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In "Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn," Harry and Rosemary Wong describe the successes and the problems encountered by Jessica Fenton, who shares how she overcame some major obstacles she faced in her first year of teaching. Fenton's first challenge was that she was trained as an elementary school teacher, but upon graduation, she was offered (and accepted) a position teaching ninth grade English. Fenton felt overwhelmed and unprepared from the beginning, facing problems that were never addressed in her college education courses. She was juggling her time teaching, coaching, chaperoning school dances, volunteering on various committees, and helping with graduation. Fenton was working from seven A.M. to midnight and still felt unprepared.
By Christmas break of her first year of teaching, Fenton was close to giving up on her dreams of being a teacher. Instead, she decided it was time for a change and committed herself to learning how to become a better teacher. She attended seminars, attended workshops, read books, and stole any good idea she discovered along the way. Fenton soon realized that, with a few changes, she could turn it all around. She started by developing a list of procedures that would make her classroom routines run smoothly. Using the three step model taught in The First Days of School by Harry Wong, Fenton taught these procedures to her students by explaining each procedure, modeling and rehearsing them with the class, and implementing a method of follow through to reinforce each procedure.
Once Fenton created a new level of management and organization to her classroom, she was able to teach with ease. She also distributed two handouts to her students. The first was a department-wide course outline that explained the literature they would be studying, how they would be graded, and the policies for assignments and homework. Most importantly, at the bottom of the paper was this statement: "The degree of success earned by the student will depend on commitment and ownership. If the three participants: student, parent/guardian, and teacher, work together, the student will experience success." This handout was sent home to parents and guardians to view. The second handout was a Course Information page that laid out her major procedures, listed the specific breakdown of how each day was going to be run, explained their morning bellwork, what to bring to class every day, and how they were to organize their work. When Fenton returned to school from the holiday break, she was a changed teacher. Because Fenton set clear expectations of her students and herself, she set the stage for a successful rest of the year.
At the beginning of the school year in 2009, Fenton got the opportunity to meet her long-time idol, Erin Gruwell, the teacher of the Freedom Writers. As a new teacher in Long Beach, CA, Gruwell was shocked to learn that only one student in her class knew of the Holocaust. At that moment, she decided that her curriculum would center on tolerance. Gruwell inspired 150 disadvantaged students write their stories, make movies about their lives, keep journals, read books about other teenagers, and relate the materials they studied to their own lives. These students became known as the Freedom Writers. Gruwell founded the Freedom Writer Foundation in 1997. The goal of the foundation is to "inspire young students to pick up pens instead of guns." Now Gruwell shares her experiences with teachers across the country. After meeting Fenton, Gruwell offered her an opportunity to come to the Freedom Writer Institute in California. Fenton graciously attended the Institution, and took what she learned back to her classroom.
Fenton and Gruwell share a deep passion for students and their profession. One of Fenton's goals is to relate to each of her students in a personal way. Now, on the first day of school, Fenton begins with a Power Point presentation introducing herself, her personal reasons for why she loves to teach, and fun facts about herself. Later, her students fill out an in-class checklist to identify the way they learn best, what their concerns are, and what areas of the material they are struggling with. This encourages open communication between Fenton and her students. Inspired by Gruwell, Fenton sets high expectations for her students by having them fill out a survey that asks what grade they hope to achieve and how they plan to do so. The students are required to sign a statement that states their personal commitment to achieving their goals.
Fenton is now in her fourth year of teaching, and she believes that she has the best job in the world. As an active contributor to the New Brunswick Teachers' Association and a member of the Ad Hoc Planning Committee, she shares her passion and dedication to making a difference in her students' lives. Though Fenton is a successful teacher, her goal is to continue to learn from her students and to become a better educator.
The textbook states that Jacob Kounin conducted classroom studies in the 1960's to pinpoint the best way to approach classroom management and discipline. He found that good teachers used identifiable procedures for gaining student attention and clarifying expectations. These ideas, which coincide with the Managerial approach, were used by Jessica Fenton to become a more effective teacher. By setting up clear rules, procedures, and expectations, Fenton was able to manage and organize her classroom in the second half of her first year. This is the recommended approach for new teachers, and once in place in, Fenton's classroom routines flowed smoothly. By setting up clear routines and procedures, her students were organized and ready to learn. This also left less opportunity for misbehavior, because Fenton was maximizing their learning time.
The textbook also discusses the work of William Glasser, a psychiatrist and a great educational thinker. He believes there are seven connecting habits that teachers can use to improve relations between themselves and their students: caring, listening, supporting, contributing, encouraging, trusting, and befriending. These habits, part of the Humanistic approach, are used by Fenton to improve her relationship with her students. On the first day of school Fenton shares facts about herself that allow the students to get to know her better. She also uses an in-class checklist, in which the students tell her about themselves and their concerns. This opens up the lines of communication between student and teacher, and promotes a number of the connecting habits mentioned by Glasser. Fenton also promotes maturation by having the students fill out a survey asking the grade they hope to achieve, and how they plan to do so. The students sign a personal commitment to achieving this goal.
In summary, the learning in Jessica Fenton's classroom did not occur just for her students. Because she was passionate about her students and her profession, she worked to better prepare herself as an educator. Her insight was not new, as evidenced in the work of Kounin and Glasser, but her knowledge of the approach to teaching was new to her. Her commitment to personal growth and learning sets a standard for her students to follow.
Â Wong, Harry and Rosemary. "Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn." Teachers.Net. Mar. 2010. Web. 04 June 2010. <http://teachers.net/wong/MAR10/>.