RI Dislocated Worker Program
Recently Janet Isserlis visited classes at the RI Dislocated Worker Program as part of an experiment allowing teachers to sit in on colleagues' classes. Janet facilitated in a classroom while that teacher visited another class for one and a half or two hours periods.
In this line of work budgets can't necessarily provide the chance for conferences or frequent staff development time. But we all have access to a wealth of information - each other. The lessons of having another teacher participating in the class and of being able to witness another class in action are multifold and invaluable. I recall a woman at Quaker Meeting who said, "let us teach by ourselves being teachable."
When I had the opportunity to visit a pre-GED taught by my friend and colleague David Hayes, I was able to learn from the interaction between David and students, to witness a genuine exchange of questions and discussions. I saw ways to balance student participation and teacher direction. I observed when tangential conversations are relevant and when they are not. Since I teach a beginner literacy/basic ESL class, the opportunities I have for exchange with the students are presented to me in other ways, yet I could still see what methods David and I have in common and where we might have different approaches.
As in writing, critical distance from one's work as a teacher is essential and difficult. Once we adjust to a classroom of people, some of the distance tends to get lost. But even a single visit to another class can add a fresh perspective to one's own work and vision -- a means to providing that necessary distance, that small reminder to remain teachable.
April 13, 1998
RI Dislocated Worker Program
Janet's project provided me with an opportunity to observe the ESL class which feeds my ESL/Pre-GED group. The observation was valuable for several reasons.
I was able to get a much better feel for the level of ability, habits and classroom personalities of the students with whom I will eventually be working. In an open enrollment pre-GED environment, where I try to keep the curriculum both learner-centered and test-oriented, any advance familiarity with an entering student is of tremendous value.
I profited from watching my colleague Moin Ajmiri, at work. While Moin and I often share ideas and opinions about teaching, and while I have discussed Moin's methods with many of his current and former learners, I had never been able to observe his approach. Doing so strengthened my appreciation for his work and offered insight into both his and my own practice. Our program's schedule is such that there never seems to be adequate time for group reflection on practice. As week succeeds week, I sometimes find myself getting comfortable with my in-class work; I don't step outside of myself and my practice as often as I would like. Janet's visit provided a wonderful opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on classroom dynamics and teaching techniques. I only wish we could do it more often.
April 14, 1998
Thank you very much for taking my class, and allowing me to observe Denise's. I have always believed that observing another teacher or being observed in a class setting is one of the best learning tools. Attending conferences and seminars are good for sharing ideas but observing a peer at work is the real thing. Thank you once again and I hope you will be able to do this periodically.
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