City News

Before school started, teachers were students

Kristin Scheel's car pool picked her up Wednesday morning and drove her promptly to Piedmont Open Middle School near uptown. When the Buick Rendezvous SUV she was riding in arrived, she headed to Room C204 for geography class.

Scheel sat in a small blue chair next to a buddy at a black desk. Textbooks, worksheets, notebooks and pens were scattered on the desk. Instructor Lisa Tait stood in the front of the room, facing Scheel and about a dozen other students.

Starting Monday, Scheel will be the one teaching. She begins a new job as a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Bailey Middle School in Cornelius.

But last week she was one of dozens of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers, including many teaching at central Charlotte schools, who acted as students. They received training on innovative instruction methods and tips to be better teachers.

CMS also held several classes – ranging from a trip to a Coca-Cola plant for chemistry teachers to study the science of soft drinks to a tutorial for middle school social studies teachers on a geography teaching program. They were held at different schools Tuesday and Wednesday.

Meg Bright, a Bailey seventh-grade social studies teacher, drove Scheel and four other teachers to Piedmont, on 10th Street east of uptown. She and Scheel attended the “Geography Alive!” session there. Run by the California-based Teachers' Curriculum Institute, it “challenges students to use a geographer's tools to view, understand and analyze the world around them,” according to the TCI Web site.

The point Wednesday was for the CMS teachers to learn how they could apply the program to make their classes more interactive. Middle-school students learn better when they do hands-on activities, the teachers said.

Scheel, Bright, and sixth-grade social studies teachers Katherine Thomas (Eastway Middle) and Linda Bryant (Alexander Graham Middle), among others, split into small groups. They located photos on a map and searched for the right map in the room to find the longest river in Africa.

For an exercise on population density, nine teachers stood inside a taped-off square in the back of the room to demonstrate a typical Tokyo subway car ride (nine people per square meter). Tait, a sixth-grade social studies teacher in Rochester, N.Y., who consults for TCI, also asked 10 teachers to stand on sheets of 81/2-by-11-inch white paper she had placed on the floor together: 29 sheets to represent the U.S.; one to represent Japan.

The teachers said they plan to use some of the exercises they learned this school year. It helped to experience them, they said. “We were doing the activity as the kids would do it,” Scheel said.

Although they were required to attend the sessions, many teachers said they didn't mind because they want to continue their own education. Teachers preach lifelong learning, said Ranson Middle seventh-grade social studies teacher Shawn Austin. So they should set an example.

Thomas and Bryant said the class encouraged teachers to use a computer and projection screen, and showed them how to better challenge advanced students.

Bryant, a 21-year teaching veteran, could have spoken for many CMS teachers last week. Sometimes it's necessary to become students, she said.

“How do you know how effective (an exercise) is going to be, unless you've sat in their shoes?”