Teaching: delivery is not most important…

I spent a good portion of my day today working with a teaching intern. We observed each other, we analyzed some assessments, we designed instruction, we reflected, we learned. One of the things I love about helping people learn to teach is that it is very much a coaching relationship. I can provide feedback and insight, but ultimately the intern is the one who has to practice and do the teaching. I also learn things every time I work with teachers, regardless of the stage of their career.

Today as we worked, I had a realization. Teaching, like many act that are performative, can appear as if the delivery is the most important component. But it is not. It is in the planning, thought, practice, and rehearsal. For a musician, it is the hours in a practice room, private lessons, etudes, scales, and master classes. It is learning about a specific piece of music – the composer, time period, other performances, tempos, and accompaniments. And more practice. And the practice isn’t just about learning notes and rhythms. It’s also about knowing the music so well that the performer can interpret it. It’s about being able to improvise a cadenza and take license with the adagio to make it just a bit more sultry.

The most important component is preparation. It is what allows the musician to tailor the performance. Preparation is often lonely. There is rarely applause or acknowledgement. But it leads to a  performance unique to each musician, audience, and environment. Preparation is what allows a teacher to do the same, to tailer lessons and instruction unique to the specific context. It allows the teacher to make adjustments based on the students’ needs on a particular day. Are they grasping the material more quickly than expected? Do they need extra support? When a students makes a fascinating connection, does the teacher go off plan or stick with it?

The teacher needs to know their students, the content objectives, materials, assessments, and if it is a full moon. This is the intellectual work of teaching. The reason that not just anyone can teach. The reason that delivering a lesson is not the same as teaching a lesson.

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#Hamilton & the authentic joy of co-creating

In case you haven’t heard, there is an amazing musical on Broadway right now about Alexander Hamilton. We have been obsessed with it in our household since August when the Soundtrack was released. My husband & I were fortunate enough to see In The Heights on Broadway with Lin-Manuel Miranda a few years ago.

Yesterday the cast performed from the White House. One of the songs they performed is “My Shot”. I have watched this video at least three times now, and it isn’t just the music (though I do know the words by heart). It’s about the joy of the performers.The way that they are listening to each other. And not just the singers, but the musicians behind them as well. Watch the way that they communicate, encourage, and engage with each other. It reminds me of the multiples ways that jazz musicians communicate with each other.

There is something so incredibly authentic about the joy of creating music and story together. This doesn’t happen without a sense of humility and selflessness. Look at the ways they watch each other, the way that they are tuned in to the story and music and the way that each performer is engaging with the story at that moment. Do you see it?

It makes me think of really amazing teaching. More on that later, I need to go watch it again…

 

If you are aren’t familiar with the musical (or just can’t get enough), here is the video of President Obama’s introduction as well as the cast performing the opening number. I love that part of the event was about celebrating learning and teaching that may not look like what would be assumed.

 

 

Listening to Lady Day

Tonight is the premier of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill on HBO.

It might seem obvious to title this post “Listening to Lady Day”. But this isn’t just about listening to Audra McDonald singing Billie Holiday. This is also about listening to Billie’s story. Her many stories. It’s about the ways that the musicians on that stage listen and respond to Audra/Billie.

Listening is about using our ears, our auditory systems. But listening is also about nuance. It is about inflection in someone’s voice. I think it is also about listening to what isn’t there. Listening to the pauses and silences.

Listening when I don’t want to 

Today is the first day of break for my University. It is also daylight savings. I woke up at 4 a.m. And couldn’t go back to sleep. I read a book, I tried to do some work, I watch a program. My body has been telling me it is tired and my brain is on overdrive. This is not a good feeling. I do not like it. 

I rested, I told myself that I was feeling this way because I got up so early. But in truth, I think that I am sick. I hate admitting this, I have spent mental energy today coming up with all sorts of other reasons for why I do not feel well other than admitting I am sick. I don’t know why that is. I teach my interns that they need to take care of themselves first so they can be good teachers when they are healthy. When my husband isn’t feeling well,  I remind him that the world will not end if he misses a rehearsal. When my daughters are ill, I buy them saltines and ginger ale. For some reason, I fight listening to my body when it gives me all the signs. I don’t want to listen to it. I am listening today though. I have not done any work. I have napped and showered and read a book. I am going to work to not feel guilty or lazy – that is not helpful and also is not true. I am remembering that it is important to listen to me sometimes and that is ok. 

we need to READ diverse books

The We Need Diverse Books movement is important for so many reason. Yes, we need diverse books – diverse in representation, in authors, in editors, in illustrators.

