Educating the “Whole” Teacher

“Teaching is a Creative Art: Call It Human Rocket Science” —Jeffrey Pflaum

I’m not their mother, father, guidance counselor, social worker, or therapist. I’m a teacher. I teach: that’s what I do. You hear that from educators, now even more so with CCSS, multiple standardized tests, and all sorts of assessments looming over their heads. Youcan’t blame teachers for wanting to avoid nurturing students because they have enough on their hands.

But then I read an article inThe Washington Post(5/19/15), “Poverty, family stress are thwarting student success, top teachers say,” by Lyndsey Layton. The title says it all: obstacles to doing well in school are not always about classroom life. It’s anxiety related to home, economics, which, in turn, can create learning issues and psychological problems. Surprise! Surprise!

There are missing pieces in teacher training programs. I believe schools of education are getting the message. Just as we talk about educating the “whole child,” we need to do the same for our future teachers, neophytes first entering the profession, and veterans alike: educate the “whole teacher.”

I had little education background in 1968 when I began teaching in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY, except for the Intensive Teacher Training program. I walked into the classroom knowing nothing about how and what to teach, but was rescued by talented teachers who taught school workshops in reading, math, social studies, and language arts, while also depending greatly on teacher guides.

One day I woke up realizing that in my fears about not knowing how to teach, students weren’t listening anyway and not in present time. We were in the same boat ofunawareness. After my epiphany, I started to make up original curricula. I thought: How bad could it be compared to traditional approaches I followed in class lessons?

My projects expanded kids’ self-awareness, self-motivation, and interpersonal communication skills, which is really emotional intelligence and social and emotional learning. Through non-academic lessons I got their attention without demanding it: it came from theinside outand changed students and the classroom environment.

I wrote an article, “The Creative Imagination and Its Impact on 21st Century Literacies” (New Jersey English Journal, Spring 2013), based upon 34 years as ateacher-researcher-developer-experimenter, where I described my original curricula and how it led to suggested education and PD courses to develop creative, reflective, contemplative, and self-aware teacher communicators. Link is:http://www.njcte.com/n-j-english-journal/2013-issue-teaching-english-language-arts-in-and-for-the-21st-century-what-and-how.

The following hypothetical, utopian courses would produce creative educators, communicators, coaches, and mentors equipped to teach skills for learning and real life. Examples of thenew required coursesin my teacher education program might be:

(1) 21st Century Literacies and Emotional Intelligence

(2) Group Dynamics: The Teacher as Communicator

(3) Social and Emotional Learning: Character, Values, and Society

(4) Creativity and the Un-Creative Teacher in the Classroom

(5) The Creative Imagination and 21st Century Learning and Literacies

(6) Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Experimenting, and Innovation

(7) “Prerequisite Fundamental Skills” for Learning and Learning How to Learn

(8) Mindfulness, Meditation, Contemplation, and Reflection for Teachers and Students

(9) The Socratic Dialogue: An Inquiry- and Passion-Based Approach

(10) Poetry Reading and Writing for Teachers and Students

How did I come up with these potential courses to create the “whole” teacher? I experiemented with innovative curricula for many years in the classroom. Some projects are:

(1) “Contemplation Music Writing”: Introducing Inner Experience to Students

(2) “Concentration Workouts”: Focusing the Mind

(3) “Reading-and-Imagining”: Language as Art

(4) “Word-Bridges”: Words to Live By

(5) “The Creative-Thinking-Picture-Slide-Series”: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

(6) “The Inner Cities Poetry Arts Project”: Journey’s End into 21st Century Literacies

Contemplation Music Writinguses music, contemplation, writing, discussion, and self-evaluation to lead children on peaceful journeys of self-discovery, -motivation, and -education. Students listen to music,contemplate inner experiences, and write about and discuss them with classmates and teacher.Music listeningandcontemplationchange kids’ lives in and out of school.

Cocnentration Workoutsteaches students to be there in thenow and focused. Practice lessons help them concentrate using novel activities like the “staring game”: two kids stare at each–eyeball-to-eyeball–without getting distracted. These fun exercises allow students to understand and appreciate the “ins” and “outs” of concentration.

Reading-and-Imaginingis about the visualization process in reading. Lessons start with visualizing words and continue with 2-, 4-, and 6-word realand absurdsentences, longer, more complex sentences, paragraphs, and whole pages. Students record mind-pictures, feelings, thoughts, and experiences associated with their reading, improving attitudes and motivation. In my approach, kids morph intoavatarsnaviagating the inner landscapers of reading worlds where reading, ideally, becomes a 3-D, holographic, virtual reality.

Word-Bridgeslessons get kids to value words, their connections to other words, and words triggering ideas, meanings, emotions, images, and real-life experiences. Words are more than “black-on-white” on a page.The activities end with the one-time popular TV show, “Password,” an entertaining and educational word-association game.

The Creative-Thinking-Picture-Slide-Seriespresents pictures/photographs/cartoons from magazines and newspapers, poster prints, and artworks to develop creative- and critical thinking via brainstorming ideas to a given question. Responses can be serious or silly. Studentsmake something up from nothing, learn to think, and enjoy themselves in thought.

The Inner Cities Poetry Arts Programapplies contemplation, creative thinking, visualization, reflection, recall, and experiential skills learned in previous projects to poetry writing. After introducing poetry reading, via the “poetry reading sheet,” pictures, posters, and /or photographs are taped on the board and students are asked, e.g., to describe the image and brainstorm ideas in the form of titles for potential poems. Next step: poetry writing.

Internal educationandself-motivation projects help children inspire themselves to learn from the inside outand can be implemented in the classroom if teachers “become whole” through radical new coursework on undergraduate and graduate levels.

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