Westmont Magazine A Lesson for the Teacher
By Amanda Braun ’04
The first time I walked into my classroom and saw 20 bodies bursting with energy, movement and spirit, the thought of being their teacher — their only teacher, wholly responsible for keeping them under control and transferring knowledge to them — was overwhelming and exhausting. The reality of life in Room 5 was more complex, rich and full than an education class.
Transferring theory into practice has challenged me. I finished my fall semester with a mind crammed full of ideas about reaching the unreachable, making learning meaningful, and adapting my curriculum to the special needs of individuals. I knew five different ways to teach reading comprehension. I had binders full of music, art and P.E. lessons.
It is one thing, however, to know Harry Wong’s three steps to being an effective teacher and another to put them into practice with 20 6- and 7-year olds who don’t care about the good grades I got in college. First-graders need an effective teacher, not someone who can eloquently define one.
But I have found theory manifesting itself in practice without a conscious effort on my part. The book knowledge tucked away in my brain pops out each day as I handle situations or teach a particular concept. The transition from theory to practice is rarely beautiful, but it happens.
Instead of having 20 first-grade brains sitting at my feet, ready to soak up all that pours from my mouth, I have 20 whole students – minds, bodies and hearts. They come to school bearing the marks of the world: broken homes, absent mothers, alcoholic fathers, poverty, abuse, jail.
How do I require excellence — or even attention — from someone who tells me he didn’t sleep very much because loud people were going in and out of his house all night? How do I make a child understand that punching a fellow student isn’t acceptable when his father does the same thing to his mother?
It’s a challenge to address the needs of my students’ bodies and hearts. When a hug is just as important as a reading lesson, teaching that child to read requires individual attention and creative solutions.
As a student teacher, I face many challenges: helping English language learners, managing the class, teaching children while still learning myself.
But I also find an abundance of joy in Room 5: hugs, the funny things students say, their singing, their delight in discovering something new.
We had a science fair, and students were supposed to work on projects at home with their parents. But Juan’s mom only attended a month of school in Mexico when she was 6. His dad was in jail. Yet excitable, energetic Juan insisted on doing a project on plants.
So I worked with him in class. All he did was copy pictures of the stages of a plant’s growth and write a sentence for each. We planted a handful of radish seeds in a cup because they are fail-proof sprouters. It was hardly scientific.
But the deep value of this experience lay in the opportunity for Juan to succeed at something academically advanced — and in the high standards and expectations he set for himself.
When we finally completed the project, I told him to come early the next morning so I could take a picture of him with his science board and his sprouted radish seeds. When I walked into the classroom, he had been waiting at the door for 10 minutes. He said, “Mrs. Braun, I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so excited since I knew you were going to take my picture!”
Is it OK to cry in front of your students? Because I wanted to. This experience gave Juan something to be proud of, and it taught me so much. My education began at Westmont, but it continues inside the walls of Room 5, where I am grateful to the 20 little teachers I find there each morning.