We need these books for readers – for ALL readers. The other day I wrote about relatability. Books can be mirrors and windows and sliding glass doors. They need to be that for EVERY ONE. It is imperative that readers are able to find their identities in books. And not just find their identities – but find authentic representations of those identities. Complex and multilayered representations.

It is also crucial for readers to find identities in books that are not like there own. It is AS important – if not more – for these representations to be complex, multilayered, and authentic. As a straight person, I need to read books with representations of gay characters that are more than the persecuted or hated by their family. As a white person, I need to read stories of other races that are more than just what has historically been written.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement is crucial because we need these books to be published and readily available. I was reminded of this when a friend shared an article titled 18 Books Every White Ally Should Read. I was excited about the list because I just finished listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and have been searching for something to read next. So I went to my local library’s website reserve some of them. For the titles my library did not have (over half of the 18), I searched the state wide inter-library loan system. This was even more interesting to see because I could identify which communities had which books as well as what types of libraries had some of the books. Often they were found in University Libraries but in fewer public libraries. When titles are available in public libraries, they are often either in Urban areas or University towns.

So what is my point? The point is that books that represent a variety of races and cultures need to be available to all readers in all communities. I know that it isn’t possible for libraries to have every book and it is fantastic that we have an interlibrary loan service. But we also need to work to make all readers aware of what is available.

Yes #WeNeedDiverseBooks. But also #WeNeedtoREADdiversebooks

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming out to the raft

I had a coaching meeting today with a teaching intern. Learning to teach is incredibly complex and often a very bumpy journey. 

As we were talking, I came up with an analogy to help her manage the incredible amounts of cognitive dissonance she is experiencing right now. Remember the raft from my first blog post, we’re going to revisit it again. 

This time I described my eldest daughter – when she was much younger, she hated the feeling of not being able to touch the ground when she was in the water. She was fine, as long as she knew she could reach her toes down and feel the bottom. Otherwise – no thank you. She desperately wanted to go out to the raft. But to do so meant that she would have to be in water too deep to touch the bottom. But oh, to jump off that raft and make a glorious splash. 

She had a life jacket, she had someone with her, but she was just not ok with her legs floating with no bottom to touch. It made me a little crazy at first, then I realized that I just had to let her do it when she felt ready. I would be there to support her, I would make sure she had a life jacket, but she had to decide to pick up her feet and move forward. 

Doing things that create cognitive dissonance in our lives require the choice of picking our feet up off of the ground. Sometimes it takes a little while. The tricky thing about learning to teach is that it isn’t possible to know everything you need to know ahead of time, it just isn’t. So you put on a life jacket (mentor teachers, field instructor, faculty, other teachers) you take a deep breath, and you pick your feet up off the ground. And it is so so so worth it because when you get out to the raft, there is a classroom of students. And it is exhilarating. It is HARD work, but you will never be sorry you picked up your feet. 

Swimming out to the raft

I had a coaching meeting today with a teaching intern. Learning to teach is incredibly complex and often a very bumpy journey. 

As we were talking, I came up with an analogy to help her manage the incredible amounts of cognitive dissonance she is experiencing right now. Remember the raft from my first blog post, we’re going to revisit it again. 

This time I described my eldest daughter – when she was much younger, she hated the feeling of not being able to touch the ground when she was in the water. She was fine, as long as she knew she could reach her toes down and feel the bottom. Otherwise – no thank you. She desperately wanted to go out to the raft. But to do so meant that she would have to be in water too deep to touch the bottom. But oh, to jump off that raft and make a glorious splash. 

She had a life jacket, she had someone with her, but she was just not ok with her legs floating with no bottom to touch. It made me a little crazy at first, then I realized that I just had to let her do it when she felt ready. I would be there to support her, I would make sure she had a life jacket, but she had to decide to pick up her feet and move forward. 

Doing things that create cognitive dissonance in our lives require the choice of picking our feet up off of the ground. Sometimes it takes a little while. The tricky thing about learning to teach is that it isn’t possible to know everything you need to know ahead of time, it just isn’t. So you put on a life jacket (mentor teachers, field instructor, faculty, other teachers) you take a deep breath, and you pick your feet up off the ground. And it is so so so worth it because when you get out to the raft, there is a classroom of students. And it is exhilarating. It is HARD work, but you will never be sorry you picked up your feet. 

Perspective 

This morning I was listening to NPR as I drove to work and I heard a story about the ways that parents & children engage with the current political conversations. Let me be very clear – this is not a post about my own political preferences. 

This is a post about children and adults and “appropriateness”. I put the term in quotes because it is often used as if everyone means the same thing, but this is not always the case. 

