At 8:30 one April morning, a group of 3rd graders at the National Teachers Academy hustle in from a side entrance, make their way to their classroom and put away their coats. But no one sits down—it’s time for the morning ritual.
Someone pushes a button on a CD player and the voice of singer Patti LaBelle resonates through the room. I’m feeling good from my head to my shoes. … I got a new attitude.
The kids swing their arms, clap their hands, sway from side to side and sing along. Teacher LaTina Booker-Taylor and student teacher Jamsetta Carlisle also move to the beat. Once the song is over, the youngsters quickly settle down.
“The morning ritual gets the kids energized and ready to work,” explains Carlisle, a senior from Northeastern Illinois University.
The song also serves as a personal reminder to Carlisle about her new attitude towards teaching. “Before coming to NTA, I envisioned myself as a traditional teacher [saying], ‘Students, you will listen to me and do what I tell you to do,'” Carlisle says. “I thought the only way students learn is to force-feed them information. But after being here, I don’t feel that way anymore.”
At NTA, she has witnessed students initiate research on their own to learn more about a subject and set their own personal learning goals.
These ideas emerge from NTA’s emphasis on engaging students by using creative, hands-on lessons, valuing their opinions and including them in the learning process.
Carlisle always wanted to be a teacher, but two years after graduating from high school, she got married and sidetracked into a job as a human resources recruiter.
“I got an associate’s degree in liberal arts and ended up working in human resources,” explains Carlisle, who is 45. “It was not something I’d planned to do, I just fell into it.”
Then, her employer relocated to Atlanta, and Carlisle decided not to move. “My family is here,” she says. “Plus, I’d been thinking about quitting to go back to school. I’d never given up the desire to teach. This just made it easier to do.”
With this goal in mind, Carlisle enrolled full time at Northeastern Illinois University in the spring of 1999. She came to NTA last September to complete 100 hours of clinical classroom observation, a state prerequisite that precedes student teaching.
Carlisle was assigned to observe a 4th-grade class, and also taught a couple of reading and math lessons, working with small groups of children. The techniques used by the classroom teacher opened her eyes.
“To help students learn to write, the teacher created a post office where students wrote to each other and to the teacher,” says Carlisle. “They had envelopes, stamps—everything. The kids loved it.”
She was so impressed, she completed an additional 30 hours of clinical observation. When the program ended last fall, she volunteered to work in NTA’s reading resource lab, where she categorized and organized text books by grade level and tested kindergarteners to determine their academic levels.
In January, Carlisle started student teaching. She was assigned to a 3rd-grade class led by Booker-Taylor, whose teaching style was energizing. To teach fractions, for instance, Booker-Taylor had students break chocolate candy bars into a designated number of pieces to create fractions.
“Kids love chocolate,” says Carlisle. “Why not use it to create lessons?”
To teach the concept of symmetry, the teachers had students fold a piece of paper in half, trace the shape of a butterfly and cut out the image. The students’ enthusiasm for the lesson continued for the rest of the day as they pointed out symmetrical objects around the school.
Booker-Taylor engages students by having them think about their own learning and giving them a voice. Posted in her classroom is a large banner that asks, “What is your learning goal today?” At the end of the day, students talk about whether they reached their goals and identify goals they’d like to set for the following day and the future.
Carlisle will graduate from Northeastern in December, but says she will be disappointed when her student teaching assignment ends in May.
“I brought my camera and took pictures of every inch of that classroom so I can set up my classroom the same way,” Carlisle says. “Actually, I took pictures of things around the whole school. I don’t want to forget anything.”