#SOL2015 – 3/31 Stepping into a classroom

Slice of Life logoI am always surprised at what I learn when I step into someone else’s classroom. I have taught for over 39 years. I have taught in lots of situations and now as a retired teacher I am teaching a few lessons on writing poetry with non fiction.

I worked hard to put together a nice little lesson since I am only in the classroom for two one hour sessions. I added follow lessons for the teachers so they can each continue the work and bring the students writing to a final presentation form.

The learning for me is not about building the lesson but in how a guest teacher needs to adapt quickly to each group of students. Since I am not the core teacher I also have to sort through the teachers management style and classroom structure.

It is amazing how every classroom has its own feel. It’s own culture and way of working. Some have tight structure and run like a smooth clock. Others are loose and causal but still you can see the under lying structure that makes it tick.

Then there are a few that you quickly see they are in free fall. There appears to be no structure that is holding them in a safe space. The teacher is always trying but for a variety of reasons it just isn’t a safe place.  Which means it is also not a learning place.

It is this ever changing classroom culture and structure that I think makes it hard for the general public and our government to understand the true nature of teaching. It is the living and breathing of each room that makes this puzzle of closing the achievement gap so hard. The fact that no two classrooms will ever look or sound the same just escapes those who have not spent hours or days in a teaching environment.

I have taught the same structure lesson about “Found” poems to 5 classrooms now. I am the same person, my teaching style remains the same but every single class session was different. You know the routine – you are teachers you do this all the time.

One class I scaled the work down to reach the reading levels and attention needs. The next class I pushed it up and moved a bit faster but also added more information about poetry and poets to push the students in their own writing. They were ready for it – it was clear – not because of a test but by the questions they asked, the notes they took and the way they began working almost before I had sent them off to work.

Then there was the class that felt as if all failed. Behavior was crazy, language was crazy and I was not at my best. I had not come to be the mean and all powerful teacher who enforces the rules.  ( I have to say I walked away from that room just shaking my head but found today the students wanting to know if I was coming back and when were we doing more poetry. Something happening in that hour.)

What it tells me once again is that teaching is an ART. It takes time and skills to find and build the structure and culture of a safe classroom where students learn. We can spend all the money we want on testing but it is not going to make a difference. We need to go back to what we know.

Teaching like good poetry comes from the heart!

Teachers need to be supported so they can again learn where the heart of teaching lives!


(Just need you to know that the phrase “poetry comes from the heart” was shared with me today as we discussed the question – what is poetry? – a young fifth grade boy, not terrible focused and a bit mouthy settled when I ask this question. I quickly called on him hoping to pull him into the group – his response was  “That questions is easy  – poetry is something that comes from your heart.”    What more can I say?!  )




About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Reflection, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to #SOL2015 – 3/31 Stepping into a classroom

  1. Gael Lynch says:

    I love this post, Joanne, for a myriad of reasons. I, myself, am coming into the end zone of a very long, very well-loved career. Love kids, love teaching, love the art of writing…and the art of wide expanses in which to teach it. I’m not loving the massive testing machine driven by big corporate testing. They’re making a bundle on our kids and laughing all the way to the bank! Looking forward to hearing more, and hoping to pave a path much like yours, itinerant teaching, next year.

    • Joanne Toft says:

      Thanks – it took me a bit of time to find my way once I left the classroom but slowly I am reaching students and doing more and more of my own writing. It feels good to find a new way of being after years of teaching. Good Luck!

  2. Ms. Kelly says:

    How lucky those students are that you share your love of poetry with them.

  3. Amy Boyden says:

    I am returning to teaching after a long time as stay at home mom. I have since worked in a wide variety of classrooms and you speak such truth here! I have been in the free fall classroom, it is very difficult to find your bearings in a class like this! But in the same note, they need you all the more! 🙂

  4. What a wonderful day! What is “found poetry”?
    Also I love this — “We can spend all the money we want on testing but it is not going to make a difference. We need to go back to what we know.” That is absolutely the truth!!! Hopefully we can swing our style of teaching to focus on the learning and away from the test answers, put the art back into the lessons.

    • Joanne Toft says:

      Found poetry is a great way to help kids look for main idea/comprehension. They use existing text to hunt for the big idea and then use those words or phrase to create a poem. The idea is to use only the words on the page to create your poem. Often images are added to it. You can google found poetry and I will write more about it on my post today. Thanks for your comment.

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