No doubt about it, the best part of my job as teacher liaison for ED is getting to watch teachers who are really great at their jobs caught up in the art of teaching.
This happened not long ago, when I tagged along for a morning in the third grade classroom of Lisa Jones, a District of Columbia Public Schools teacher at Watkins Elementary. As I arrived, Jones’s kids were collecting basil from their community garden, but Jones was harvesting something else altogether.
“Be nice, baby,” she said to a little boy having trouble sharing. “Always put out good energy. When you put out good energy, what comes back?”
“Good energy!” he yelled and gave her a high-five.
It’s clear that Jones has a special knack for covering so much academic ground, while at the same time honing important interpersonal and teamwork skills.
And her classroom indoors works the same way. In fact, I was amazed at the number of objectives Jones’s students accomplish in a very short amount of time. In under two hours, her students review the life cycle of plants and check on the progress of their squash and peppers; write, share, and garner feedback on their writing about self esteem; read independently from books of their choosing; perform a rap song about how to succeed; and work in small groups to construct perfect sentences defining the word “immigrant.”
The whole time, Jones–a former insurance underwriter who changed careers six years ago to become a teacher–never lets up, never misses a beat. She expects every student to be engaged and working at all times.
As students work independently, she says, “Good writers don’t have to count the number of sentences they write to know they are done because good writing comes from the head and the heart, not the count.”
As students complete a social studies task using small whiteboards, Jones gently taps one who is becoming angry with a team member who is slow to finish a task.
“What’s the best way to help her learn?” she asks. When he responds, she whispers, “Why is it better to show her than to fuss? Can you show me how that might work?”
When it is time for me to leave, I absolutely do not want to go. Before I do, I take a minute to chat with Miss Jones about her pedagogy. “My style doesn’t fit for everyone,” she admits. “The academics, I know they are going to get. But I work the other side too. It’s important that they have self esteem.”
Laurie Calvert is a Teacher Liaison at The U.S. Department of Education and a 2010-11 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.