December 12, 2014

Week 10: Wait...What?

While I had every intention of writing about my experiences every week, here we are at Week 10. The final week. So what happened? Well, life happened.

I intended this blog to be a true-life representation of what it's like to teach for Citizen Schools. And as it turns out, it is more real than I thought it would be. Time flies by. You're juggling work and family and holidays and all of life's other events and yet you still find the time to be there once a week for your students. Some days you have no idea how you'll get it all done, but you do. Because you know the kids are counting on you. One week flows into the next and the next thing you know it's week 10 and you're excited for the WOW! (the final presentation to family & friends).

Last night was our WOW! Seeing families and friends milling around to see all the great work the students have done is such a joy to watch. The students standing in front of their work, talking proudly about what they've learned, answering questions from the visitors strolling by. There's no way to feel anything but pride. The students have learned so much. Frankly, more than you ever thought they would. Only because you were scared they would even care about what you're teaching. But they do. And a big piece of that is because they can tell you care about what you're teaching. And that you care about them.

So what advice do I have for people considering teaching for Citizen Schools? Think about what you love, what makes you happy, to what do you already give your time? What if you could share that? Would sharing it bring you joy? I say you and not "a child" because every child loves to be taught something that an adult is passionate about. That's just a given. The love and attention you bring to that time with a child is something they'll never forget.

If you're thinking about teaching, I encourage you to go to the Citizen Schools website and look at the already built curricula. These are classes that are ready to teach tomorrow. There are over 60 classes from songwriting to forensics. But maybe you're an expert in Indian Classical Dance and there's no class built for that. Can you build your own? Probably, but your local Citizen Schools team can help you.

Teaching for Citizen Schools has changed my life in a way I never expected. I am more grateful, more humble, more patient and more fulfilled than I was before. I just finished my third apprenticeship and I know I'll teach a fourth. What will you teach?

October 14, 2014

Week 4: Words to Add Meaning

The students are looking at their world in a new way.

This week's lesson was about how words can add more meaning and context to photos. We talked about captions and their ability to tell who, what, where, when and how. And ironically, the students wrote their own words to me and my fellow teacher, Leah, after class. They were to apologize for being rude during the lesson by talking during the lesson and not paying attention. It was at the request of Allison, our Teaching Fellow, who works for Citizen Schools.

Apologies from the class

One of the hardest parts of being a Citizen Teacher is learning what the difference is between "being a kid" and disrespectful behaviors. You're typically more lenient with the students because you expect them to be kids. You expect some disruption.

The great news is your Citizen Schools Teaching Fellow is there to help. To help with classroom management, help keep the students focused and on task and help you craft your lessons so the students' energy levels are managed appropriately. Teach a little, then an activity. Teach a little more then another activity. The key is to keep them engaged and interested. My Teaching Fellows have been my lifesavers. I respect them so much.

No one expects you to know how to be a school teacher overnight. It's hard work. Much harder than you likely anticipated. But thankfully, Citizen Schools helps prepare you and walks you through the process week after week. You're supported from day one. So then you can support the students to become amazing adults.

October 2, 2014

Week 3: Foundations

A portrait of leading lines.

This week is the big week. The foundational week. This is the week we teach the major concepts they'll practice the rest of the apprenticeshipelements of composition. Rule of thirds, leading lines, shooting angle and patterns are terms we'll be using over and over, hoping the concepts are taking root.

This week was also a little less crazy in the classroom. You never know what it will be like from week to week. Who knows what might have happened that day before you got there, what kid might be having a rough time at home and is acting out or maybe it's been smooth sailing. Regardless, it's never anything you can't smile through because it's so much fun to be with the students. The energy the children bring is infectious.

One of the reasons I love teaching in the fall is because we can go outside to take pictures one or two weeks before Winter settles in. This week was an outside week. Naturally the kids seem a little like caged animals who were just freed from captivity. Fresh air! No walls! But eventually they settle down enough to get down to businesstaking pictures with their tablets.

One student's picture from this week. An excellent example of shooting angle.

I love watching the students take their pictures. Sure, they take pictures that aren't really part of the assignment. The allure of snapping your friends is just too great. But when they come to you to show you their "real" shots and you can see they're getting it, that the concepts you just taught them are sinking inthere's just no feeling like it. The impact you can have, to teach a child something you love. To share something you know they've never been exposed to before and, possibly, wouldn't ever have if you hadn't decided to teach.

Almost everyone can remember that one teacher you had who opened your eyes, taught you something magical. I can only hope I might be that teacher for a student someday.

September 25, 2014

Week Two: Patience

Say cheese!

Nothing feels as good as walking in a classroom and having every student say, "Hello Ms. Britton!"...except for when one of them runs up to you and gives you a hug.

For the students, week two's lesson was about camera technology and contrast. For the teachers, it's about patience. In week two the newness has worn off. The shyness is gone. They know how this works now, and they're going to test you. How tough will you be? How will you react when they're out of their seats and walking around? Maybe not focused on the activity they're supposed to be doing. Just being kids.

So you're there, teaching them about how a camera works, how some of the first cameras used film. Film? They guessed the picture of a roll of film was a battery. Ha.

Time for an activity -- a little show and tell of old cameras. I brought a couple of my box cameras from the early 20th century and a mid-century accordion camera. My fellow Citizen Teacher Kati brought a more modern 35mm film camera and I also had a disposable camera we'd opened up so they could see the film inside. I'm always amazed at the things the students notice. This time it was the smell of the almost century-old leather covered cameras. Followed by turned up noses. "Ew."

The second part of class we learned about contrast - both light/dark and color. One of my favorite things to teach is about color contrast and how opposite colors on the color wheel are contrasting colors. At first they think it's really complicated until I ask them what the colors of the Chicago Bears are? Blue & orange! And the Los Angeles Lakers? Yellow and purple! Christmas colors? Red and green! Contrasting colors! And just like that, they get it.

And now it's time to take pictures. Here's where the lesson in patience begins. The students all get their tablets and start zig-zagging all over the classroom to take pictures of contrast. The volume increases. And the selfies. Oh the selfies. Focus, children. Contrast. Find the contrast in the room. And they do, finally. And then one girl comes up to you, smiles and says, "I'm having fun."

And then you summon a little extra patience and a little extra energy to finish up the class. Then it hits you: teachers do this EVERY DAY. And from that day forward you'll hug every teacher you meet because you don't know what we'd do without them.

So intrigued by the box cameras

September 16, 2014

Week One: Affirmations

Today was the first class of my Citizen Schools apprenticeship on photography. Since this is my third semester teaching, the jitters are barely there. Instead I'm filled with excitement to get to share my love of photography with another young bunch of students.

And then I saw the news while I was getting ready for work this morning:

Wait. That's my school. MY school.

If you live in Chicago, you're used to hearing about problems on the South Side of the city. Guns. Gangs. Drive-bys. Innocent children killed. Sadly, one can become numb to it all. Largely because for most of us, it seems a world away. And then one day it comes home.

Turns out this was a student I'd taught last Fall. I knew him. For 10 weeks I taught him about photography. And all I can hope is that for the time he was in my class, he felt safe. Happy. Cared for.

So I went to my new class today. Still excited and more purposeful than ever. Today was an affirmation of why I choose to teach for Citizen Schools. These students are at risk. Their environment is tentative on many levels. They don't have the luxuries of academic opportunities like I had. But maybe I can spend an afternoon a week with them for 10 weeks and show them something different. A different way of looking at the world. A world that is beautiful. A world I want them to live in for a very long time.

One of my new students taking pictures with his tablet today.