Saturday, March 14, 2009

Welcome to the Aquarium

Welcome to the Aquarium by Julie Diamond takes us through one year in the life of a kindergarten teacher and her class at P.S. 87 in New York City. Excerpts from her journal thread through the book in which she describes her teaching methods and philosophy and her struggles to bring out the best in her class and herself as a teacher. There are many practical pieces of information but to me the most important overall point is that she is a teacher constantly engaged in self reflection through which she grows as a teacher and keeps engaged in the process. Julie Diamond is the kindergarten teacher we all wish we and our children had.

Our resources are our own capacities: Our Capacity to observe, especially at moments when nothing seems to be going on. Our capacity to be surprised by something a child said or did or made. Our capacity to be puzzled, and to mine puzzlement, to see something that escaped us earlier. Our capacity to recognize whatever has deep personal meaning, for our students and also for ourselves (a colleague's class study of birds). Not least, our capacity for friendship—our searching out sympathetic people, who provide the human environment we need. I began the school year, after all, walking to school with a friend. These are steps teachers can make immediately, right now; these resources—the capacities for observation, surprise, puzzlement, and connection—are always present. "Education in its widest sense," Carlina Rinaldi says, is "a hope for human beings."

In recognizing what matters to children and to ourselves, we develop a culture of teaching. The more years we teach, the more we understand what the work entails; and the more complex, colorful, and detailed the culture becomes. In choosing to teach, year after year, we
learn to teach; we gain conviction and we discover again and again who are as teachers.

Welcome to the Aquarium
is particularly valuable to those who work with young children but Julie Diamond's understanding of teaching has value for anyone involved in education. I found that three chapters, Collages: Making Art, Finding Curriculum: A Study of Squirrels, and The Uses of Literacy: Reading and Writing, were particularly applicable to bookmaking.

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