Teacher as Artist

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts, since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”               ~ Albert EinsteinIMG_6545 IMG_6531

My first great mentor was Miss Farrell, my Second Grade teacher at Stanley School. On the first day of class, ready to share her passion for horse racing, she stood before her 32 students. On her desk sat an authentic model of a race track. imagesAt the starting gates she’d positioned 4 horses – Tony, Red Badge, Bluebird, and Blackie, the horse to which I was assigned. For my entire Second Grade year, horse racing would be the context in which we learned.

IMG_6508Integrating curriculum requires an imaginative mindset and a vast amount of work. That is just what Charles River School’s Fourth Grade teacher, Teresa Baker, brings to her teaching. Inspiring children with the theme of Ancient Greece, she interweaves geography, history, literacy, math, science, art, and music into a appetizing feast for young learners.IMG_6520IMG_6552

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Skillfully linking art and academics, Ms. Baker starts with just a bit of content material and grows the curricular context as she adds each new learning experience. IMG_6554
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Children become gods and goddesses, taking on the identities of those with powerful positions in the mythological hierarchy.

They use novel ways of thinking to become creators and inventors. Grappling with big ideas, they pose relevant questions (Why did the Greeks make vases? How did they make them? Do different vases hold different things?), comparing ancient traditions to today’s life patterns. One of Ms. Baker’s goals is for students to represent their understanding in multiple dimensions, on maps, original games, in writing, theater, and musical composition.

When we give children the opportunity to transform their ideas into new and tangible forms, we empower them to have the courage, imagination, and wisdom to become change-makers. Feeling competent about the possibilities, they know that beyond classroom walls, they can affect change in their local communities and wider world. IMG_6538 

IMG_6542Teaching is an art form. With today’s pressure on professionals to better student test scores and integrate developing technology, how many of us take the time to recognize the ways in which teachers stretch children’s thinking? Plunge them into discussions about real world trends?  Teach them to think as a team?

I observed Ms. Baker teaching a lesson in logic. She emphasized strategy, asked Fourth Graders what problems had in common, and noted that,”Not every strategy works for every type of problem.” She reminded students what it means to be organized in one’s thinking, to notice patterns, and that starting with simpler problems that become more complex enables children to confidently apply what they’ve learned.

When we chatted after the lesson I wasn’t surprised to hear Ms. Baker refer to the process as, “It’s all about going deep. When I pull out those (math) manipulatives I’m not just teaching a skill – I’m helping children gain conceptual understanding.”

IMG_6502IMG_6523Ms. Baker knows that her students are more than aware of world issues. Acknowledging their fears and questions, “Why are some religions so different from others? Why do some people kill?”, she believes that talking honestly and appropriately to children will help the next generation to become kinder and more generous individuals. “These kids are the future. I keep telling them, “Be kind – no exceptions!” 

We must affirm our extraordinary teachers and learn from them. Not only are they transforming their classrooms into centers for inventive and strategic thinking, they are  training children to be questioning, collaborative, and proactive members of our world community. She reminded me, “We have power here – to change the world. It’s really important work. It’s uplifting to be part of it! “

Kudos to you, Ms. Baker!   You are moving minds and growing the human spirit.

Nancy Harris Frohlich

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