RENEE'S TEACHING PHILOSOPHY Why I Teach is Deeply Personal In the 8th grade, my math teacher, turned his head as students threw pens, pencils, paper and desks. I knew I wasn’t going to learn anything. I envied all my friends who spoke positively about Mr. Aidi, the other math teacher. During math, I left class to poke my head in Mr. Aidi’s room. Soon after, he noticed; I told him why I was there. That year, he taught me his lesson during lunch, so I would not get in trouble for leaving class. During my first day of high school, walking to my fifth period class, I witnessed one kid get jumped by five other kids, and then I watched the culprits walk away. The kid squabbled as he got up from the floor, and no one came. I became a teacher because I am inherently invested in the stories of students who are forgotten, like the kid I watched beaten in the hallway of Pinole Valley High School. Since 2008, I have been a teacher of the New York City Department of Education and not a day in my life passes without me brainstorming new ways to contribute to building sustainable practices as an educator. I believe societal change begins in schools and I am committed to transforming schools to provide justice to kids like myself who were short-changed from a free and appropriate educational experience. I teach to positively influence youth and educators for eternities to come, to remind people that all Americans, regardless of their income, gender, race, class or creed, deserve an equitable education. How I Teach My Community: Content, Composition, Clarity, Creativity, Compassion Five concepts guide my values as an artist and educator: 1) Content and Composition 2) Clarity 3) Creativity 4) Compassion and, 5) Community. As a leader, the best results have come when I am connected with content—knowing what, how and why I am teaching. Preparing for any given group requires intentional, interactive lesson planning geared towards disseminating specific content knowledge in the most creative, challenging, and clear way that is humanly possible.
Five concepts guide my values as an artist and educator: 1) Content and Composition 2) Clarity 3) Creativity 4) Compassion and, 5) Community.
Whether in a classroom of students, or with an inter-generational community workshop, or directing actors—clarity, creativity and compassion guide my work. Each moment is aligned to the lesson’s main objective and connected to the longterm goals for the unit or workshop. Above all, my central purpose is to build the essence of community in the group through the lens of expanding imagination and possibility. My approach highlights building authentic relationships with individuals, and as a collective, by offering creative experiences, either through poetry, story telling, play making and teaching others through the creative arts. At the school I began teaching at, there were no performance art options, so I began an after school program entitled Floetry. The program fused theater, play writing, poetry, rap, movement, and collective music making. My 8th grade Dominican, Puerto Rican, Nigerian, Jamaican, and Guyanese kids slithered around like snakes, burnt their feet on the hottest lava from a volcano in Hawaii and traveled through New York City through the eyes of Biggie Smalls. For the first time in their lives, they were given permission to rap and flow their hearts out, riding their words with the beats they made on desks. The community I built with my youth on stage surpassed the progress they made with the “general” English content. Collaborating with youth artists was the calling I had been seeking. What I Teach: Classes and Kapwa I began my career as a special educator, teaching middle school youth all subjects assigned to me—from algebra, geometry, American History, life skills, basic phonics, reading, writing, personal narratives, argumentative-based literacy, the performing arts, visual arts, photography—all aligned to Common Core Curriculum. As a freelance artist and organizer, I created several workshop series on topics ranging from devising girl empowered theater, personal narrative telling, decolonization, revolutionary writing and other topics through experiential, art-based and liberatory pedagogy and practices. I have also trained educators and art educators for several non-profit education and theatre organizations in fundamental teaching elements and educational equity issues.
For the first time in their lives, they were given permission to rap and flow their hearts out, riding their words with the beats they made on desks. The community I built with my youth on stage surpassed the progress they made with the “general” English content.
The objectives of my courses differ, depending on the content and the expectations and needs of each community. Having clear goals for each day and long-term goals for the course or workshop is of the utmost importance, as it clearly draws out the road map of learning so students or participants have a clear vision of what they should be working toward and how to arrive there. Participants of my work, regardless of age, creed or color, leave my events and lessons feeling a greater sense of worth, learning more about themselves and their peers. One student left me with the following note: “As a teacher you have taught me in ways that will bring an infinite amount of gifts and lessons to learn from. Your unique rays of light to this world have warmed me in places that I left in darkness; for example, my relationship with my father.” In Tagalog, my native tongue, kapwa means that “other” and “self” are not separate entities; rather, they are one and the same thing. Through theater and my work as an educator, my aspiration is to build a community of leaders that will continue to uplift others in their lives through the concept of kapwa —to allow others the gift to see light in each other, is the most essential part of my teaching.
RENEE BARABAD FLORESCA RENEERISES@GMAIL.COM