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.