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- [Interview with Dr. Christopher Emdin Author of "For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood" - March 28, 2016
Last week I had the humbling experience of comforting a teacher after a bad evaluation from an administrator. As the teacher cried and “defended” their actions in class, it reminded me just how personal teaching really is for educators. Many times after (and before) any evaluation teachers young and old are anxious about their performance. They want to know if their activity is engaging enough or what they can do to further engage disruptive students. Usually once they have time to view their feedback they’re either very happy about their observation….or devastated. So when this particular teacher came to me and discussed all the things that went “wrong” with her lesson, I just listened. At the end of our talk her only question to me was how she could fix the issues so that she would not receive any more “bad” evaluations.
My first inclination was to give this new teacher a laundry list of possibilities, but we were pressed for time (it was her planning period) and I needed to give her real solutions that she could implement fast and with fidelity. Before I could stop myself, I said fourteen words that I couldn’t take back.
“Instead of me telling you, let me teach the next section of your class.”
As soon as I uttered those words out of my mouth, I knew there was no turning back. The teacher looked at me with surprise and said, “okay my next class starts in 45 minutes.” Since I already viewed their lesson plans I knew that the students were starting to reading the classic, Night, by Elie Wiesel so I quickly reached into my teacher toolbox and decided to do stations with the kids to teach them about the Holocaust without me getting up and lecturing them. Quickly I gathered five activities (side note: I taught Literature for over ten years so at times my resources are endless.) and began to copying the necessary materials. With 1o minutes to spare, I quickly went to the teacher’s room (I had let her go after she had agreed to let me teach the class) and gave her two very simple directions.
1. She was to sit in the back of the class and just listen then take notes on what she observed during the class.
2. Use my iPad to record the lesson for us to look at at a later time.
As the bell rang, I quickly walked to the front of the class and I was back in my teaching shoes that I only left 5 months ago. The class I was teaching was one that many of us veteran teachers know so well. The students were accustomed to coming to class without any supplies, many are disrespectful and the had no discipline in learning. As soon as they entered the room, I gave each student a number (written on a sticky note) and any student who obviously did not have any supplies, was asked to go to their locker and find some.
As soon as the bell rang, I shut the door and asked students to look at the famous photo of Wiesel in the Concentration Camp and make some observations about the photo. I gave students ten minutes to write down their observations and while they wrote I walked around the room and monitored students as they worked. It would be lovely if I told you they all were on task, but some were not. So during that ten minutes I had to sit very quietly beside certain students and have those 1:1 conversations that all teachers know you have to have to get some students focused. There was one student who refused to do any work and attempted to get the other students off task. I quickly had to usher him in the hallway and give him a “verbal lashing” for him to understand his disruptions were not going to happen on my watch.
As students finished, we transitioned into a conversation about what students observed in the picture and the more observations they had, naturally the more questions they had about the Holocaust. After our conversation I then got into a little bit of direct instruction into what was the Jewish Holocaust. One students were hooked on this horrible atrocity that happened in the 20th century, I used their numbers to transition into the stations with their numbers and gave them explicit directions on how to finish each activity. As they worked, I worked the room and answered questions, redirected students and explained any misconceptions.
At the end of the lesson and once the students left, the teacher and I sat and discussed what she saw and any implications it would have for her. Surprisingly she had a lot of questions and I happily sat with her (after school) to answer any questions she had. Instead of her questions being hypothetical they were real to what I did in class and how she could replicate it in the future. By the time we finished, the teacher had tools she could use to not only get a better rating on her evaluation, but to make her classes better.
At the end of the day this is the type of coaching that’s the most effective. When new or beginning teachers can see veteran teachers in action and ask questions, implement new practices and then repeat. During that day back in the classroom, I had a rush that one can only get from the classroom and it felt good to just teach.