My First Ever Class, as Teacher

By Rachel Oppenheimer|March 8, 2015|Reflection|5 comments

To be honest, this was my first time Teaching, with a capital T.

Well, not exactly. Since Freshman year of college, I have taught in some capacity. I was an AT (Apprentice Teacher) for Introductory Italian; in my college summers, I taught SAT prep to low-income New Haven high school students; in my first post-college job I taught some financial literacy workshops, and then I’ve done various odds and ends facilitation of high school and college groups, and adult groups, too. But I had never really thought deeply about what I was teaching, or felt ultimately responsible for some powerful and important end goal for my students. I certainly have never created the equivalent of a course.

So last Wednesday, after a week of intensive recruiting for “Bridge Scholars” among our 30 or so first or second semester credit-side LaGuardia college students, we commenced the Bridge Scholars Seminar with 11 confused, frightened, excited, nervous students, 2 large pizzas, and a solid powerpoint, and lots of ambitious, student-centered, student-led, empowerment-focused agenda items (with serious thinking behind them). The plan and mission of the Scholars is trying to balance lots of things (while following the Less is More motto): feeding students important content knowledge about college – how to get their books, find tutoring hours, do their FAFSA for next years, etc. AND facilitate student leadership and open-ended inquiry into college success strategy, challenge, teaching and learning among each other. In sum, it’s a lot to do. And they’re not even getting course credits for this thing, so I don’t want to give them heavy “homework.”

The plan was as follows:

– Students sign-in and include their “super power” next to their email addresses

– Restorative circle where students fill out “selfie frame” templates. My name is ________and I am in college for _______________ Then, we go around the room and every students shares what they’re in college for and their majors.

– Think-Pair-Share with three things we’re all excited for in college and three things we fear in starting college.

– What is Bridge Scholars? (Rachel explains the weekly college success seminar, coupled with its connection to my GC course with all of you lovely people, and the way in which the students will be deciding what they want to learn and teach each other throughout the semester)

– Textbooks & Deadlines – How to know what books you need, and where to get them AND important withdraw and add/drop and tuition refund deadlines coming up

– A preview of Next Week, instructing students to bring all of their course syllabi, explore and register for the Bridge Scholars blog, and respond to the prompt “In your first week of college, what is your biggest success? Your biggest challenge?”

– And finally, the Exit Ticket, which, after being completed by students was to inform the direction of Week 2: One question you have about college and one answer you have about college, each on one side of an index card

We only got through the Circle and the Think-Pair-Share, and then my explanations about what we were all doing there.

This was disappointing – especially because we missed some crucial content area topics, and we focused a lot of time at work discussing pacing and time blocking – but it felt ok and expected for the first session.

The circle of chairs formation was effective in creating group respect and unity, and students were so sucked into the Think-Pair-Share, sharing their fears and excitements about college with one another and then with the group, and so eager to hear one another, that the time felt truly well spent. They needed the space – the support group – to feel not alone – to feel a “part of a system,” as one student said – in this new and unknown place. The other staff members and I also shared out fears and excitements – the ones we had had in starting college or the ones we have today in our jobs and home lives, and in balancing the two.

One of our seasoned Bridge alumna, third semester LaGuardia student, and natural leader, took notes as students shared. Here’s just a sample:

ExcitementsandFears

 

When I began to discuss Bridge Scholars, The Futures Initiative, and our mission as a group, I could feel students’ confusion and unease surface. I think the abstractions and confusing, unusual nature of what were doing, along with my likely complex jargon contributed to the student discomfort. So what is this, then, they asked. One student proposed that it was like a Therapy Session. One student just wanted to know what they were supposed to do. I hope that I got across, by the end, some semblance of the following:

– Peer-led student success and college knowledge group

– They decide what they want to teach and learn from each other, and we (the staff) will be there to guide and support them

But still, I fear:

– Will students learn something concrete, like study skills or talking to their professors, or how to participate in class, from one another? Or is that asking too much of them? Isn’t that what we, the Advisors, are there for?

– How can I not only balance the Seminar between controlled content and their leadership, but more importantly, meaningfully and genuinely integrate the two?

– How can I guide them in funneling their fears (failure, terminology, not understanding) into success strategies?

– Is their confusion part of the process of changing the school and learning paradigm, or was it my failure to make clear the mission? Or perhaps some of both?

But I’m excited, too, to channel their intelligence and their courage and their drive. To mine their experience for wisdom, even if and when they think they have none. To learn together in ways as of yet unknown.

5 Comments

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing this experience with us and congrats on your first day!

    I can understand your disappointment with not getting through your agenda. Timing is important but not always something that can be easily managed in the reality of the moment. An idea — skits may work well in a class like yours about learning how to do tasks such as “set up a meeting” “participate in class” etc. You can have some groups preform various “what not to do” scenarios and one group preform the “what to do right” option. You may have to wait a bit for everyone to feel more comfortable around each other first but it’s usually a hilarious activity.

    I’ve pasted below an activity I do with students in a class similar to yours about graduate school. Maybe you could modify it for use in your class?

    Activity: Letter to yourself

    Directions: Write a letter to yourself about your motivations, fears, and ideas about the upcoming graduate school application process. This letter will be sealed in an envelope and collected, to be returned to you on the last day of class. This letter will not be read by anyone else. Use the following questions as a guide:

    • How are you feeling about the this class after your first day?
    • What are your personal goals for this class?
    • What are your motivations for applying to graduate school?
    • What are your sources of support?
    • What are your sources of inspiration?
    • What do you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses in this process?

  2. Rachel,

    This sounds like such a great program!! Are you an advisor? Or is this a new initiative at Laguardia? I WISH I had someone to help with FAFSA paperwork or had the kind of support you’re program is offering, when I was a freshman. Are you at all able to offer study workshops or get pedagogical and teach study strategies, college reading techniques, etc. in your seminars? It might be cool to think up some objectives, and work out a way to elicit their personal strategies and have them try to sell it to each other and maybe design an activity to practice it. I wonder if KBCC has something going like this…?

  3. Irene at al,

    During my freshman year in high school, my English teacher did something very similar with our class. We wrote letters to ourselves about where we saw ourselves in ten years. True to her word, she sent them to us ten years letter. It was a profound experience to receive a letter from my 14 year old self. To see what had changed and what had stayed constant. My letter revealed that my 14 year old self had a pretty good idea of my 24 year old self. If only I had taken the time to write a letter to myself at 24 for the next decade!

    This is a great activity for self assessment and can be adapted for any course, any stage of life, and any duration. I love the idea of doing this just for a semester. And I think in a way, Rachel, you have already written this letter to yourself about your course this semester. I hope you’ll do a follow-up at the end of the semester!

    1. Thanks all, for your suggestions and feedback!

      Michelle, I am the Program Manager for a high school equivalency (HSE) program at LaGuardia called Bridge to College and Careers, and our funding also allows/asks up to follow students for a year into college to ensure retention and persistence in college. So this Bridge Scholars thing is all about staying with our Bridge (HSE recipient) alumni once they’re in college to help them succeed.

      Yes, to everyone! I can sort of do whatever I want… which may be part of the overwhelming problem. I want to get to things that are more concrete soon (since we already did aspirational and reflective exercises) so yes, I plan to start addressing study strategies, working through conflict resolution scenarios, etc..

  4. Pingback: My Mapping Journey: Lessons in Focusing In, Challenging the Assumed, and More | Mapping the Futures of Higher Education

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