In the story that I heard this morning, the parent of a young boy (10 or 11 years old) was concerned about some of the language at the republican debate last week. Her son is avidly interested in politics and so they were watching the debate together. What she was concerned about, so much so that she said she will screen all future debates, was the references about the size of one candidates “hands”. Again, I’m not going to engage in who said what or what they meant or the size of anything. 

What I kept thinking about as I was driving down the road was the fact that this parent was so concerned about references to body parts, but didn’t say anything about the language used by the candidates. What I find much more problematic is  the language that candidates use consistently to diminish groups of people to uphold their privileges. Privilege based on race, socioeconomic status, position, gender, education, and more. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that some people find veiled references to male body parts more inappropriate than the namecalling and biased, sexist, and racist language being used by men claiming they want to lead our country. 

Learning to teach…

Learning to teach is hard.

It is complex and layered and about the teacher but also not about the teacher.

It is about being vulnerable in a world that discourages vulnerability.

It is about being vulnerable in a career where people who know nothing about your career are trying to quantify the unquantifiable.

Watching people learn to teach is incredible. Watching them choose to engage in the deepest part of themselves while engaging with everything that every student brings with them.

I have had some challenging moments this week. But I would not choose anything else.

Listening, not relating

In the children’s literature courses that I teach, I ask students to consider the concept of books as “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors”. I did not invent this analogy, that must be attributed to Rudine Sims-Bishop. I choose to use this as one framework for reading because it provides language for the students (and me) to talk about our responses to books.

Every time that I teach about children’s literature and reading, someone brings up the notion of “relating to a book.” For example:

  • I really couldn’t relate to this book, so I read it but it wasn’t interesting.
  • Because I couldn’t relate to the book I just wasn’t engaged.
  • Students need to be able to relate to everything they read.

This phenomenon of relating has been evident to me across institutions, undergraduate students, graduate students, experienced teachers, novice teachers, librarians, parents, formalized education contexts and informal. And no matter how often I hear it, it bothers me. It bothers me deeply. Sometimes I have to take deep breaths and count to 10 before I can respond.

Because here is the thing. If you think that the only way for you to engage with a book as a reader is for you to ‘relate’ to it, that is a huge problem. It is a huge problem because as humans, the world is not always about relating. We are NOT all the same. And giving yourself or your students permission to disengage because you can’t relate is irresponsible. It is irresponsible pedagogy and irresponsible human-ing.

I spent a good portion of my life thinking that part of my responsibility was making people comfortable. Not upsetting anyone by talking about things that might make them uncomfortable. I realize now, that is hugely problematic. Because that mentality asks 1)for me to anticipate everyone else’s comfort & discomfort (an impossible task) and 2) for me to place EVERY ONE else’s comfort and needs ahead of my own. I’m not ok with that. It took becoming the parent of two daughters for me to realize this, that and some really amazing people in my life.

Two things happened in the past 24 hours to shake me from my comfort. The comfort of creating this blog and then “belly-button gazing”. The first thing is that I have been listening to the audio book of Ta’Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. It is read by the author. I finished it today, and I will start it again tomorrow. I will write more posts about it but right now, I need to listen.  I need to listen closely. I will listen over and over again. I will especially listen to the parts that make me uncomfortable in my own white skin.

The 2nd thing that happened is not my story to tell, it is the story of two friends. Two friends parenting a young son in middle school. A young son who is thoughtful and kind and so so so aware of the injustices in his school that are being allowed. Injustices that are happening because administrators “don’t want to upset anyone”. Here is the problem, that isn’t possible. My two friends initiated a conversation with administrators. A conversation that is so so important for every single student in the school, not just their son. They are having a conversation, even though it is taking more energy than it should because they want to yell and have every right to yell. At one point in my life, I would have though, “they are so brave”. That is BS. They are not brave. They are human and kind and they are not willing to place the discomfort of some ahead of the expense of any one. And the discomfort – that comes from a place of privilege.

And so here I am on day 4 of my new blog, putting in print – words on a page – publicly sharing, saying to you that I have spent the first few days being a good middle-class, white woman. I was not saying anything that might upset anyone. I was sharing my inner thoughts and ponderings because others might be able to relate to them and find comfort. I will still do that I’m sure. Because I am, in fact, a middle-class white woman. Because connecting with other people is at the core of who I am as a teacher and person. But that cannot be all I am. That is not I all I want to do in the world.

I can also push myself to say what I am thinking and pondering as I listen to stories and experiences that are not my own. I can share how I have learned to listen, REALLY listen and engage with experiences that I don’t relate to, because that isn’t always important. What is important to me now, is listening to experiences and stories and ideas that are not the same as my own. With the goal of listening and learning, not just relating.