This year’s cohort of Teacher Education Program Resident Teachers experienced changes in our national society, the likes of which have not been seen in our lifetimes. Through it all, they remained dedicated to learning alongside and from the young children in their classes.
Rachel Lurie, Resident Teacher, 2019-2020, submitted the following paper as the Culminating Assessment of her year enrolled in the Teacher Education Program. She spoke to her growth, her challenges, and her hopes for the future.
I grew up in an unstable home where children did not have a voice. As we grew into adults we were expected to be stable and communicative. This translation was not possible. What we learn in childhood translates to who we are as adults.
I became a teacher six years ago to empower children, yet less than a year ago I truly began to understand what it means to hold a strong image of the child. Children are innovative, brilliant, powerful, and empathetic. Throughout this past year working at Boulder Journey School as well as learning alongside and from some of the most beautiful minds in the Early Childhood Education world I find myself becoming less of a teacher and more of an advocator and lifelong learner. The word “teacher” has taken on a new meaning for me.
This experience has opened my mind to the importance of families and communities and how to partner with them. I have learned of my own biases and how to acknowledge and work to diminish them. I learned to celebrate diversity and many different cultures for they are the fabrics that weave together to make our school whole. And, most importantly, I have learned about the young learners in all of their magnificence – how to honor their voices, how to learn alongside them in their wonder, how to advocate for their rights, how to document their curiosities. The child is powerful beyond all measure.
During this time I have grown not only as a teacher, but as a person. One extremely noticeable change is in my leadership abilities. Visionary leadership is defined through the Boulder Journey School Professional Qualities as, “your capacity for being a leader in your professional context who inspires others. You will possess a vision for the present and for the future and understand how your daily actions and interactions with children and adults does or does not model elements of your vision. You will view yourself as a leader who wants to co-create other leaders.”
To speak to this growth I first need to establish what my baseline was prior to the Teacher Education Program. My undergraduate degree was in psychology. I did not have formal training in education and thus possessed a sense of imposter syndrome. I would never have considered myself a leader, I barely considered myself a teacher.
During the Fall semester we began our learning adventure creating a solid foundation that we built upon during the Spring semester. However, halfway through the Spring semester we were plagued with COVID-19. When the pandemic swept the world the families of our classroom turned to us with questions – What do they do? How do they teach their children? How can they continue learning at home?
In that moment we became much more than teachers, we became confidants. We were the experts for the families and the friendly faces for our students.We quickly became the leaders in this unprecedented time. We were the stability in all of the chaos. We had daily Zoom meetings every morning which our students along with their siblings and parents would attend. Parents would email us asking us specific behavioral questions, how to spark imagination and creativity in their child, how to extend the learning to home. School buildings may have been closed, but it did not end education. Their home was also functioning as a school.
To me this encompassed the foundation that Reggio Emilia schools were built on – parents and teachers working alongside each other to give students an authentic education. We, as teachers, set the pace and the families followed our lead, but it was a dialogue to make sure both the needs of the teachers and the needs of the families were being met. Because we opened up and communicated more it allowed the parents to do the same. In the book, Possible Schools: The Reggio Approach to Urban Education the author speaks to the same effect, “When . . . asked about families . . . families surprised us every day with things they would never have done before . . . She explained that our increased communication with families showed them we respected them and their children. And they were proud, not only of their children but of the school” (Lewin-Benham, 2006, p. 145).
As a leader, I feel that I gained a lot of confidence in knowing that I held an expertise viewpoint based on knowledge acquired from classes such as Social Supportive Learning and Contextual Curriculum, but additionally I felt confident as a leader in being able to delegate to parents and share the information that I possessed. I felt that I could be a reliable resource for them. Going forward, I can’t imagine returning to a state where I feel as if I am not an expert in my field, imposter syndrome is completely gone. Going backwards is not an option, and not including families in this extremely important time in their child’s lives isn’t an option. Together we foster the children’s sense of self, we are their community.
With this, I developed tremendously in another area: courage. The Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program Professional Qualities describes the quality of courage as, “your capacity for taking risks and challenging the status quo. You will be courageous to go against the grain and to not always do things because they are popular or because they have always been done a particular way. You will be willing to try things out (with both children and adults), to take risks and be audacious – not just any education is enough.”
In the midst of COVID-19 we had another huge moment in history: the dramatic rise of Black Lives Matter, a revolution that has been coming for centuries. With three white women as teachers and a class of all white children the questions arose: Do we approach this topic with the children? If so, what would be a developmentally appropriate manner? How will the families react with us opening this conversation?
