Thursday, August 29, 2013

First Day Fears and Hopes

Another school year has begun, and this year, I'm teaching undergrad and graduate courses. But, it is still a new school year, and whether I'm teaching at a new school or just being introduced to a new group of students, I still have the first day jitters. And, I believe, if I ever lose this trait, it is time to hang up my teaching hat. I think the jitters are important to remind myself to constantly be learning about myself, my students, and my content and pedagogy.

Like the actor's nightmare (showing up on stage and not knowing what play is being performed) I think there are teachers' nightmares. On my first day with my new practicum students, I shared my first day jitters and my yearly nightmare of not knowing what classes I'm teaching or having students standing on desks and throwing paper airplanes at me. I hear some teachers have the nightmare of showing up naked to class, though I've never had that one. As my practicum students move into their first classroom experiences, I wanted them to know that anxiety of new experiences is okay, but it shouldn't be paralyzing. I found a great illustrated children's book that really exemplifies this point.

Mr. Ouchy's First Day by Barbara G. Hennessy is about a new fourth-grade teacher on his first day. Like many children, he prepares for the first day by buying new shoes, getting a haircut, has trouble sleeping thinking about the first day, and gets up early to make sure he is on time. At first, the children tease him about his unusual name, but as he begins to engage them in figuring out time, the children begin to discuss how a minute can be interpreted differently under various circumstances. And suddenly, it is recess time! The book then jumps to the end of the day and Mr. Ouchy and the children set goals for learning for the year. The children want to learn how to whistle, swing on a trapeze, train a cat, or make doughnuts. When Mr. Ouchy returns home, he is tired but anticipating the great learning for the year and begins to read up on the children's interests and dreams of his students accomplishing their goals.

After sharing the book, I asked my practicum students to write down a fear, a hope, a question, and something they hope to learn through the year on post it notes. On the white board, I drew a chart with each sectioned labels. As the students thought of something, they could post it, and other students could read various responses. The ideas ranged from very practical (What school will I be at?) to very broad (How do I engage children of all abilities and ages?). Many were concerned about managing a classroom and they wanted to be the best teacher possible. Others wrote about their fear of failure and wanting to be an inspiring teacher.

Although the hopes and fears don't change much from year to year – whether you are a student or a teacher, I think it is important to acknowledge that the first day of school is a day of both excitement and anxiety. Really, this is true for the first day of any new experience. During the roller-coaster of emotions, it is good to know that you are not alone and that these feelings are completely normal. I saw a poster once that said, “The only difference between fear and excitement is your attitude about it. - Unknown.” In the fear and excitement of the first day, I hope to encourage my students to focus on the excitement and let the engagement in lessons alleviate the fear.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Finding Beauty and Harmony in What is Simple, Imperfect and Natural

I was browsing for books to use with my undergrad class on multicultural education and happened on Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein and illustrated by Ed Young. I was immediately drawn into this unusual book that combines collage techniques, with a narrative story and haikus by Basho and Shiki. It is truly an amazing book that I re-read just for the delight of the language, thoughtfulness, and illustrations. In addition, the book reads in an unusual format – it opens up for top to bottom reading, rather than traditional left to right.

The main character is a cat names Wabi Sabi, who wants to know what her names means. However, no one, not even the cat's master, could explain the meaning of wabi sabi. So the cat began to ask all the creatures around her and each give her a different explanation – Snowball, the cat; Rascal, the dog; and a bird, who tells Wabi Sabi to seek out Kosho, the wise monkey. In her travels, Wabi Sabi encounters the bright lights of the city, the cool beauty of the forest, the warmth of friendship, the pleasure of not hurrying, and the joy of returning home. This all is wabi sabi.

Wabi sabi, according to the end pages, is an ancient Chinese philosophy that shaped Japanese culture to emphasize simplicity over extravagance. The format of the book wonderfully illustrates this philosophy.

Here is an interview with the author and illustrator -Wabi Sabi

There's a great educators guide at Hachette Book Group.

In the past, I've taught ancient civilization and used calligraphy painting and haiku techniques to help children understand these cultures. This would have been an amazing book to enhance these units. In addition, it helps me be mindful of the beauty that is inherent in the simplest of things – the dew on the grass, the redness of berries, and the foam on my coffee. All these things are beautiful in themselves.