Saturday, April 26, 2014

Finding Inspration in the Classroom: Sarah Andersen

Yesterday I had the honor and privilege of visiting my friend Sarah Andersen's high school English classroom. I have been saying since June that I wanted to spend this year visiting friends' classrooms to get inspired. I wanted to be part of a new conversation: one that celebrates teachers rather than casts aspersions on them.

Well, up until now I've kind of squandered that opportunity. I was taking a graduate class in the fall so a lot of my free time was spent doing research for that class. Then January began the snowiest winter on record in the state of Michigan. There was a new snow storm every week and as a result, schools are now having to scramble to add days to the end of the year due to the plethora of snow days that were being dished out. So needless to say, I wasn't very enthusiastic about making plans to visit friends' classrooms between the months of January and March because I knew I'd probably end up having to reschedule anyway.

So Sarah's classroom is the first one I've visited this year and it was the perfect one to start with. I am almost finished with my last class before I can take the test to add a high school English endorsement on my teaching certificate. Up until this point I've had an elementary certificate with a 6-8 language arts endorsement. I've always wanted to teach high school and now I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sarah's class
Sarah reads Boy 21 aloud to her sophomores
Beginning with her first hour class I could immediately tell that Sarah has an amazing group of students. Sarah began the class with a read aloud of the book Boy 21 by Matthew Quick. I was thrilled to see that despite the fact that Sarah teaches high school kids, she still sees the importance of reading aloud to build community and shared reading experiences. So often teachers stop reading to students once they reach middle school. It was wonderful to see a high school teacher embracing the benefits of reading aloud despite what many teachers of that age group might deem as a waste of precious time.

I was equally impressed with how Sarah's students truly enjoy being read to. When she opened the book and began reading, all students put down their phones, other work, even other books, and just listened to the story. One student in the front row even closed his eyes, as if he was trying to soak in every single word she was reading. I have to admit, it was quite soothing. I'm used to being the one doing the reading, not being read to so that was a nice change.

The rest of Sarah's day was spent with her seniors who were working on practicing their senior exit projects. I enjoyed watching her students present, and was equally impressed with the smart, concise feedback Sarah gave to her students. She wasn't just ticking off points on a rubric, she truly wanted to know more about her kids as people and what they plan for their future careers.

Sarah's class
Bookshelves line every wall in sarah's classroom
Throughout the day, the thing that stuck with me the most was that I had the chance to bear witness to such a culture of literacy in Sarah's room, even when books weren't part of the day's lesson. The walls in Sarah's room are lined with bookshelves and baskets of books for students to check out, her whiteboard and decorations all shout "This is a classroom that loves books!", Sarah talks books with her students during downtime, and more importantly, the students talk books with each other.

If I had any apprehensions about teaching high school before yesterday, spending the day with Sarah helped squelch those fears. She proved to me that building relationships with your students and creating a classroom community always trumps content and curriculum. If I was looking for inspiration, I certainly found it. I only wish that the often ridiculous PD that districts force upon teachers could be
Sarah's class
Bookish announcements
replaced with observing another teacher for the day. Teaching can be such an isolating job that we very rarely get to see other master teachers in action. So many of my friends are teachers and yet I can count on one hand the number of times I've been able to see them interact with their students.

After yesterday's wonderful experience, I am looking to fill my spring calendar with more classroom visits. I've already got another one planned for next week. At this rate, I will be ready and rarin' to teach come September!

1 comment:

  1. I have had the same inspiring experiences when I visit other teachers' classrooms, so this was a great reminder. I was even inspired by the picture of Sarah's white board . . . oooh, nice use of lights! I'm a happy follower of your blog. (if you want to read my new-ish blog: