I am at the last part of my Elementary Level Student Teaching Phase and to say that I have learned a lot is an understatement. My mentor teacher and I have developed a rhythm of co-teaching which has allowed me to take on almost all day in some cases. This past week was the last week to finish up every grade’s first in person project. Because half of the school switches off, it has taken a long time to finish up all projects because lessons have so many parts. In kindergarten, we have done shorter projects so I have seen how transitions are when it comes to preparation, quick turnarounds, and reflection. So far, first has finished their tissue paper pulp paper, second has finished their egg carton animals, third has almost finished their clay fishes (I have learned how slow firing can be), fourth has finished their Circuit Pyramids, and fifth has finished their Sweet Dessert sculptures.
Designing, preparing, and practicing new projects for each grade has been a little daunting and helps me understand the weight of “trying the project beforehand” because many things can no go as planned. My first experience was my new project for first grade. I am teaching them about Adinkra Cloths from Ghana. We read “The Talking Cloth” and talked about how we can visually talk through symbols, colors, and patterns. My intention was to focus on the book, discussion, and understanding of symbols on the first day. We created our own little Adinkra Symbol Book, which was a couple pieces of paper folded together. Students then got to draw their own symbols and what they wanted to communicate in their Adinkra Cloths. I quickly observed that it was above their head and I taught it while assuming they understood the idea of “values” and “positive messages”. After the first day, I felt frustrated and a little discouraged as my mentor and I worked through the challenges and came up with solutions. The next day, I added more of an emphasis on the art making process of Adinkra Cloths. I asked them, “how was this cloth made? How did they get these symbols on here?” This allowed me to talk about the process of stamping and the composition of Adinkra Cloths. I gave them a long sheet of paper, stamp markers, stamp dots, and markers. They gave the paper a composition of lines, then stamped. I went around the class asking what each stamp meant and each had different answers. They were finally getting it. Working on paper transitioned well into the final step, working, and stamping on real cloth.
Going through this learning process was tough but allowed me to sit in the struggle and ask the tough questions to myself. Where did I go wrong? What did I assume? What can be broken down? This was the biggest moment of my student teaching experience so far because it was the not-so-pretty side of teaching. My mentor teacher went on to share stories of moments like these in her past 30 years. She was helpful when it came to asking the right questions. I am working on my willingness to sit in my faults as a teacher but put in the effort to grow. At first, I wanted to quit the lesson because it wasn’t working and it was too difficult to understand. Then, after some time, I watched the project become very fun for the students.
This will affect my future teaching because of the flexibility and persistence I gained from this experience. Although I am passionate about teaching growth mindset, sometimes, I do not practice what I preach. This allowed me to stretch myself, challenge my fix mindset, and grow closer to becoming a successful teacher.
In the past two weeks, I have been focusing on mindfulness beyond the classroom. On my own time, I have been drawing from observation exactly where I am sitting. This has helped me to slow down when I do have the opportunity to rest.
As I finish up my first two weeks of in person teaching, I feel tired, but motivated. I feel tired and so do all the teachers beside me. COVID-19 has changed the classroom layout completely and caused management, structure, and routine to change. Before the students came back, my mentor teacher and I had to prepare the classroom. We had to create plexiglass barriers for each table while adding an additional table to the layout. I had to learn how to adapt quickly because schedules, policies, and times changed constantly. We began the week with new projects, starting with fourth grade, STEAM Circuit Pyramids. We introduced optical illusions and knew that two dimensional projects would make transitions easier. I have learned that three dimensional projects are very difficult in the circumstances Poudre School District has unless the teacher has additional hands like a student teacher. For fifth grade, we are creating our own desserts/candies through Crayola’s Model Magic Clay, Kindergarten created clay pinch pots, First grade made their own paper with tissue paper pulp, Second grade designed their own animals with egg carton heads, and finally, third grade created their own clay fish.
The past two weeks have been nothing but chaos for many reasons. To begin, this is my first time managing all classes while being exposed to the entire school. I must wear an N95 mask, another mask, and then a face shield. As I wear all the protection, I have to speak in a teacher voice volume while walking around the room in a constant fast pace. By the end of the day, I am drained, out of breath, and physically exhausted from the constant sanitizing. It was hard for me to focus on the relationships I was beginning to build because I was nervous about teaching fully in person and the amount of new management, I had to develop for COVID-19. These events have caused me to recognize and refresh why I am teaching in the first place. My motivation, drive and passion is simple: I want to help students learn physical, mental, and social skills that will help them move forward in their lives. Even though I am going through tough situations and circumstances, I still would not walk away from this career. Art is so important, and it has been brought to the light ever since COVID-19. The moment the learning goal clicks in a student’s head, when students have collaborative discussion, or give you a piece of their art to keep, I am reminded why I love what I do.
I am constantly receiving feedback from my mentor teacher and the results from my previous lessons. I think that I am continuing my success in that area because I am not closing in perspectives and am listening when someone has additional advice to give. Something that I would like to continue working on is my instruction. I have noticed that I am still designing lessons that fit my needs, not my students. I understand that the lessons sound interesting and fun to me, but I need to put myself in the student’s shoes. I need to work on recognizing the students body language to see what students need clarification and guidance.
As an individual, I am learning that I am teaching in a very intense environment. I get to attend a Poudre School District Art Teacher Chat every week where teachers can process, seek advice, and have a sense of community. Teachers always state that it feels like their first year of teaching because it is so stressful. They have also told me that if I am adaptive and working hard, I will get through anything. It is very helpful and affirming to hear that from teachers who have been in this field for years. Routine and structure has been a huge benefit to this chaotic time and I am thankful I get to focus on teaching, designing engaging lessons, and developing relationships with students. For my future teaching, I am collecting a box full of tools to have at any moment. For every tricky situation with instruction, behavior, conflict, and unexpected event, I will know what to do.
For the past couple of weeks, I have been focusing on mindfulness and the importance for Art Educators to practice art. To center myself, calm down, and meditate, I weave. For this post, I would like to share the weaving I did throughout the past couple of weeks after school.