I had one of those moments this week, the kind of moments every teacher lives for... I have taught a young lady for the past few years who has many obstacles both physical and psychological. She is in special classes, but in art classes, she is mainstreamed. At the beginning of the semester, when I saw that she had signed up for my Architecture II class, typically full of very serious, high-level students, I was worried that she would find the work and concepts too difficult and then be anxious. I met with the team of special education teachers and eventually with her mother and we agreed to let her try the class. If any of us felt that it was making her anxious, we would immediately find another class for her. At first, she did okay, keeping up with the others through some redirection and further explanation. As the semester progressed, I saw that she was leaning less and less on her aid for help with cutting and gluing pieces of her models. The accommodations I made to the project, which asked students to create a townhouse on a 20 x 50' footprint with a specific program, helped every student in the class figure out the problem. By cutting the program into puzzle pieces and then playing with them on the footprint, students were able to clearly see how to fit the townhouse together. Everyone had a different solution and everyone, including my special student could do it! As the semester progressed, she created plans, sections and elevations for the townhouse and built a model in quarter scale. More importantly, she gained confidence daily. She began asking me for clarification, instead of asking her aid. And she began to interact with the others in the class. We all realized how funny she was when she began delivering one-liners.
The best moment came last Friday. Their final was a very open ended visual reaction to their experience of the High Line. Before they visited, I asked them to watch some video interviews of the architects and then asked them to consider some specific questions while they were there. Friday was D Day and students poured into my room to unveil their creations. Her mother had to bring in her project-it was too big for one person to carry-and it was amazing. It was obvious how much time and thought she had put into it. The other students in the class were full of genuine praise as it was clear that hers was the best project by far. The best was to see how proud she was to be the center of attention-good attention-from her classmates.
What I came away with was how creating something that you are proud of can be such an important moment for a student. I asked some of my other students about it and they all agreed that making something that you are proud of is valuable. This young lady's mother wrote me an email afterwards thanking me for giving her a new perspective on her daughter and for being able to see through her "facade" to the truly wonderful young lady that lies beneath. That's what teaching is really about: helping students push their limits and discovering their potential. Making things helps students engage and is a valuable process. We need to do more of it in schools.