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What is Third Grade?

When I first signed up for the residency in Ms. Ferandino’s third grade class, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d had some limited experience teaching college students, but teaching college students and teaching third graders are two totally different things.

When I first entered the classroom, I thought I had to be serious; I wasn’t used to cracking jokes or smiling as I taught art. But as I sat in the corner, taking notes as teaching artists Jessie Paddock and Rachael Schefrin skillfully controlled the energy in the room, I caught myself laughing at the silly remarks the children were making. When the teaching artist Rachael Schefrin asked the class to move like a fish, I found myself wiggling along in my chair. At the end, as the students formed a line, then walked out the door, many of them said goodbye to me, which made me feel welcome and less like an outsider. The biggest lesson I took away from my first day was this: you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously when you’re teaching art to third graders. If the class is having fun, they are going to be more creative, and they are going to associate the creative process with something that is fun and enjoyable to do.

On my second visit to Ms. Ferandino’s third grade class, teaching artist Rachael Schefrin started the class with a deep breathing exercise. She asked the children how they felt after five minutes of deep breathing and relaxing, and I was surprised by some of their responses. Not only did they understand concepts like simile and metaphor, but they also said profound things like “I felt like I was a cloud soaring above an ocean” or “I felt like I was floating above the class.” Rachel then guided the class in an exercise where she asked the students to draw the things that challenged them in their everyday life, in their community, and with themselves. I thought this was an excellent way to show the students how to use art as self-reflection. Throughout the class Rachel assigned various students who were extra energetic with tasks, and I thought this was an excellent way to corral the natural energy of a third grader and focus it into something positive.

On my third visit to Ms. Ferandino’s third grade class, I finally got to interact with the students. This may sound ridiculous, but I was terrified at first: it’s one thing to observe in the background, but standing in front of the third graders and helping them with their assignments is a totally different experience. In order to parallel the lesson from the week before, teaching artist Rachael Schefrin asked the students to draw something they loved about their everyday life, something they loved in their community, and something they loved about themselves. The teaching artists then tasked me with the helping the students with their drawings. I walked around and asked the students about what they were drawing and asked them if I could help. The more time I spent interacting with the students the more I felt my anxiety drift away. Soon, I was joking around with the students, and I was excited to see what they were drawing.

My experience teaching so far have been equal parts exciting and eye-opening, and I can’t wait to spend even more time with Ms. Ferandino’s third grade class.

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