Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A short conversation with...Justin Stortz @newfirewithin

I recently discovered a website named Teachmeet New Jersey: Fresh Ideas for Education. The site introduces educators to its readers by conducting short interviews. I really like that idea so I asked a few people from my PLN to answer a few questions about education. Enjoy.

Justin Stortz

How long have you been teaching?

I’m in my seventh year. I’ve taught Kindergarteners, 1st graders, and now 4th graders.

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Good gravy, yes! How could it not? I don’t think anyone teaching with a clear mind and an open heart can have a static educational philosophy.

If so, what led to this change? Was it a gradual process or a specific event?

I’ve had two major shifts in my thinking. Both were gradual and came about by observing and reflecting on my students.

The first was a shift from equal to fair. College was all about teaching me equality- all children get an equal chance and equal opportunities in education, etc. Some of that thinking began to shape my classroom interactions. In my first years, I wouldn’t let one student do something unless I was prepared to let everyone do it. So if a student finished early and wanted to go to the library, I’d often say no because other students didn’t have an equal opportunity to go. I felt the need treat all children equally. But, experience taught me that equality comes in varying degrees of fairness.

How dare I treat all children equally? What a colossal disservice to the children put in my charge. Some students need more; some students need less. Some don’t need it all.

Now I try to do what’s best for the individual student, and that’s obviously going to look different for each one. I am committed to treating children fairly, though. Each child is a one-of-a-kind unique creation and deserves to be treated with the same dignity and respect as anyone else in my class.

The second shift was from a mindset of control to one of release. It’s really the shift from a teacher centered classroom to a student centered classroom. I used to be big on my rules and dishing out the consequences. I used to do the behavior chart, treasure chest on Friday for those good enough, and many other types of rewards and punishments. I felt the need to micro manage student behavior and interactions.

Now I’m much more laid back. I believe students will rise to the responsibility given to them. I’m much more about an open classroom community of trust and respect. We create, we collaborate, we define- together. I’m still the authority figure in the room. That’s part of my responsibility. But, it’s not about me being in control, it’s about releasing and trusting the students to do their very best.

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

Never be afraid to apologize. You are a fallible human just like your students. Don’t play it off when you’re wrong or you lose your temper. Students, even very young ones, can smell a fake a mile away. Be real and authentic. You will reap tremendously more than you sow. And forget that “don’t smile until Christmas” junk too. Smile the first day, everyday.

Justin's Blog