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November 11, 2009

The Learning Studio

Painting When I walk into a classroom these days I feel like I am walking into a dance studio.  I am the only one who isn't moving, learning, expressing, struggling or stretching and as a result, find myself sticking out like a sore thumb. For one, my clothes are too clean. And generally, a clipboard and pen now accompany me. I stand by the door observing, trying not to reflect on how much I'm interrupting by simply doing nothing.

I am enjoying my new job as a Child Development Specialist for Head Start, and some days I feel like I am really making a difference. Like last week, I was able to show a novice teacher how to negotiate the power struggle with a boy who kept pushing. I told her, "He wants to be told no. He wants you to love him by saying no. He wants to know that you won't let him float away." A little modeling on how to connect, some reflection, some follow-up the next day and she was teaching again with a new friend.

I get the feeling that teachers want me to see perfection when I enter their classroom. But there's no such thing as a perfect pre-k class. When I was teaching everyday, my classroom felt a lot like a studio. What happened there was imperfect, unfinished, and always a work in progress. I worked with an instructional assistant so I always had a "partner" to bounce ideas off of, to make sure I wasn't too far off the mark. Now I am by myself when I am "working."

I walk into other teacher's studios. I know they can't be sure how to interact with me. I am a supervisor and I am also too familiar with the imperfections of the classroom. Working in a preschool classroom is one of the most primal experiences you can have in education. I am talking body fluid primal. I am talking pure joy, pure rage, pure uncertainty, cultures clashing, towers smashing, tricycles crashing.
 

The children shed crocodile tears, Daddy arrested tears, and give me back my doll tears all in a couple minutes. Who am I to judge this chaos but, it's my job.

I could always tell how comfortable a visitor was with this primal experience by how far they came into my classroom. Another pre-k teacher might make it all the way back to the dramatic play area. Most, especially principals and school board members, never made it past the line-up line. The energy, chaos, joy, and terror, stopped them like a moat of tears. It was shallow, but who would want to get their feet wet in "real" teaching when they could just as easily not muddy the waters of their ideals with the human drama and primal experience of real pre-k kids.
 
I am trying to negotiate this role of supervisor. I wear the micro-politics of my role as a supervisor like a sports coat that is too small. I can see how tight it is, how it doesn't quite fit, and I wonder, does the teacher I am talking to think it doesn't fit either?


image: http://www.buzzle.com/img/articleImages/294252-3328-5.jpg

Comments

This really is a wonderful post.

I worry that some pre-K programs are too regimented and not passionate enough.

Hi! I enjoyed reading this post. Pre-K and kindergarten programs are different than elementary. You are always moving to keep their attention and trying to make learning fun. When you get "dirty" and play, dance, sing, etc.. with your students you are creating a relationship with them that hopefully builds a trust. This is a way to communicate and really learn who the child is. I teach kindergarten and have also had those vistors that do not want to come in all the way and do not know how to get on the students level of learning and just play.

I really enjoyed reading this post because I can relate to much of what you said. I teach four and five year olds. This is also my first year teaching. Every day is a new adventure because I never know how the day is going to go. Some days might go great with no major issues. Other days might be the complete opposite. I feel like I need to keep the students moving and not stay on the same subject for very long or I am going to lose their attention. I can relate to the novice teacher who has power struggle. I am a student in my class is always testing his limits with me. He wants to see how much he can get by with before he gets in trouble. I have learned a lot this year just from that student. I have learned that he wants to get into trouble because he wants his mom to come pick him up so he can go home. I have learned how important patience is especially in these situations. My classroom is far from perfect and I have learned that a preschool classroom is never going to be perfect.

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