Educator of Distinction Christine Rodriguez shares her reflections about a summer experience she had as a master teacher and how it has influenced her teaching and classroom. Ms. Rodriguez teaches AP Spanish at Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, CA.
While finishing up my eleventh year of teaching last June I felt as though I was beginning to plateau as a teacher; after all, I had spent all eleven years in the same school and the same classroom teaching virtually the same classes. I still enjoyed my job and each day brought its own unique challenges, yet I was beginning to believe that I was no longer the young enthusiastic teacher that I had once been.
Fortunately for my students I was rejuvenated in my teaching this summer. I had the opportunity to work with two candidates who are pursuing their own teaching credentials. The time I spent with these two aspiring candidates allowed me to look at teaching from a completely different perspective. The goal was to guide the candidates and prepare them for the classroom during their “pre-teaching” experience; however, after reflection I know that I learned as much from them and they did from me. Yes, this cliché is often mentioned and likely overused in our profession, but there is no better way to describe the effect of my experience.
The energy and anticipation I saw from these young teachers made me giddy. I fed off of their enthusiasm and each day contained new ideas and revelations. I found myself forgetting that I gave up my summer vacation to be a part of their program. They had ideas that I had never thought of and new strategies to incorporate into my own classroom. They engaged each day and no matter how exhausted they felt, they demonstrated a hunger for my knowledge and guidance. My own desire to learn and create was reborn. I probed them with questions and reveled in the creativity that resulted from our discussions.
The first two days of the summer teaching preparation was in a summer-school classroom and I modeled instruction for the candidates. I actually found myself feeling nervous on that first day. The weight of my task had dawned on me; I was no longer impacting solely my students, I was indirectly impacting all of the students that these young educators will work with for years to come. I found myself researching and thinking back to all I had learned in my own program.
I planned lessons not at the last moment, but I truly gave thought to what would be the best instruction for the teacher candidates to observe considering the students we had in the classroom at the time and what was best for them. I can honestly say that this kind of forethought and planning had not occurred in my own classroom for some time. I am a teacher that has been praised for inspiring and engaging students, but I have felt the last few years I could have done more. Complacency took a hold of me when I was least expecting it, but now I realize I do not want to wash over the next years and glide through work without the determination and reflection I discovered again.
After the experience of working with these young educators, it is my hope that all teachers will have the same opportunity. I was reminded of the passion I have for education and my reasons for joining the profession in the first place. So often that passion is obscured by after-school meetings, uninspired professional development and paperwork that can pile up on me day after day. The fresh perspective of beginning teachers has influenced me thus far during this new school year and inspired me to step out of my routine and make an effort to incorporate elements of education that did not exist during my own student-teaching experience.
There is now a much deeper focus on literacy in my content area than I remember learning. This push for literacy supports the implementation of the common core curriculum and generally allows students to improve their language skills in all content areas. While I have had trainings at my school site and through my district, I do not believe I would have been as thoughtful in implementing these strategies had it not been for my desire to help these young candidates. In all, the summer when I was supposed to be vacationing was one of the most influential times of my teaching career. I am a better teacher for this experience and will think back on this time when complacency and politics of education start to blind me of why I entered this profession. My energy, spirit, and passion will forever be renewed.