“Teaching Tips”

ID # 3715

“Tips on Teaching: Observing Teacher-Student Interactions in the Wee Morning Hours”

Throughout the semester, I have been volunteering with Mr. Cone’s Poverty Reading Group at Carrboro High School; every Wednesday morning, four of us rise before the sun, pile into a car and arrive, coffee cups in hand, around 6:45am. Our dedication is nothing, though, compared to that of the students. This class has provided me with an amazing opportunity to observe intensive teaching at its finest- not only is it an elective course, ridiculously early one morning per week, but the students are purposely selected by Mr. Cone himself based on their abilities to dig deeper than surface level about many of these often overwhelming issues: global poverty, water shortages, civil wars. Mr. Cone does not accept less than intense focus and commitment from his students. In many ways, his teaching style differs how I believe I will be teaching a class (which I will soon find out, since Teach for America is the next step in my future). The beauty about working with a class of such committed students is that Mr. Cone can, and does, hold them to excellence and perfection- one absence, being tardy to the class, pausing before asking questions- he vigorously critiques his students and yet, he encourages them to work past any hesitancy to get to the deeper issues. I think his method is rigorous, but ultimately, effective. His students are not scared to ask questions, which is one of the pivotal struggles within the classroom nowadays. We are all familiar with that awkward pause after a discussion when the facilitator asks what questions there are and silence permeates the classroom. Mr. Cone actively instills, and inspires, an unquenchable curiosity in his students.

What surprises me the most is the caliber of questions these kids ask. Most of these students are sophomores in high school, usually 5-6 years younger than the UNC facilitators in the room and yet, their questions are so direct, so poignant, that they oftentimes exceed the types of questions I hear in my university lecture halls or small class discussions. Although this is an elective class, these students are gaining skills that they can apply to nearly any classroom opportunity in their future. They further their abilities by engaging in intensive reading, oftentimes covering 100-150 pages in between their sessions, and even interviewing various senators, NGO organizers, and foreign policy experts- some of these conversations include Laura Bush and Paul Collier.

I do wish that we, as volunteers, had more to do at times but since we have not read some of the books that they are discussing, we are doing the best we can for the situation- facilitating discussion, asking questions, posing ideas related to what we’ve experienced. It’s inspiring to be with a group of young people who are so passionate about such complex issues. I’m setting a personal goal to complete the readings as well, at least one of the upcoming books, so that I too can work on formulating these deeper questions. I think that Carolina Navigators are most effective when they do spend repeated time with a classroom of students; that way, the teachers and students get to know us in association with our study abroad country but also as college students who exemplify the types of paths and choices that are available in the future.  On our last day in Mr. Cone’s classroom, the four of us gave an informal presentation about transitions into college- taking care of your body as well as your mind, putting yourself out there, realizing and believing in your own importance, forming connections with professors. By the end of it, we were all a tad bit teary eyed, and the students asked if they could friend us on Facebook, a sign that we succeeded in emitting the ultimate cool factor. I look forward to more opportunities to act as a teacher and mentor for students in a way that encourages them to think deeply, harness their focus, and produce their own creative ideas.