The phrase “against the grain” kept repeating itself in my mind. By ignoring the systemic racism or simply not acknowledging what is going on outside of our school is denying the children their right to be part of the community. It is also suppressing those who are oppressed and not being an advocate for change.
We must discuss this topic, but how? I went to a Black Lives Matter protest on a Sunday and came to school the next day to open the discussion. I showed them pictures, explained why we were coming together to protest. I answered any questions that I could and was honest when I did not have an answer. We did have one instance that I felt nervous in addressing: a child in my class heard a police siren and became frightened because his parents told him that the police were killing people. What do we do? My mentor teacher felt that we need police officers to help us when we get into trouble, I felt that they weren’t being helpful and the child had every right to fear them. Do we continue to teach that police officers are community helpers or do we discourage the image that they have traditionally held in our minds?
We made the decision to teach against the grain, which was quoted beautifully by Cochran-Smith, “Teachers need to know from the start that they are a part of a larger struggle and that they have a responsibility to reform, not just replicate, standard school practices . . . Teaching against the grain stems from, but also generates, critical perspectives on the macro-level relationships of power, labor, and ideology” (Zeichner, Bowman, Guillen, & Napolitan, 2016, p. 281).
To honor the children’s inquisitive nature of the world around them as well as collaborate with the families to form a cohesive community, we chose the courageous route – not the one of ignoring or of ignorance, but one of reality. Previously, we had done a deep dive into the wonderings on morality, courageously, and honestly, we talked and learned together again.
In order to continue to honor the children and their right to be a citizen of the world I feel that I will continue to engage them in these types of conversations and listen as they form their own opinions. In addition, I believe having a growth mindset as well as being open-minded I will be able to collaborate with future co-teachers despite us having different opinions.
As much as I have grown throughout the past year, I have found myself feeling limited in two capacities.
One being finding difficulties breaking the barrier and engaging with parents. Communication and collaboration is a space where I feel that I fall short, especially written communication.
Something that I believe has inhibited this growth to bloom fully is the families in our class engage with my mentor teacher more comfortably. I believe that as I continue on with our current students next year, and my mentor teacher moves onto her next opportunity, a natural progression will happen where the families will feel more comfortable communicating with me. I also believe that I held this belief that families were intimidating. However, one of the positive outcomes from COVID-19 has been the breakdown of that barrier. I also believe that practice in communicating will naturally help this as well. When my role shifts from resident teacher to mentor teacher I will take on a new set of responsibilities, including communication. Reading about effective communication strategies will also be of big assistance.
One other space where I feel there is room to grow is in literacy of technology. Children have the right to engage with the world around them, which includes technology. During COVID-19 our entire curriculum became virtual. Once we were able to return to in classroom learning I held a disdain for technology while the children now craved it – they incorporated it into their play making computers out of folded pieces of paper and having Zoom calls with one another through them and using dominoes as cell phones and calling each other from across the classroom. Technology became their norm. I was burned out from technology overload from trying to stay connected during the pandemic. However, is that fair to the children?
I would like to incorporate technology into our contextual curriculum and I believe that to do so I need to become more aware of what is available other than a computer. Collaborating with other teachers to learn what they are using in their classrooms as well as speaking to those who are outside of the classroom setting such as Alex Morgan or Jacie Engel and find out what they would advise could give our children more of an opportunity to engage with technology.
The Maymester course Messing Around with STEM brought to light different views on the importance of technology. “The kind of knowledge children most need is the knowledge that will help them get more knowledge . . . Instruction in programming the computer and thinking about how to develop a complex project was like teaching her to catch fish. With these skills she could build her software and transform her thinking about fractions.” (Papert, 2000, pp. 139-140). Technology can be incorporated into authentic learning, and learning what different types of technology are available is a good first step. Also, revisiting older technology such as simple machines or light tables would enhance the classroom environment.
Despite all of the challenges this year has thrown our way with a global pandemic and a revolution rightfully taking place, we as a cohort have maintained a growth mindset. We are resilient beyond all measures and for that we will be graduating with our masters degree and a new appreciation for our rising generation. May they be as strong and brilliant as this Teacher Education Program has made us.
Lewin-Benham, A. (2006). Our Families, Other Educators. In Possible schools: The Reggio Approach to Urban Education (pp. 130-147). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Papert, S. (2000). The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer. New York, NY: BasicBooks.
Zeichner, K., Bowman, M., Guillen, L., & Napolitan, K. (2016). Engaging and Working in Solidarity With Local Communities in Preparing the Teachers of Their Children. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(4), 277-290. doi:10.1177/0022487116660623