First I want to tell you about a terrific teacher–and then invite you to watch her at work. When I met Maria Eby, she was wearing a fluorescent green wig and was dressed all in green. As she passed me, I smiled and said something like “You’re either early for Halloween or late for St. Patrick’s Day.” She smiled and said something that I didn’t catch, but it didn’t matter. After all, we were filming in an arts-oriented elementary school, so it was perfectly logical that an arts teacher would appear in a weird costume.
As it happened, the film crew, producer Cat McGrath and I walked into Mrs. Eby’s class shortly afterwards, just as she was telling the first-graders that it was time to hear the story of Jack and the Beanstalk from the point of view of the Beanstalk. The light bulb went on in my head: She was the Beanstalk!
As you will see in the video, once she got into that role, she inhabited it. Not only did she explore the characters and elements of the story from the Beanstalk’s perspective, she also, as a representative of all plants, demanded to know from the kids what plants contribute to the world. The first graders knew the answers: oxygen, food and shade. Before long she invited students to join in the drama by playing other parts: the ogre, Jack and so forth, and they got into and stayed in their roles.
At one point I whispered to Cat that this woman was a terrific arts teacher. “No,” Cat whispered back, “She’s a regular first grade teacher.” Oh, wow…..
I asked Mrs. Eby to tell me how she came up with this approach. Here’s her response: “You look at your objectives for the upcoming week and you say, OK, I need to cover this, this this and this. (you ask yourself) what is the best way I can do this? What’s going to be engaging? What integrates more than one of the things at a time?”
Me: So you sat home and thought and thought, ‘I’m going to figure out a way to teach science, higher level thinking, literacy.’ Did you just dream this thing up?
Maria Eby: You kind of start at the end. You start off with what you want to accomplish and then you decide what is the best way to accomplish that, and which part of the arts can I bring into this to meet the needs of the goals and the objectives of my kids.
In other words, no one told Mrs. Eby how to get across the concepts of photosynthesis and role-playing and empathy. She’s trusted to be a the professional that she is. What a concept!
The teachers in her school, the Charles R. Bugg Creative Arts and Science A+ Magnet Elementary school in Raleigh, North Carolina, work together on curriculum, doing their best to integrate the arts into all aspects of learning. (You will see more of the school on the NewsHour soon.)
My favorite moment in the entire class was when one student said she did not want to take a role in the play because….well, you really have to see that play out, especially Mrs. Eby’s response.
Please watch this edited version of her class below (or click here.)
Maria Eby, 1st Grade Teacher, Charles R. Bugg Creative Arts and Science A+ Magnet Elementary
For 20 years Maria Eby worked in Michigan as a graphic arts designer in a company she ran with her husband. Feeling a need for a change after her 2 boys started school, she became a teacher’s assistant and eventually earned a teaching certification through Saginaw Valley State University. In 2008, when Michigan’s economy crashed, she looked for jobs in other, warmer, states. Because North Carolina and Michigan have reciprocal licenses and Wake County was recruiting, she found it an easy transition to move her family to Raleigh. Mrs. Eby took her first teaching position in her early 40s and over the past 6 years has had the opportunity to teach 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade. A self proclaimed “life-long learner” Mrs. Eby is currently in the process of obtaining her Masters degree in arts integration at Lesley University. This year, in addition to Jack and the Beanstalk, Mrs. Eby has integrated Theatre Arts into teaching her 1st grade class The Three Little Pigs and the The Three Billy Goat’s Gruff. Although she enjoyed dressing up as a pig and a troll, she says the beanstalk has been her favorite role because it is a unique perspective to think about how the beanstalk might have felt.