written by Nili Pearlmutter, Delet Field Studies Coordinator
One distinctive feature of Delet is the tight integration of our internship and our coursework. This is evident from the beginning of the school year, as interns investigate how their mentor teachers work with groups of children to create communities of learners. Most new teachers have the same big question on their minds: How will I manage this group of children? We approach that question from another perspective, showing interns that rather than trying to “manage children,” an expert teacher works to create a culture of learning in the classroom. This includes the rules and routines that establish behavior expectations as well as other aspects of the classroom culture that teach students what it means to be a learner. To an outsider entering a classroom this can look a bit like magic!
We design interns’ assignments to help them get inside the thinking and decision making of their mentor teachers. The culture of the class will be fundamentally affected by the beliefs and vision of the teacher, so our interns interview their mentors before the school year starts. Interns observe carefully on the first day to see what their mentors’ stated beliefs look like in action. They learn how mentors communicate explicit and implicit messages about what it means to be a member of the classroom community in a Jewish day school. Interns observe and assist as mentors construct and teach rules and set expectations for behavior though teaching rules and routines. After approximately six weeks, interns reflect on what they’ve learned about beginning the year with a group of children. Here are some of the things they say:
I never understood how classrooms operated so smoothly, and after watching my mentor carefully establish rules and norms, it made me realize how profound this process is and how much repetition is involved to keep the expectations ingrained in the students minds.
Coming into Delet, my considerations about the role of a teacher focused solely on the teacher’s role in encouraging student learning, and not on the importance of establishing clear rules about non-academic parts of the day, such as lunch. I now see the importance of these routines, both in maintaining order in a classroom, and in furthering learning.
This investigation of classroom culture, which pairs focused observation with opportunities to get inside a mentor’s thinking, is a cornerstone of Delet.