Then, along came my mentor. To watch an expert who has learned to master this approach is indeed a treat for the teacher who does not like to (or believe in) raising her voice (unless absolutely necessary - a fine line), and who is looking to build up and preserve the dignity of her students at all times. Today, and in the one or two instances in which I've seen her model a lesson, I was able to bear witness.
A breath of fresh air, of sweet air. You almost wonder if what you're inhaling is too sweet. The constant positive reinforcement and praise as the children come to the rug and find their spots. The constant re-directing BY positively acknowledging and praising children who are following expectations. She says, with exaggerated shock and amazement, that she is seeing 17 'wows'.
Yes, you can pick up on her firm (but kind) insistence that students hold their thought, or that it's "her turn to talk", when students wave their hands around like a sparkler on the fourth of July or speak out without raising theirs hands. But the constant sugar-coat is still there, and you almost can't believe the kids are buying into her constant, almost over-done acknowledgements...until you realize how much you are buying into her magnetic flow of praise.
The atmosphere is controlled, but feels light and positive...like a feather dancing in a spring wind (we are learning about figurative language, after all). You find yourself nodding along and sitting up straighter in your seat. "This does work!", you suddenly realize; though certainly, the ease and control with which she delivers her tone and strategies looks much more effortless than it actually is when you're the one in the actor's seat.
Not even an actor's, though it's true that the teacher feels to an extent that he or she is always "on" stage. Teaching is a performance. Teaching is an art. And though these strategies and approaches may be practiced with extra flair and exaggeration, that does not necessarily detract from the authenticity of the delivery, just as a moving performance on stage rings true with its audience.
Her authentic attention to the details of her craft, and to the students, is very evident. This is where the magic lies. This type of authentic teaching can't be taught - the strategies surely can be taught, but not the heart or commitment to wanting to learn how to use and master this kind but firm approach. Or, as my mentor helped me to visualize so aptly, "an iron hand in a velvet glove."
As I near the end (?!) of my first year of teaching, I sit back and reflect on how well and often I truly deliver on this philosophy that I hold near and dear. As I listen to her read "The Little Island", I'm as encapsulate by the story as I am at her handling of positive reinforcement, and later her promotion of student discussion and active listening.
I make it a point to keep this approach and philosophy as close to my mind and heart as possible, as I continue to plow through the weeks (and especially when the feet start to feel a tad weighty). If she can do it, so can I. I can't fake it - maybe I'm not quite as honey-sweet in my tone - but I can learn how to use the velvet in tandem with the steel, and become an original - and a better teacher.