Is magic in the classroom the norm or not? "I think magic in the classroom is overlooked and when it's harnessed that's the exception."
How often do you experience magic in your classroom? "To me teaching and learning are both magical so I experience magic quite often?"
What do you do to make this magic happen? "First, I prepare by deciding how to share myself through the material. For example, I have a natural sense of humor and I love to read and listen to music. If I can find a way to share any of my passions with my students through the mandated content, that's the first step in inviting them into a safe learning space. So when I teach social studies to 6th grade, the kids need to learn about the term, the "golden age." I introduce them to Jill Scott who wrote a song called "Living Life Like It's Golden," which I believe represents a golden age in popular music. Then I invite them to debate the properties of a golden age in history by comparing my generation's music to theirs. This leads to discussions all kinds of golden ages and gives the students ownership of the term."
What do you look for in the material you use to connect to your students? "I have to look for outside material to supplement the mediocre required texts, which gives kids facts but doesn't inspire interest. I can say honestly, that in order to connect to my students and have them connect to each other and eventually connect to the material, I have to be some kind of voice--an author's voice, a musician's voice, an artist's voice that transcends diversities and keys into common humanity."
How have you used the Nonfiction Minute? "When we were learning about the Medieval Period in history, I used the Nonfiction Minute called "Gong Farmers." I then posted the link on my class page with the warning, "Read at your own risk. This is disgusting. I don't want to talk about it."Of course, most of them read it but then I had them lead a small group discussion about some of the pros and cons of the feudal system from the peasants' perspective. And several children brought up the idea of a gong-farmer and explicitly explained what the job entailed while I barely contained my composure."
Pam, you are an exemplar of what I call the "artist teacher." How do you get away with it? "I get criticized by administrators and sometimes other teachers. But parents and students give me consistently high ratings, so I persevere. I get some encouragement from my work outside the classroom. I teach teachers. I evaluate content and even provide really fun robotics to kids facing family trauma. I've never seen teaching as anything but an opportunity to share magic.”
If you are a teacher who has never experienced magic in the classroom, you must first know yourself and be fully and confidently self-expressed. Next you must be constantly on the lookout for excellent content material created by others who are also fully and confidently secure in their form of self-expression. Shared humanity is at the heart of it all.