math.  I however, learned something very important about teaching – something that now seems obvious, but was not-so-obvious to a younger, less experienced, cockier me: Teachers do not have all the answers, nor are we successful 100% of the time.  Sometimes lessons are duds.  Sometimes activities are not well-received.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, things just don’t work out. 

So, why did I choose to start my blogging career with a story about a time when my teaching efforts fell flat?  I wanted to convey that we, as teachers, are also learning on a daily basis – learning about what our students need, learning about how best to present information to them, and learning about what doesn’t work.  We all have great days and not-so-great days; the important thing is that we reflect on our practice and talk about it – with our bosses, with our colleagues, and with our families.  I would invite all of you to take a moment and chat with your child’s teachers about what is happening in the classroom, and why – this dialogue is critical not only for promoting closeness between families and teaching staff, but also for helping teachers grow and improve.

I hope that this blog gives me the opportunity to share some of the amazing things that are happening inside our classrooms, and to provide some practical suggestions for continuing your child’s learning at home.  I will also be sharing classroom stories – most of which feature unbelievably adorable and brilliant children doing amazing things, and me learning important (if somewhat embarrassing) lessons about being a teacher.