#ColleagueCorner is an occasional series which reminds us that our greatest resource is each other. Through human connection and shared experience, these stories provide us a glimpse into their world, a world we all share as educators.
Cristin Introcaso is the kind of person I am thankful I was able to share space with. Any space. In my case as her supervisor for a year, it was her choir room, our auditorium, and a tucked away corner of a second floor atrium at Rowan University. She’s the kind of person kids flock to and adults aspire to. Her Colleague Corner proves why.
I recently read Brian’s piece, Forgetting How to Smile. In it, he makes the case that, as educators, we need to check in with ourselves often, to make sure we haven’t fallen into a rut and that we are still (to borrow a phrase) sparking joy. The post got me thinking about what other aspects of this multifaceted profession are also worth pausing to think about.
On the best days, a classroom is a collaboration between teacher and students. In that vein, I propose a question to consider: Would I want to be a student in my class?
It can be incredibly easy to forget what it is like to be a student. Educators are teaching to standardized tests, trying to get a project in before the end of the marking period, trying to make deadlines on various district initiatives, and a host of other things, big and small. But we sometimes need to pause and step into the shoes of the students and see things from their perspective. The same way we all know that administrator who has forgotten what it’s like to be a teacher, we don’t want to forget what it’s like to be a student.
This idea can manifest in many ways. I’m going to focus on two ideas that I think are big picture concepts.
The first is emotional. When I was a student, I really noticed the day-to-day attitudes of my teachers, especially if it seemed like they were in a bad mood and “taking it out on the class,” as 15 year olds perceive it. Students tend to think teachers live in the classroom closet and emerge, renewed and refreshed every morning to teach Geometry. Of course that is not the case. We are people and our job is just one aspect of our lives.
When something is going on in our personal lives or if the last class was challenging, we strive to not bring it into the classroom. But some days that is not possible; the situation has stuck with us like a bad cold. On those days, I think back to myself at 15 and what I would have needed from my teacher. I would have wanted a heads up, so I am upfront with my students. I don’t burden them with details, which would be inappropriate. I simply share that it has been a rough day and ask for their patience with me. Most of the time, the students respond positively. It helps us be more human and allows space for the students to be empathetic in kind.
The second point is one of the harder things for educators to remember: your class is only one small aspect of the students’ day. At the secondary level, we are so passionate about our subject that we have dedicated our lives to teaching it. But for the kids behind the desks, even those who love you and your subject, this is one of multiple classes and some days your class isn’t taking top priority. Your class is among all sorts of demands on their time, some elected like clubs and athletics and some necessary like a job. In fact, working is the most significant shift I have seen in students over the last 16 years. Jobs are essential to some of our kids, with many students helping to contribute to their households or babysit younger siblings while parents take a second shift. As much as the students think of us as living in the classroom closet, we sometimes think of them in a similar way. Is it essential that the homework be done by Monday or can there be flexibility?
I need this post as much as anyone. It’s the end of winter, myself and the students are feeling the low energy due to a lack of sun, and right now it is easy for me to get frustrated with them. Writing this forced me to take a moment to see my class from their eyes. I realized that I am projecting low energy out; the students are simply giving it back to me. So I acknowledged the funk I was feeling, changed up the routine, took some time for relationship building, and hit reset on the class. Now we are back to a class I would want to be in as a student.
We are sparking joy again for each other.
Cristin Charlton Introcaso is in her sixteenth year as director of choirs at Collingswood High School. Mrs. Introcaso received her Bachelor of Vocal Music Education and Master of Music in Choral Conducting from Rowan University. An active member of ACDA and NAfME, Mrs. Introcaso is the Auditions Chair for Region III All South Jersey Chorus, has presented sessions for the NJMEA conferences, conducted the 2014 SJCDA Elementary Festival, the Camden County Music Educators’ Professional Development Day, and most recently was the co-chair for the Together We Sing sessions at the ACDA Eastern Division.