There Are Great Things Happening in Schools Every Day
It’s 8:45 on a quintessential New England fall morning, and I look around our seminar room at the faces of our fifteen newly-inducted teacher interns. Some are sipping coffee, others are tapping on their laptops, while many others are visiting and catching up with colleagues they haven’t seen in a week. It’s only September, but their faces and body language are not as sunny as the weather. I can tell that already some of the expected anxiety and uncertainty has started to bubble up. After all, our interns have been thrust into an unfamiliar school, a new classroom, and many have started teaching lessons even though they’re still figuring out just exactly what it means to be a teacher. I’m sure I’ll be having a few empathetic conversations later today.
To ease people into the seminar day and bridge the distance between their placements and the UVEI classroom, we have a weekly ritual called “Cool Things in Schools.” It’s our Tuesday morning routine which encourages interns to share cool things they notice in their placement schools. Cool Things in Schools helps us all to ease into the day and reminds us that there is great joy in teaching.
An elementary intern named Kathy raises her hand. “I have a cool thing in school,” she says with a wry smile. “My mentor teacher asked the first-graders if they knew what my role was here this year. One student’s hand shot up and he said, ‘I know! She’s an actor!’” We laugh because, really, what could be cooler than a child mistaking you for a Hollywood actor, forgetting that you’re an anxious intern, an outsider, a stranger dropped into this child’s classroom, sometimes feeling like a mouse dropped into a maze?
It’s helpful for our interns to share what they’re noticing in their placements. Many of our interns have no school experience besides their own, and many were students quite a few years ago. A high school social science intern shares that he notices kids can eat their lunch whenever they want because there’s no lunch period. “Come to think of it, I’m not sure if that’s cool or not,” he muses, and many in the room chuckle. Even small details like lunch norms help fill in mental gaps: what do lunch routines even look like in modern high schools?
Cool Things in Schools helps interns focus on what is important -- that there are great things happening in education every day! Sure, interns may feel uncertain about classroom management, how they’ll demonstrate competence by June, about Praxis scores. When they share what’s cool about their schools and classrooms, it helps make finding our way a little easier; it helps us forget our apprehension for a moment, as Kathy experienced with her student.
As another intern excitedly tells us about an upcoming field trip to an apple orchard at her school and another describes an amazing natural play structure which incorporates a real boat into the climbing apparatus, I feel the room begin to relax, the tension dissipate, and we settle in for the day.