May 8, 2023
By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching
Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students.
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As we begin Teacher Appreciation Week I want to start by saying thank you. Thank you to the teachers who inspired me to become a teacher myself. Thank you to the teachers who nurtured me through those early years of my career. Thank you to the teachers I’ve come to know through nearly 30 years of work with Inspired Teaching who strive to help their children reach their full potential – often under incredibly difficult circumstances. Thank you to the teachers who taught my own children and helped me learn new things about them as they grew through school.
Teachers have been at the core of my entire life. As a teacher myself I know full well that one week is not enough to recognize the far-reaching work you do. But it’s useful to take this pause and show gratitude for a profession that does nothing less than keep humanity moving forward.
It’s fitting then, that today I get to share with you insights from a newcomer to this vital work. Bella Cavicchi is a former colleague at Inspired Teaching who moved to London and last year, became a teacher. Her story is a beautiful reminder of why we do this work.
With appreciation, always,
Reflections from a First-Year Inspired Teacher
By Bella Cavicchi, Teacher and former Inspired Teaching Program Associate
Look up what to expect in one’s first year of teaching, and you’ll find a range of warnings.
- Don’t smile, or your students will take advantage of you.
- Be prepared to work long hours to meet the demands of administrators and parents.
- Avoid the job of teaching altogether, before it’s too late.
As a new teacher myself, I suppose this is advice I could heed. I’m in my first year of working as a drama teacher in a secondary school and sixth form in London (the equivalent to a middle school and high school in the United States), and my first seven months have been challenging and exhilarating in equal measure. And, again, as a new teacher, I must admit I often fit the stereotypes: I’m slightly naïve, overly optimistic, and prone to overthinking each lesson because everything remains new and novel.
Even with that in mind, what I’ve discovered so far is that the intention behind these warnings isn’t necessarily wrong: teaching is tough, a job inclined to burnout due to a myriad of factors big and small. But I wish that for just as much as we are cautioned about the challenges of teaching, we new educators are also told about the ample joy, reward, and sense of community that you can find in the classroom.
Because here’s another, if unsurprising, discovery: it’s these qualities that have me excited to return to school each day. Throughout the year, I’ve held steadfast to my beliefs that students deserve mutual respect and that their needs must be met through the learner-centered approach that Inspired Teaching advocates for. We teach content, yes, but also, and more importantly, we teach people.
What happens when we treat the classroom as a community in which students and teachers alike have an equal stake? My experience so far suggests a whole lot of joy lies in this perspective.
Take, for instance, a recent experience with my middle school students. We were due to start a new unit on improv, and I had already spent several weeks devising lesson plans that ensured we covered all of the curriculum, down to the very prompts I’d provide students for their final improvised performances. But it was here that I realized that I had failed to live up to my belief in the classroom as a community: if I moved ahead as planned, my students would have little say in this learning. And so, I went back to the drawing board, revising my plans so that students were empowered to make decisions themselves, the guiding question not “What is the answer?” but “What do you think?” As a result, our final lesson was an array of creative stories all set at a 24-hour dance competition, a prompt far better than what I could have created on my own.
Or here’s another example: teachers in the UK are each assigned a “form,” a group of students that you look over pastorally (I liken it to being their school parent). I see these students twice a week for Form Time, an open period left to the direction of the teacher. Form Time runs the risk of being prescriptive, but I’ve embraced it as yet another opportunity to foster connection through the practice of “Circle Time,” where we sit in a circle and anyone in the group can pose a topic for discussion. When I was running late one day and arrived in the room to discover my students already circled up and deep in conversation, I was reminded of the power of both a ritual and having a say.
These are just two examples, but within all my classes, I endeavor to keep community at the forefront. I prioritize learning names. I play with space, teaching from the floor and sitting at students’ desks and gathering everyone in a circle. I start lessons with gentle check-ins about our days, welcome regular feedback about what and how we’re learning, and am transparent with classes about what I find interesting, curious, or difficult. I care that my students both have fun and step outside of their comfort zones and have adjusted my teaching accordingly. None of these actions are particularly groundbreaking but taken together, they reflect my realization that you cannot separate our shared need to feel seen and heard as humans from our ability to teach and learn.
Of course, I recognize that I’m able to do all of this with such ease because I teach drama, a subject where flexibility and creativity abound. But I also know and believe that this approach championed at Inspired Teaching is not siloed to the arts, even if drama seems to have an easier job of it on the surface.
Because what truly constitutes “inspired teaching” is building community and fostering relationships. I like to frame teaching as a job of facilitating connection: to content, to context, to one another, and to the world. When I look at teaching in this light, it’s hard not to feel inspired to carry on this work. To be a teacher is no doubt tough, but let us not lose sight of the joy and community that underpins our job.
What We’re Curious About
Each week a member of the Inspired Teaching community shares something that’s piquing their curiosity. Maybe it will spark yours too!
Bella Cavicchi, Teacher and Former Inspired Teaching Program Associate
At school, I live by my timetable, the grid of the lessons I teach a means of organizing my week. Likewise, outside of work, I’m known to keep long lists of tasks to complete and projects I’d like to do, and places I want to visit in my “free time.” Like us all, time (and the lack thereof) plays a significant part in how I live my life. Which is a rambling way to say that something I am ever curious about is time!
Who decides what is a “good use” of time? How do we position ourselves in relation to time? What is time, really? I find myself mulling these questions over and over as I go about my day, governed by the clock and yet also curious if and how we can resist its control.
Driven by my wonder, I read a lot on time, including, most recently, Jenny Odell’s Saving Time, a book that encourages us to see time beyond a transaction. I like engaging in this dialogue about something that feels so fundamental, as it feels like an act of radical reimagining. What other things do we take as set in stone that we don’t necessarily need to?
Want a joyful way to have students review concepts for end-of-year exams? This improvisation-based activity is just the ticket. Students must work collaboratively to demonstrate knowledge in a physical way – all without words!
Tap into the joy of letting the imagination run wild in this activity that combines observation and inquiry as learners stretch their minds to find multiple answers to the same question.
In this activity each student in a class is paired with someone whom they will secretly observe, noticing what this classmate does that makes them smile. Then, they debrief their observations, sharing learning and joy with one another.