My grandmother, known as Mother, was a powerful woman who pushed the idea of becoming a teacher so forcefully as a goal for her children and grandchildren, that a lot of people in my family did become educators. My mother, my three aunts, my uncle Floyd, my sister, Nina, my brother, my sister’s best friend/”play” sister, one of my cousins, and her sister (eventually whenever she finishes that degree) are all teachers. (My sister and I even married teachers.)
I felt, for many years, that I’d escaped the family calling – at least in terms of being a classroom teacher. Upon closer examination, I realized that, except for my sojourn as an arts administrator, I was a facilitator, trainer and an administrator of programs serving children and families, in other words – a teacher. This leaf didn’t fall too far from the family tree.
Since the beginning of July, I have taught in three settings. I’ve led a series of parenting workshops for a group of women at the Suffolk County of Corrections (SCHC). It is the second series I’ve led at that facility as a freelance parenting educator for Families First Parenting Programs. I’ve also led creative writing workshops for two wonderful groups of teens – participants in the Workforce Development Program at Cambridge Public Housing and participants in the Community Voices Program at CCHERS at Northeastern University.
What a privilege it is to share knowledge with people who are open to learning (if not always enthusiastic – a few of the teens hadn’t gotten enough shut-eye the night before)! Whether they are full of wisdom and reflection like the women from SCHC or brimming with energy and ideas like the teens, the workshops have been illuminating. I’ve had to work hard to engage both groups by:
- collaborating with them to set the basic considerations of how we’ll work together,
- giving them choices about which exercises we’ll do,
- asking them what they’d like to know more about, and
- creating multiple opportunities for them to work in smaller groups and present to each other.
I’ve been using all of my facilitation tricks…I mean tools.
I’ve had both groups engage in solo-reflection and share in pairs. I had the teens write a power statement about themselves as well as work in duos and small groups to come up with a set of instructions they hear from adults in their lives. Teens have lots of people expecting them to do things and giving them instructions and orders. I asked them to create brainstorms and word-maps about the various people who tell them what to do and then make a list of those instructions on newsprint, making sure to capture the voice of the adult. Having the teens stand up while creating and presenting their prose or poetry using Mr. Scent watercolor markers and newsprint, proved very effective with the teens, some of whom will slump and zone-out if they’re not moving.
In both groups, I worked over-time to get the quiet participants to talk, the participants who had angry body language to join in the conversation, and the boys – be they silly, charming or withdrawn, to join in. I observed that adults and other leaders, will often jump in to give answers to a question whether than waiting for teens to figure it out. I’ve learned to count to 10 before jumping with an answer to a question I’ve posed and to rephrase and re-ask it before answering. Most people are uncomfortable with silence and somebody will almost always say something to break the ice.
Mother felt that teaching was a profession that would always need workers because people would always have children that needed teaching. I believe she would be proud that I am a participant in “the family profession.” While I do not have the “chops” of family members who have taught in the classroom for decades, I do have renewed respect for just how rigorous it is to impart information and knowledge to others. Hats off to teachers!
And thank you to the students in my recent workshops.