Submitted by Angela Chan on June 14, 2012
The last week of school is often dominated by the frenetic busy-ness of finalizing report card grades, packing up the classroom, and reorganizing for next year’s new classes. Just as important, though, is finding the time to reflect on the successes and shortcomings of the past year and to use these insights as an opportunity to grow as teachers. In doing so, we will be able to more effectively plan for our students’ continued learning as they grow with us.
For me personally, reflection is also an opportunity to re-evaluate my hopes for students and my beliefs as a teacher, to look closely at my own approaches and to build on my learning to ensure my own seamless professional growth from year to year.
I believe that the classroom is a communal space that nurtures the holistic growth of children. School experiences are as much about the forming of character and development of citizenship as they are about developing skills in literacy and math. I have always envisioned a classroom in which my students love to read and write, and where their collective development as readers and writers becomes a community-building process. Every year, I see the spark of curiosity in my students and I strive to impart an eagerness to learn that I hope will last my students their lifetimes.
As I reflect on our teaching and learning journey of this past year, I am proud to say that I have had an exceptional year with my students. It has been a challenge to work both within and beyond the boundaries of the mandated curriculum and standardized testing. However, with the help of a few community resources, my classroom has become more aligned with my vision of teaching than in previous years.
Here are highlights of some of the experiences my students found valuable:
- During a trip to Bartram’s Garden in the fall, students explored natural animal habitats, learned about predator and prey relationships, and dissected an owl pellet in a workshop.
- Thanks to professional development sponsored by the Franklin Institute, my class was able to raise silkworms over the course of eight weeks. Both of these projects connected reading and writing to a field experience or a scientific investigation that allowed them to wonder and marvel about the amazing things around them. In a time of high-pressured standardized testing, my students learned reading strategies using informational texts that also prepared them for an exciting project. They then used these experiences to eagerly generate and publish their own informational writing. Connecting reading and writing to an authentic learning experience gives the powerful message that literacy is a tool for discovery.
- Trips to the Free Library, our local Whitman Branch, have played a crucial role in helping my students form their identity as readers.
- Besides being a time to strengthen comprehension strategies, the sharing of stories during read-alouds has become a bonding experience and a time to have interesting conversations about themes we are studying. Many students in my class have developed a positive relationship with books and with reading. Our frequent library trips has given them access to countless books that will help them continue to grow their ideas.
- The Blacktop.org, run by University of Pennsylvania students at the Kelly Writers House is an online literary magazine for Philadelphia students. Publishing their work online has encouraged many of my students to value writing as a work of art as well as a means of self-expression. Students learn to examine their thoughts closely as they express themselves through their writing. They learn that they indeed have something important to say and that there is a way for them to share their ideas with the wider world. Every year, the Blacktop invites student writers to the Kelly Writers House to celebrate their writing. A group of my students bravely shared their writing among a community of high school student writers.
As we near the end of the school year, reflection helps me to look back with pride, but it also makes clear the countless areas where I could have done better for my students. Even after a year of purposefully crafted learning experiences, my students’ needs are many. Their needs become a mirror of my own areas of shortcomings as a teacher, and the positive direction we have created this year serves as a building block for me to find ways to continue to develop myself professionally.
At the same time that I am moved by the positive experiences of this year, I am also more daunted than ever before. We are teaching at a time of bare-bones budgets for public schools, a time in which even our Chief Academic Officer admits we lack sufficient funding to provide a quality education for our children. Will individual and collective efforts of teachers, staff and schools offset the very real consequences of these undemocratic and unjust draconian cuts?
I believe that there is something sacred in the democratic ideal of public education, that we open our doors to all children who come to us to seek an education. Furthermore, one of the things that have sustained me as a teacher is a sense of hope that my classroom is a place where everything is possible and that there are no limits on how we can help students to achieve. The hope that my professional growth can help children develop to their fullest potential and the fact that our schools exclude no one, make teaching in a public school in Philadelphia the only thing I truly want to do. No matter what the financial reality of our schools, I choose to remain hopeful and build on the journey that my students and I have walked together this year.