I started observing at a high school last week! I observed for 3 hours, but normally it'll only be two. I really like the teacher I'm observing. Mrs. Smith teaches two blocks of a special eleventh grade history class. Students are in this class for a variety for reasons. Some are considered to be slower mentally; some have emotional problems that prevent them from learning in the regular class; some are considered to be “high risk” and are placed in this class so they can be give special attention. Instead of regular lecturing, these students must complete worksheet packets and tests up to a certain chapter of a textbook. Mrs. Smith called this class “individualized study.” I sat in on both blocks and observed many instances where Mrs. Smith exhibited positive traits. One situation, however, stood out to me as something that exemplified her teaching philosophy.
As the 50-minute class block coming to an end, one girl (“Tina”) finished her packet and began trying to convince the boy in front of her and the girl sitting behind her do The Wave, which they did. “Tina” asked Mrs. Smith if she would “sponsor an activity,” for the whole class could do The Wave. Mrs. Smith laughed and agreed to it for the “last 30 seconds.” While only half the 12-person class participated, the girls who initiated it seemed to enjoy it. I though it was a wonderful thing for Mrs. Smith to agree to and hope that I would allow such creativeness in my future classrooms.
This situation seemed small, but in the context of the whole day I felt that it was rather significant. First, the earlier individualized study class had been larger and louder, and after it ended Mrs. Smith told me that she could have made them settle down but she understood that there were several distractions that day and decided to let some of it go. She told me, “Every time you crack the whip, you lose a little of your relationship.” You have to pick your battles, especially when dealing with such an emotionally precarious class. Mrs. Smith works very hard to maintain the balance of having a trusting relationship with the students and keeping them under control and on task. With this situation, she was rewarding Tina for working so diligently, but there was another reason. She told me that Tina had been in one of her classes last year and had been absolutely lifeless. This year, however, Tina has become more energetic and helpful. Mrs. Smith said it is good to see her smiling, doing work, and being creative. The true outcome of something as trivial as allowing one student to lead her classmates in doing The Wave was to encourage and reward a relationship. I think that it is also significant that Mrs. Smith asked to teach these individualized classed. I believe that this in itself says a lot about her teaching philosophy. She saw a need in the school (addressing the failing and dropping out students) and took initiative to find a solution: individualized study classes. I think that I am going to learn a lot from observing Mrs. Smith this semester.