She was supposed to be my coach during my rookie year of teaching. But when I first met Diane Hoffman at Broad Acres Elementary School in Silver Spring, I wasn't exactly enthusiastic about being assigned a "consulting teacher." All I could think was: Here's one more person I have to report to. One more person observing me. One more person taking up my time when time is what I don't have! Can't the school system just leave me alone so I can teach?
It took me two months to take advantage of Diane's years of classroom experience. By then, I was feeling more comfortable with her and with my transition from my previous career as a linguist to my new career teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages. Even so, there was one class that really worried me. I had a group of eight third-graders who seemed out of control. They were calling out and bickering all the time, and I found myself jumping into the melee. As someone who'd been educated in parochial schools where we couldn't even raise our hands while someone else was talking, this class was entirely too rowdy for me. I asked Diane to observe me teaching and tell me how I could better manage the situation.
The class went just as I thought it would: I was able to complete the lesson I had planned, but not without worrying that very little had gotten through to my raucous students. At our meeting following the observation, Diane looked at me and said, "That was a great class!" I wondered if she had been paying attention during the observation. Certainly, she couldn't have slept through all of the noise.
But Diane had a different take on what she'd just witnessed. I remember her telling me: Julie, kids don't have to fit teachers -- we have to fit them. This class is noisy to you, but it's working for the kids. If you listen to their words instead of the noise, you'll realize that they're talking on topic. They're learning. They're talking. You're talking with them. And, believe it or not, it seemed to me that you were having fun bickering with them!
She went on to voice an idea that would help me shape every class I taught from then on: Your class is functioning like a family at the dinner table. It's a small group where everyone's talking, but everyone is listening, too. Your class is a family.
Each year as I start with new groups of students, I think of Diane's words and the insight they've given me. I love teaching, but Diane helped me understand why. And she made me conscious of what I want my classes to be -- a family.
Julie Desai has been a teacher at Broad Acres Elementary for six years.