I am so excited to share my first experiences as a teacher in a classroom setting with you all. From a very young age I’ve always known one thing about myself to be true. I am an extremely passionate person. When I love something I am not shy about it. Two things I am passionate about are the Performing Arts and Education. Therefore, being a double major in Musical Theatre and Performing Arts Education is nothing short of the perfect fit. I am a sophomore completing my Community Service Learning Project (CSLP) in conjunction with my Reading, Writing, and Literature Across Curriculums class at Horace Mann Elementary School in Washington, D.C. I am serving as the Teaching Assistant in the Performing Arts classes, and Assistant Director and Choreographer of their spring musical. I work at Horace Mann two to three days a week for about six hours each week. I am truly enjoying my time at my service site. I am finding new connections to both of my majors each day, while also learning about social issues that can affect classroom climate.
Horace Mann Elementary School’s Mission Statement states, “Horace Mann Elementary School is a lively place of learning where curiosity and connection are celebrated. With our diverse, multi-national population, we are both a global and close community of learners. We embrace academic choice and responsive teaching. Our recently renovated and expanded campus, which features a rooftop farm, arts classrooms, and an expansive outside playscape, invites us to learn within and beyond our school walls. Serious about our students’ academic growth, we also believe that a school community must be a place of joy and celebration.” I find this mission statement to be completely accurate to the work I am seeing from the teachers and the students at the school. Student choice is evident in multiple forms, evoking the celebrating of curiosity described above. Diversity is a value I cherish dearly and to see it in action is something very special. Additionally, the musical is specifically focused on the Women’s Suffrage Movement, in which the students are learning the importance of standing up for what you believe in and self-advocacy.
Going into my site for the first time was a day filled with mixed emotions. My first reaction was nerves. I began to feel those butterflies in my stomach, as I do before I perform for an audience. And that’s when it clicked for me. There is such a strong intersectionality between my two fields. Teaching is essentially performing for your students each day. You show them your feelings, your thoughts, your needs, and your wants, just as an actor does onstage. With this in mind, my nerves began to ease up. In addition, my mentor teacher was nothing but welcoming and thankful to have me there. I slowly began to feel more comfortable. The students walked in eager to learn and excited to see a new face in the room. I was impressed with the focus and respect they displayed towards my mentor teacher. Her kindness and approachability created a feeling of comfort throughout the room. I loved watching her interactions with the students, and their eagerness to work on the musical they will performing in May. I was expecting to complete many organizational tasks and serve purely as an assistant. However, my mentor teacher immediately began to delegate important tasks to me. I am working side by side with her and really getting hands on experience as a performing arts educator.
The amount of connections I have been able to find between my work at Horace Mann, my Reading and Writing class, and my acting experience is outstanding. Something that we are really focusing on in Reading and Writing is the importance of the talk move, wait time. Allowing students ample time after asking a question to process and think of a response is essential. A common mistake for new teachers is to immediately call on the first person that raises their hand. Teachers often do this because they want the reassurance that someone is understanding the lesson. However, by employing wait time you give more students the opportunity to process and in return will have more participants to choose from. While it may sound like a basic concept, it is a lot harder than one might think. I borrowed the strategy of my Reading and Writing teacher in which she sings “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in her head after asking a question before calling on someone. I’m not going to lie, it is a little awkward. But, I immediately saw the benefits of this strategy. If I had not used wait time I would only have a few students to choose from to call on. Instead, I had many. It was such a confidence booster. The students were actually thinking about the concepts I was teaching them and had thoughts they wanted to share with the class. What a feeling.
Also, oral language strategies such as Turn and Talk have been a staple in the performing arts classes. As I am learning in my Reading and Writing class, getting students to vocalize their own thoughts, and listen to the thoughts of others, is essential to language development. I have been given the opportunity to teach a few mini lessons at my site school. I have done my best to structure them as actual lesson plans in which I present information with examples of application, allow students to ask question, give them a chance to get on their feet and apply the concepts, and check for understanding before moving on. I have loved seeing how music can change a students’ behavior. Some students who really struggle with focus will all of the sudden become model students when music becomes part of the equation. Recognizing how students learn is essential to differentiation.
I think the biggest take away I am getting from my time at Horace Mann is the importance of classroom climate, a topic we have discussed in great depth in Reading and Writing. Without a strong and well-developed classroom climate, meaningful learning and student happiness is out of the question. When my mentor teacher assigned the roles for the musical, many students were disappointed with the size of their roles. What was truly amazing was seeing how my mentor teacher into damage control mode at the drop of the hat. She was very attuned to the emotions and feelings of the students, even the ones that were not vocalizing their disappointment. This is a result of truly knowing her students, a concept we have been discussing a lot in my Psychology of Education and Reading and Writing class. Knowing your students is essential in creating a positive classroom climate. The way she explained to each student their importance to the show was heart-warming, and seeing smiles come back onto their faces was comforting.
I am so thankful for my time at Horace Mann and for CSLP’s support and guidance through the process.