An Uncommon Path: My Life as a Teacher

Here is a taste of some of the unconventional schooling and training that opened my eyes to the possibilities of teaching and allowed me to teach the way I do.

Psychology – I loved Child Psychology specifically. I spent time, beginning in my first year of college, working side-by-side in collaboration with two other psychology students. We researched the violence and gender roles in cartoons and it’s potential impact on children. I was hooked from that moment on to learning what is underneath the surface and how that impacts who we are and what we can become.

Drama – I greatly benefitted from Roy Hart’s voice training and improvisation at Lesley University where I received my M.Ed. with a specialization in Theater Studies. This program trained me to observe myself and those around me. I learned to be able to react or interact in the moment. I was introduced to the idea that the voice is a reflection of the soul and to stay open to the possible sounds one can make with their voice.

I was also trained to be present and not judge the creativity coming out of me. It was very focused work. I spent my days and nights learning about all types of ways I could create with my voice, my body and being “in the moment” while staying open to “what is possible.” I worked very hard but I loved stretching myself to see what I could create.

Two of my professors, Mark Rittenberg and Penelope Kreitzer, provided me the opportunity to study one summer in the South of France at the Roy Hart Theater. There, I furthered my practice of being truly present in each moment rather than getting stuck in reaction, which led to tons of self-discovery and is the basis of how I teach and coach Unique Learners today.

Acceptance – I also participated in workshops for White and Black South African teachers. This was during apartheid and the training was meant to break down the barriers of hate and prejudice and focus instead on social justice and collaboration. I witnessed such passion for teachers. I learned the struggle and extreme emotions that come with prejudice but I watched as anger and hate melted away and these two groups of teachers saw each other as connected – as  human beings sharing much more in common than they had ever imagined. Their humanity connected them and their passion to teach. These amazing teachers modeled for me what it is to teach: to commit to inspiring others and changing lives for the better.

Drama Teacher – My first teaching job focused on improvisation, creativity and performing with kids. I wrote plays with the students and they performed them in an after school program. I loved their ability to play and become so free when they didn’t have to follow the rules of their usual schooling (sitting at desks, raising their hands, always pressured to get the answer right.) The students were always completely focused, wanting to be there, excited and full of curiosity and creativity. And they had FUN!!!

Learning Differences – In Graduate School, for my Special Education Master’s degree, I learned how to support different learning styles. I was also shown how to manage classroom behavior using reward charts and lesson plans for success in the classroom (methods I would later replace with more effective tools of my own invention). I learned how to teach to children with a whole variety of learning differences, which, at the time, I called learning disabilities.

Language Clarity – During my student teaching days, I landed with a supervising teacher who was another great role model. John Russo in Newtown, CT, used the work of Stephen Covey and William Glasser in his sixth grade special education inclusion programs. It was inspirational to watch him interacting with the students and even guiding his students and teachers to create their own personal and school mission statements click to investigate.

One day Piscine he caught me calling a student ‘rude’ who was acting out in class. John pulled me aside and asked me a question – “How does that boy know what you are asking him to change?  What can he do with the word ‘rude’?” John proceeded to show me that comments like “you are being rude” and “don’t do that because I said so” don’t teach anything.  We need to be very clear about what a student is doing or saying, how it affects him/her and the people around him/her and model other possibilities and choices for how to handle themselves and situations. This was a turning point for me.

Improvising – My first Head Teaching position was at Eagle Hill School, a well-known East coast school for bright children who have learning differences. The program was designed to provide remediation, tools and strategies for these students, many of whom had suffered greatly in their previous school experiences, and lacked confidence and self-esteem as a result. These students had developed ways of protecting themselves from negativity they experienced – the names they were called and how they were treated by their peers and sometimes teachers or other school professionals.

The school program was designed to have students stay for 2-3 years and then return to their more traditional learning environments. I entered this position just 8 months out of grad school – ready with all that I had learned about how to keep the classroom and lessons organized, how to write and follow a lesson plan effectively. Also, I came with my behavior charts ready to extinguish any unwanted behavior and I came with all my other unique learning and life experiences.

During my first year teaching, I learned quickly that, for me, reward charts were not effective.They seemed to motivate the students externally to follow certain rules but they were not really learning. The entire form seemed artificial to me and not in alignment with what I was there to teach and how. Behavior charts and reward systems were quickly set aside and, in their place, drama improvisation became my structure for inspiration.

I developed, in more detail, a form (more on that later) for how to have the class listen to instructions and stay focused while in session. Together, we began to build an environment based on respect, acceptance and collaboration. The students Wie became more focused, motivated and began to want to learn and participate.

I witnessed kids who mumbled and never participated come to life and begin to read and engage in class.  And I watched these kids laugh, have fun, share ideas and teach each other with respect and empowerment over time. I watched them internalize what they were learning. They became more confident before my very eyes. When I left Eagle Hill, I turned this invaluable experience into a new way of coaching kids privately, which ultimately became how I work with Unique Learners.

I feel honored to pass these ways on to your Unique Learners through Be Brilliant U. Please let me know how I can be of service.

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