Working at Brown Summer High School was one of the most rewarding experiences of my educational career and those three and a half weeks have prepared me more than I ever thought possible. Having the support of my two team teachers as well as our personal mentor was incredible valuable as I knew that if and when I stumbled, they always had my back, as I had theirs. The thirty students and individuals we shared our summer with taught me more than they will ever know, and I hope that even if history is their least favorite subject, they still learned from the three of us and had fun in History 2B with their peers and the activities we had planned.
Roles and relationships was what I felt most comfortable with going into BSHS and placed a lot of emphasis on those first couple of days. Although I wanted to make the classroom a fun and safe space for my students, I also wanted to make sure that I held the class’ attention and respect. I believe that I improved on my classroom management in this respect and used different strategies, such as silence or clapping, to gain their attention as opposed to constantly repeating instructions. These were gained from both my teaching partners as well as my mentor. Goals for this standard are to reach out and build relationships with all students from day one, rather than just the out-spoken or outgoing ones. I believe that by the end of BSHS I had connected with all of my students, but it was not the case the first week or so with the quieter students. I also want to work more to incorporate students’ backgrounds and experiences into class to make the material more relatable to them. Whether this is through icebreaker activities like an autobiography introduction, or asking students relatable questions during discussions, it is a shame to not engage students in that way throughout a class.
As a teacher, it is also undoubtedly critical to always be learning from and with our students. It is impossible to know everything in history and all of us as learners have studied different topics and insights. To be honest with myself, I originally struggled with the idea of being corrected by a student, and it scared me to have a question posed that I did not have the answer to, but by the end of the summer, it became a way to engage with our students. If a student asked a question to which I did not know the answer, I would admit that I was unsure but that I would look it up. A goal is to challenge my students to do the research on some topics if it is to their interest so that I am not solely responsible for researching each specific question. Additionally, having our classroom as a safe space where all knowledge can be shared is extremely important to me, and I learned throughout this summer that the wide wealth of knowledge that each of us has individually is even more powerful and engaging when everyone has the chance to share it, not just the teacher. A goal of mine is to make sure that all of my students are comfortable doing this, whether it be through spoken or written communication, and that I am always learning new material and honest with my students of that holistic growth.
Lesson planning was one of the most time-consuming yet important pieces of our BSHS experience. Although we only had our students for 100 minutes each day, my team and I spent upwards to four hours each afternoon or evening holed up in the library or at one of our apartments planning the next day’s lesson as well as prepping for the future days. I thought that so much time together would prove overwhelming, but the three of us used the time not only to be productive, but to get to know each other and form that chemistry that our students so positively responded to. This standard is one that I had zero experience with, so I believe that I learned the most and also have the most left to grow. My goals that I have is to better my understanding of working with special learners with diverse needs. We had a couple students in particular who either had specific learning disabilities or were well behind grade level. It was difficult to find activities that would be comprehensible for these students but still challenge our most advanced students. I would like to improve my understanding of students’ needs and understandings and to make sure that my class and approachable for all. Additionally, being more directed and focused in lesson-planning will prove key to both my growth as well as sanity. I learned the downfall of over-researching to find that perfect image or perfect source. Planning a foundationally positive and holistic lesson is critical and although the details are vitally important, I need to move towards the whole-picture outlook to be more productive in my planning.
Classroom practice was the standard which as a team, we internalized all of the feedback we gained to better ourselves and the classroom environment. Every day, we strove to differentiate instruction with unique activities and varying work. The routine that we created was an entrance and exit ticket, ten-fifteen minute direct teacher presentation, a follow-up discussion, and then using the bulk of the time for an activity. Some of these activities included a carousel, framed images, workshop time, and simulations. The materials used were also varied, from images on the wall, PowerPoint projected onto the screen, discussions and notes on the chalkboard, and copies of documents. We also focused on mixing up engagement with the course, from full class discussions, to group work, to partner work, and to individual engagement. Goals for this standard are to use the resources of my peers to better my understanding of technology and make it more clear for students. I also want to find more videos and specifically songs which add to the material for auditory learners. I’d like to continue working on slowing down my voice and being clear with instruction as well, both of which I hope to gain organically through the student teaching process. Additionally, setting up practices and standards from day one is vital and a goal I have to better my students’ understanding and involvement. We learned the importance of setting an example from day one with our entrance and exit tickets, but being more organic and focused with how we establish these standards is something to grow on.
Assessing our students and the incredibly broad range of learning and comprehension they displayed proved important yet my team and I did not take full advantage of it until very late in the summer. The two formal assessments that we conducted were an essay assignment to respond to a prompt about the 1950s idealization of the American Dream, as well as a final summative assessment that offered our students the option of a visual, performative, or written project. I’d really like to increase informal assessment and to create a routine of reading students’ work and responding to it with feedback and advice. Because many of the students took their notebooks home or did not organize the assignments, which is something that we should have introduce to them from the start, we did not always challenge ourselves to read and respond to each of our students’ assignments, which limited the amount of growth they could have in our class. Other goals include checking comprehension of our students, both as a whole class with the checking strategies that Tom taught us, as well as through individual conversations with my students. Seeing the big picture in assessment is a technique I certainly need to work on as I unfortunately did not realize how important it is to plan for assessment ahead of time as the logistics of collecting and providing feedback on student work can prove overwhelming or impossible without clarity because of the challenge of thirty students with limited time.
In regards to professional knowledge and growth, I anticipate the opportunity to continue this throughout my career with feedback from both peers, students, and administrators. This summer I had the incredibly valuable chance to have a personal mentor whose sole responsibility was to observe and provide feedback to my team and I. Working with Tom completely spoiled me with feedback and I wish it was possible to always have the professional pair of eyes in the back of the room. Beyond the classroom in BSHS, some of the most important opportunities to learn were in the faculty meetings and talks with other teachers. For some of our struggling students, we reached out to their other teachers to see how they were handling their behavior or learning, and we also worked closely with our Principals, asking for their advice and support in certain situations. Goals of mine for this are lengthy, as professional development is something that I enjoy, perhaps in a nerdy way, and I cannot wait to have the chance to observe other teachers and attend workshops and conferences. I hope to work closely with my mentor teacher and to be more comfortable asking specific questions about what I did well or wrong, which is something that I did not do too often with Tom. With two team teachers, it was often what we did well together, but I hope to talk with my future mentor teacher about my individual skills and weaknesses. Lastly, having the time to engage more with the readings from classes and journals, and to organize them into a physical or digital toolkit to refer back to, is something that I look forward to doing and adding to throughout my career.
Lastly, yet certainly not least, engagement with subject matter was always what I imagined I would be spending the most time on while teaching. I imagined the history teacher always reading new history books and spending their time brushing up on details of content. I never realized how classroom management and planning engaging lessons and activities almost always comes first. These cannot exist though without the foundational content, and I was excited and passionate to always draw on my background with subject matter and the new material I learned from my peers and students. With subject matter, I will always have the goal to learn more, but I also need to remember that it is okay to tell my students that I am not as familiar with a specific topic and to encourage them to share their expertise as well. I also need to put myself more into the shoes of a high school student to create more logical transitions from one topic to another. Being a very contextual person, I sometimes overlook that not all of my students will understand how we went from the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression, or that the era of Civil Rights is not entirely pigeonholed in the 1960s. I hope to learn each year from the questions and inquiries of my students to better my lessons, and to never stop engaging with the material and changing things around.