Recently my athletic daughter was injured skiing. She needs knee surgery and will be out of the many competitive sports she participates in for about a year. Her basketball coach encouraged her to watch from the bench – to learn more about the game by actively observing her team, and by encouraging her team. After two weeks of watching she made an interesting comment to me:
“Mom, every athlete should have to sit out for 2 weeks. You learn so much.”
For part of this school year, I’m watching from the bench, too. However, my situation was much more planned as I’m working with a student-teacher (David) in four of my Media Production classes. As he takes over more of the teaching load, I find myself on the sidelines. And while I’m there to guide, support and assess his progress, I’m learning much about my own teaching practice, and I’m hopeful my students are getting a fresh perspective on how they learn, too. While David and I met many times to discuss learning outcomes, units, and lessons, I hoped that he would focus on what matters most in a school – the students. I teach busy, hands-on courses that have no textbook, and require skills in ever-changing technologies so there was no easy way to explain what’s up anyway. David was not daunted by this challenge and, in fact, was able to step in to the organized chaos of a media production lab with relative comfort. I believe a key moment we shared centered on discussing what ‘teaching’ is and his realization that it’s not only presenting a PowerPoint or lecturing students (which I hardly ever do), but it’s about the conversations with students and the relationships that result. It’s about the unscripted moments in the classroom, in the hallways, and on the school field. David was initially concerned that he only be observed when ‘teaching’ (meaning presenting). I was impressed that he was willing to move beyond this limited definition. For a student-teacher to be willing to focus less on the pre-written lesson plan and more on the teachable moments of class demonstrated a controlled daring.
Being benched has also made me appreciate the relationships I’m privileged to have with my students. I’m so proud of both my students and David as they show respect and patience with each other. There is a mutual, unspoken understanding that learning is challenging, fun, worthwhile, and done together. David is beginning to see that each student has her or his own story. From missing school for elite sports to missing school because their single Mom was called into work and couldn’t find a babysitter for the younger sibling – each student has much to share with us. Further to this, David and I have been lucky to experience the care our students show us – their teachers. I find the smiles, hellos, goofy stories, thoughtful comments, and overall excitement about life infectious. Seeing someone else discover this has made me appreciate what I receive from my students even more.
As the only media production teacher at my school, I love having someone to bounce ideas off of – someone who really does ‘get’ my classroom. In addition, I am learning new technical things from David. While my broadcast experience is from many years ago and his is much newer, he’s helped me not only improve, but also validate the choices I make and have made. This was more significant than I realized because I’m so often alone in my classroom choices. Another concept I had to re-think was that of the question. It’s challenging for any teacher to construct good questions, and David was no exception. Interestingly, he found it easier to frame questions for me to answer (about his practicum) than when he was asking questions of our students. I think this is because there is a difference between him authentically seeking information and his desire to elicit responses or extract information from students. I know our discussion of questions caused me to pause and consider how I use and respond to questions in my classes.
For now, I’m remaining on the bench part-time and will continue to observe and learn. The season is not over yet.