Nearing the End

Next week, our dyad school’s students will be off for Thanksgiving, meaning I have only one week left there. I’ve written about this school before, my initial discomfort at being at such a well-off private school and my goal to learn as much as possible, especially about the things I can take with me to my work in public education.

I feel like I’ve done just that; specifically, I think my pedagogy has been and will continue to be greatly influenced by the hands-on, democratic learning I saw my CT engage the students in. I know that students are capable of meeting high standards with the right support, and that students need to be heard, not just acknowledged. But I’m also walking away with something else:

I like autonomy.

I get the feeling that the adults in the school feel obligated to the students, their families, and the community and less to some faceless government entity that passes down rules and expectations. They spend more time concerned with creating the best learning environment for students and establishing meaningful relationships with families and trust that sound teaching practices coupled with high expectations will result in student learning, and far less time worried about passing standardized tests or fighting for equal funding or trying to justify experiential learning as opposed to the traditional mode of direct instruction.

Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly excited to take up the work of a public school teacher. I’m just saying that there are some parts I’m not looking forward to. Buy I am thankful to be in a cohort model program that pushes me to think about alternative visions for our education system and this gives me hope that public schools and independent schools will not be so immensely different. Every student deserves a challenging, innovative education.

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I Need a Niche

First, I want to thank the people who took the time to comment on my last blog and shared their thoughts and ideas. They extended my thinking about what I wrote of last week, and I appreciated the push-back on my thoughts.

Mostly I’ve been considering what niche within education I see myself being comfortable in. And as I wrote that sentence, I realized “comfortable” is not what I really mean. What I really mean is what niche do I care most about? What niche excites me, pushes me to speak up or further ignites my passion for teaching and learning? And what niche would benefit from my voice? I don’t want to add to a din of voices; I want to complement, challenge, modify, change existing leaders and the leaders that would come after me. I think if I am to be of value to any smaller community within the profession, then I need to be passionate as well as knowledgable. And while I am not lacking in the passion, I am still learning about all of the different forums that exist and the kinds of arguments being made. What I know about the niches of education is a mile wide but only an inch deep. It will only be as a teacher that I can really speak with any authority. But as Jose Vilson advises us to “not kiss rings,” I am learning to be more confident in what I do know and have experienced at this point.

I’m finding out that it angers me when outsiders don’t appreciate the thoughtfulness and intent that goes (or should go) into instruction. It’s dynamic, but a lot of people are so stuck on their own negative experiences of worksheets and so-called “busy work” assigned by their teachers that they haven’t stopped to examine the ways teaching has changed and is constantly changing. It is dynamic, not static. And I am continually excited by the challenges presented by teaching diverse learners, the ways teachers think of and share or modify curriculum to reflect their students while pushing them (both the teacher and students) to new heights. So I think that is where my interests lie…in the area of teacher advocacy where it meets innovative and effective pedagogy.

YIKES. But in a good way.

Teacher Voice, Professional Identity, and Being a Warrior

The other day we had a conversation in our profession seminar about what it means to be a leader, but I feel like the conversation could have gone on through the entire session…we could have talked more about teachers as leaders. What does that look like? What do teachers as leaders do? Sound like? And how can we as preservice teachers prepare for this leadership?

Through this program, we have been introduced to so many voices who have authority on education and work hard to be leaders in the field. And getting to read and hear all of these voices, I’m noticing the ways they make themselves heard (most notably, via Twitter and the blogosphere) and how they have found a niche within education, and can be recognized as really knowing that niche inside, out and having valuable opinions and insights.

I am constantly thinking about how I want to use my teacher voice, what niche I want to find for myself, how I want those things to be a part of my professional identity. In my now almost constant browsing of teacher-leaders via Twitter (there are so many! They say amazing things!) I ran across this piece by Lori Nazareno about being a warrior within education. It’s about not being aggressive, but a true leader in a way that is productive:

“We can re-create what it means to be educated in the US. We can reinvent the ways in which schools and schooling are done. And we can imaginer a profession that is respected and empowering. We don’t, however, have to do it by responding to current aggression with additional aggression. We can stand in contrast to what is and create a new way.”

Sometimes we think of leadership as being the first into the charge (thanks, Craig!), but what if it’s about creating productive dialogue, being a connector of people, ideas, and resources?

This, for me, is a heavy topic for me to blog about because it weighs on my mind heavily. I want to be an excellent educator, and I know this means developing (and always developing) a professional identity and teacher voice. It also means being a warrior. At a later time, when I have more time (when?!), I know I want to get deeper into this topic, incorporate the thoughts and ideas of teacher-leader-warriors I admire into my own thoughts, and write about the niches I see within education, and where I feel my voice is needed.

The Joy and Wonder of Math

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When I was a kid, math held zero joy or wonder for me. It was just another subject I had to get an ‘A’ in, a means to an end, really. I knew I needed it to go to college and therefore do well in life. My first memory of learning math is from 1st grade, my mom bringing home a large poster (very colorful, attractive) of the 2-12 times tables and tasking me with memorizing the damn thing. I started by staring at it. That didn’t work too well so Mom gave me sheets of paper and I started copying them. Pretty soon, I could recite the tables! One problem: I didn’t have one stinkin’ clue what any of it meant.

I don’t harbor any resentment towards my mom for this. Quite the opposite. She was just trying to make sure her kid knew basic math and would do well in school. But it is this story that reminds me of the importance of teaching math for understanding and inquiry, not just rote memorization. My math experiences in school were not far removed from how my mom asked me to learn math so it should come as no surprise that I thought math was lame. But as we learn more about teaching it, I am learning to love the content area I once loathed.

Last week, we saw ways to teach math that made clear the communicative nature of math and encouraged students to have fun, be creative, but also prove what they were saying, show and tell the thinking behind a mathematical statement. There was mathematizing a read aloud, and then there was finding math in an illustration. Even for me, an adult, both were engaging and lively. Now, I am seeing more concretely that math does not have to be a solitary activity based on pure memorization. We can teach the content for deep understanding, encourage inquiry, and still see the joy math can bring as a part of life and learning, not just another thing you have to do to get through school.