I have been asked many times why I teach—usually by people who have never taught. Those of us who teach know the answer. We know that teaching is not only a vocation but also a practice. For me, practice is an essential component of both teaching and learning. It is to do something on a regular basis in order to hone a skill and keep improving upon that ability.
Practice takes on many forms in education; it is both a noun and a verb—an act and an action. The act is the research and planning of a unit and its component lessons, that is, preparing the materials. The action is the delivery of the lesson to my audience, the students. Through practice—act and action, noun and verb—I, too, am able to learn and progress in my teaching. In effect, the classroom becomes a mutually beneficial learning environment. The act and the action are interconnected and are often interchangeable in my practice of teaching.
Before I plan any lessons for a unit, I first think about the objective. How will I help my students connect with the subject matter in a meaningful way? What examples, analogies and images will I use to foster deeper understanding? How will I know that I reached all my students, as it is our school’s mandate and expectation? Where, along the curricular continuum, will I meet my students? To answer these questions, I need to utilize my knowledge of curriculum, of students, and of the milieu in which we meet each day. What will the students be able to do by the end of the unit, and how will they demonstrate their learning? I then endeavor to make the learning relevant to the students’ lives. I use the knowledge I have about my students’ unique learning styles to tailor lessons to suit multiple levels of learners. I also strive to set high expectations for each student while remaining available and empathic to each student’s individual needs.
Practice is also reflective. It is based on feedback from students, peers and mentors. Whether it is watching the students work to comprehend a concept or whether I am reflecting on my practice, teaching is both about the act and the action, the preparation and the reflection. It is about reviewing the many decisions I have made when I work with my students and asking which ones worked and which did not. It is about recognizing and collecting the multiple clues available to a teacher to assess her own practice. Through the process of reflection, teaching is improved and becomes a more precise performance. My goal is to reach each student today, at this lesson, at this point in time. It is about witnessing when a student masters a skill or a concept that he has been learning. It is most certainly about watching when a student makes connections and applies concepts in curricular areas or in his own life.
Personal reflection, looking in the mirror, is essential to answer questions that arise throughout the practice, such as: “Did the students effectively learn the concept? What can I do to improve and enrich the learning experience for each student? How can I improve the precision of the material and my delivery of it so that I reach each child?”
Student work becomes a treasure I can mine to learn about her thinking, her possible misunderstandings or absence of a necessary skill. I use data to interpret my students’ performance and what I need to do to deepen and enhance my students’ learning. To improve my practice, I purposefully make an effort to connect with the students in the classroom, lunchroom and on the playground. Knowing students outside the academic classroom helps me better inform my practice in the classroom.
I am able to practice and improve my craft at Westchester Torah Academy where all teachers endeavor to individualize and personalize instruction as we prepare students for success in school and beyond. My goal each day is to involve every student in his own learning, to guide each student to become a more self-directed learner and to help each student become fully involved and invested in her personal academic journey.
Practice—act and action—allows those who educate young minds to see the true joy in teaching. Watching a student master a concept and make the connection to his own world is the reason that teaching has become the practice that I strive to improve upon every day.
By Ingrid Hauptman
Ingrid Hauptman is the Middle School Summit Coordinator at Westchester Torah Academy. She has been teaching for over 19 years and has a Degree in English Literature from Union College as well as a Masters in Elementary and Special Education from Manhattanville College. In her free time, she enjoys teaching yoga throughout Westchester County and spending time with family