Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Quintessence of Teaching

Posted by Lara at 5:00 PM
[Note: While I think this is an interesting post, it's not really designed for maximum amusement. I promise you all a more entertaining post tomorrow. I've been struggling with the decision of how serious / funny to make my posts, given that I have lots to share that fall into each category. I'll probably lean more towards the amusing, but once in a while, something serious will be important enough to me that I won't be able to avoid posting about it.]

"The Quintessence of Teaching" was the name of our first activity of the morning. One of the instructors in my program, in charge of the Science cohort, told us to close our eyes and imagine we were in an art museum. And she said, "Imagine you come across a painting called, 'The Quintessence of Waitering.' What would it look like? Form a picture of that painting in your mind." (Mine, purely on a first instinct, was of a man in a tuxedo, holding a tray covered with a silver dome, leaning over a table and speaking to a seated male customer.) Then she went around and asked for some volunteers to describe their ideas of the painting. Through this, we got a sense of what people thought of as central concepts of 'waitering' - some were similar throughout (for example, almost everyone included both a waiter and a customer in their paintings), and others were very different (one girl said she thought of waitering as being invisible until you're needed, so in her painting the waiter was almost concealed in the background, as opposed to many others that had him in the foreground). Next, the instructor asked us to picture a new painting, this time called "The Quintessence of Doctoring." (Mine this time was a doctor in a white coat, crouched on the ground beside a little boy on a chair; the boy's knee is scraped and the doctor is holding a bandage, ready to place it on the knee; the doctor and child are both laughing happily, showing that the doctor has made the child feel happy and at ease in spite of the pain.) Again, people volunteered to share their versions, and again, some themes ran common throughout people's paintings (for example, almost all the doctors were male Caucasians - so much for not stereotyping - and wearing white coats, and almost everyone had both the doctor and a patient) while others were unique to individuals (the one who saw a soldier in fatigues amputating the leg of another soldier, for example, where neither soldier was particularly cued as being a 'doctor' at all). So, finally, we got to the real question: how would we depict "The Quintessence of Teaching"? Immediately, an image came to my mind, and it actually surprised me that it was the first thing of which I thought, but I'll get to that in a moment.

The task: We were given a sheet of paper on which we had to draw "The Quintessence of Teaching." We had only about 12 minutes in which to do this. When that time was up, we had to switch drawings with another member of our table and examine their drawing. After about two minutes of examining our partner's paper, we were supposed to tell our partner what we saw in their picture - what we gathered as the core principles of teaching based on what they drew. Here was the hard part: We were not allowed to correct,
interpret, or in any way clarify what we had tried to draw. We could only listen to our partner's interpretation, and give our own interpretation of his or her drawing. We exchanged once more, with a new partner, and repeated the exercise. Then, finally, we were allowed to share with our whole table what we had tried to express in our drawing. I think at this point, it's time to show you what I drew, then I'll tell you what my partners thought, then I'll tell you why I drew what I drew. So, my drawing was:


(Let's all keep in mind that I am NOT an artist, nor have I ever claimed to be, so don't go complaining about my drawing skills or lack thereof.) Look familiar? If not, look here and you'll see what I'm talking about. So, both people who looked at my drawing immediately keyed into the body language in the drawing. For example, the fact that the "teacher" had come down to the little boy's level, to see from his perspective; also, that she is looking in the direction he's pointing; and finally, that her arm is hovering around him, ready to catch him if needed, but not oppressing him in any way. Both also said they thought it was showing the curiosity of children when they want to learn something, the way he's pointing at something in the distance.

I wasn't kidding earlier when I said this was the first thing that popped into my head when I thought of "The Quintessence of Teaching," which is funny, because while I knew at the time I took the photo that I was trying to capture almost this exact pose, I hadn't considered why I thought it was so great. I just knew that there was something very touching about the way Lady M and Bubbers looked as he pointed things out to her and she talked to him about whatever he was seeing. I realized, when I saw it in my head as relating to teaching, that it represents what I love most about teaching, and what I loved about nannying, and what I'll probably love about being a mom - sharing knowledge with another person. There's just something really amazing about the interaction that occurs when you share what you know with someone else who's curious to learn, and that's what I most wanted to show in my drawing: a child, eager to know about the world in which he lives, and a teacher (in this case, a mother), helping him learn. What most surprised me was that I hadn't even thought about the body language until my partners pointed it out to me, but once I noticed it, I realized that I do believe those ideas are crucial to good teaching. I can't be an effective teacher without bringing myself down (or maybe even up) to the levels of my students and seeing things from their perspectives. I need to be willing to see what they're trying to show me, whether they need help or encouragement or praise. And I need to constantly have my arm ready to support them or shield them if they stumble - but not so much that I'm smothering them or preventing them from finding their own paths.

I'm eager to see how successfully I'll be able to implement these ideals and principles in my teaching as the year goes on. I'm excited about the prospects of improving myself as a teacher by analyzing my standing opinions, and I hope to remain open to learning new ideas that might conflict with my own. Whatever it takes to be the best I can be, I'm willing to do it. I love being back at school. :)

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