Reflections on a LTP Teacher
by Christina Wegs
Janine Gomez has been working as an educator in Durham, North Carolina for 14 years, both as a teacher as well as school principal. In 2004, she participated in an LTP Teachers Workshop co-facilitated by Wendy Ewald, and since then has integrated youth-led photography and writing projects into her classroom work with elementary-, middle- and high school students, as well work with youth in leadership development workshops and summer camps.
I worked with Janine as an LTP intern during the spring of 2008 at W.G. Pearson elementary school, where she taught photography and writing through a course for 3rd-5th graders. Each section of the course, called Expressive Paparazzi, formed a team that worked together to define and complete a project that combined writing and photography to explore a theme. In the first quarter of the spring, Expressive Paparazzi focused on the theme of “community.” Students in the course used writing and photographs to tell the story of a community that was important to them. The students decided to make t-shirts with their stories -“Communi-tees” which they decorated with fabric transfers of their photos as well as their stories, written out with brightly colored fabric pens. In the second quarter of the spring, Expressive Paparazzi focused on their school community. Together, the different sections of the class compiled all their photos and stories- written in verse- into a book called “Tiger Pride”. Students worked both in the darkroom as well as with Photoshop to make their photographs, and wrote stories about their school in rhyming verse.
Each section of Expressive Paparazzi worked together to define their own simple guidelines for working and learning together as a group. Together, students learned how to read photographs and talked about how photographs can tell stories and express ideas and emotions, and practiced framing and making photographs. Each class used “lightbags” to take rolls of film off their canisters and developed the film in the classroom, with one half of the class acting as timekeepers and another half developing the film using chemicals set out in carefully arranged plastic cups. Students also worked together in the darkroom to print their photos. Expressive Paparazzi also wrote stories that explored the themes in their photographs.
As a teacher, Janine focused on giving students structured and supportive learning opportunities that allowed them to safely experiment and take risks, and to gradually build a sense of confidence in their own ideas and ability to express them. Many students in the class felt very anxious about writing, and we focused on helping create fun opportunities for students to write about topics which their cared about. Students were given the chance to direct their own learning, including choosing the topics and projects they worked on, and taking turns as “co-teachers”, sharing ideas with each other for strengthening their writing and photographs.
It was very gratifying to work with and learn from Janine, as she worked with each group of students to explore and learn to value their own voices and perspectives as young photographers and writers. Janine was also a very supportive and generous mentor to me. I entered her class first as a learner and occasional guest speaker, observing how she facilitated students’ learning. Over time, she invited me to transition to a role as a co-teacher, designing and leading some of our learning activities and working individually with students. I leave my time working with Janine reminded of some of the fundamental principles of LTP: the importance of listening to and valuing the ideas and perspectives of young learners, and creating supportive learning environments that allow them to experiment -and succeed – with new ways of expressing themselves in the world.