April 14, 2017
This April, Inspired Teaching spoke with Ms. Lisa Brosnan. A 2014 Inspired Teaching Fellow, Lisa is a kindergarten teacher in DC Public Schools.
What does being an Inspired Teacher mean to you?
As a result of Inspired Teaching, I’m more thoughtful in the way I approach children. It can be very easy to dismiss kids as not being capable of a lot of things. Becoming an Inspired Teacher has shaped the way I see children and how much they are capable of doing. Their thoughts are valid and meaningful and can contribute powerfully to the classroom. This mindset — it’s a seed that was planted in me by Inspired Teaching, and one that I have cultivated and grown over time — influences the things I do in my classroom every day.
In my classroom, being an Inspired Teacher means that I never really answer kids’ questions straight off. I usually turn it back on them: What do you think? What made you answer that way? What do you know about this already? It’s important to gauge what kids know, but also to allow them to think about the question they are asking. This helps teach them how to think, not what to think.
Imagination also plays a large role in my classroom, pushing students beyond what they would usually come up with on their own. For example, the kids make a lot of props for various lessons, and I challenge them to use props in a different way than the norm, to see them in a new light. A painted orange piece of foam can be a hotdog. Pushing students outside of their comfort zones like this is a fundamental part of learning.
What does being a changemaker mean to you?
It can be really easy to get bogged down in that mindset of not valuing kids for who they are. A lot of schools focus on compliance — kids behaving in a certain, very prescriptive way. Being a changemaker means acknowledging that is one way to do things, but it is not the way I will do things. It means having that conversation with your colleagues so they can change their mindsets.
It would be easy to go to a school with a ton of Inspired Teachers — but what would I be learning if I only worked with people who think like me? I am intentional about where I work; I chose not to be surrounded by people who necessarily share the Inspired Teaching philosophy. Sometimes I feel like I’m alone, but I’m getting a different perspective and other people get a different perspective from me.
What brought you to Inspired Teaching?
I didn’t know that I wanted to be a teacher for a long time. For many years, everybody who knew me said I would be so great at it — but I had my doubts. Then when a friend taught in China, he made it seem really appealing to me. I had been working at Starbucks for fourteen years, and I was feeling like my work didn’t have a lot of meaning. Teaching makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile with my life.
I remember really wanting to work with Inspired Teaching once I participated in Selection Day, the final step for applicants to the Inspired Teacher Certification Program. I remember how good I felt that day — immediately, I knew this was an organization I wanted to be a part of.
Specifically, I remember starting the day with stretching exercises. I didn’t realize how tense I was — I had been driving; it was raining that day — and the staff put me at ease. My immediate first impression was that I didn’t have to feel tense like in other high-stakes interviews. Even on the interview day, it felt like I could be part of an existing community.
What was the transition to teaching like?
Initially, it was scary. For the first days and weeks in the classroom I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But I drew upon my skills as a barista. I thought of managing my students and parents like working with customers: What can I give them that they want and need?
Teaching appeals to every facet of my personality. I get to be the goofy person and the serious person. I get to incorporate my love of reading and art. It hits every mental note for me. I can be my most authentic self, because there is no part of me that I’m suppressing when I teach.
You just completed the Inspired Teacher Certification Program at the end of the last school year (2015-2016). What is it like being an alumna of the program, in your second year as a teacher of record?
I am still very much a part of the Inspired Teaching community. Of course I talk to my cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows — we just had a potluck at my house! We reconnect as a group every so often. I’m friends with many other alumni, too. I try to go to as many Inspired Teaching events as possible, like the happy hours and trainings hosted by the Fellows Advisory Board (FAB). I recently went to an LGBTQ competency training workshop with SMYAL, which was eye-opening and interesting. It’s easy to stay involved if you make the effort.
With teaching, there are ebbs and flows over the year. There are times when everything is going great and then there are times I want to tear my hair out. I have enough knowledge in my bank, though, to recognize that I’m feeling stressed because it’s that time of the year and I need a break; my kids need a break. The moments of stress will pass. Overall, I’m so happy to be a teacher. My time with my kids each school year is short and I need to cherish it. I must appreciate it while I have it.