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.

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.

What I Saw, What I Learned

photo 4

Free Choice: Students utilizing yardsticks to build an intense trail of dominoes.


Language Arts: The glass tiles students used as inspiration for a story–any kind of story!

photo 1

Mathematics: Exploring perimeter and area using square-foot-paper,
formed into shapes.

A couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t really feelin’ my dyad placement. I mean, I found my CT to be genuine and a strong teacher, but the school culture was so new to me, I kind of felt like a fish out of water. And of course, as some of us do when confronted with the new, I resisted evolving to fit the situation. But I’ve had a change of heart, and now I know it was bound to happen–I just needed to acclimate! Get used to the new and learn to feel comfortable and willing to extend my mind and abilities to succeed in an environment I thought I didn’t fit in.

With this new perspective, I was able to fully see and appreciate the learning I saw take place, and the learning I experienced myself. One one morning, during their “Free Choice” time, when the students come in and are allowed to partake in an activity within the classroom as long as they are respectful of other peoples’ activities, a couple of students went straight to a popular activity: dominoes. They grabbed a yardstick to connect two tables, and began constructing a trail of carefully aligned dominoes. Pretty soon, the group was half the class! They worked together cooperatively and kindly; even when one accidentally set of the dominoes, the group would say, “That’s okay, let’s just fix it.”

For Language Arts that day, my CT pulled out glass tiles and set forth the task: write a story inspired by the tile. It didn’t have to be a story in the strictest sense–one student chose to write a song and another a poem! One child in particular, J, surprised me by actually wanting to write her story. It is usually her that needs the most help getting started, and usually her writing process starts with drawing (partly to postpone the inevitable writing part). But this day, I was excited to see that something about the glass tile did inspire her.

Then in math, the students were introduced to perimeter and area in a way that was both concrete and conceptual: their teacher used square sheets of paper, 1ftx1ft, to form shapes. Most of the students had an understanding that perimeter is the distance around, and the area is the “amount of space” within the lines of the shape. Using the shapes formed by the sheets of paper, the students as a group “counted” feet to figure out the perimeter and then counted sheets to figure out the area. This instructional moment was especially cool for me because perimeter and area were taught to me strictly in the terms of the formulas needed to find them. It was taught in a way that was meaningful because it was on a level the students could see and develop a deep understanding of the concepts.

The learning I got to be a part of this week was pretty inspiring–I took these pictures and wrote about them here so I would remember to do them with my own future students! And also, to remind myself to give those students some “Free Choice” time to pursue their interests, while learning through play and cooperation.

Differentiating Instruction for a Particular Group

In the first week of my dyad placement, my CT encouraged my partner and I to think about lessons we would like to teach individually and in my experience working with children, I’ve seen how much they can come to enjoy and appreciate poetry, especially if it seems relevant to them, or it’s done in a “fun” (read: “engaging”) way. So, I decided I would stick to something I know for this first lesson.

My CT was actually the one to suggest the following book:

as a way to begin a poetry lesson; specifically, a lesson on haiku. Now, I tend to favor poetry that is deeply rooted in American history (like Langston Hughes), but I considered the particular group of students I am working with now and figured if the teacher suggested this book, then maybe it’s suitable for the group and something I could still use with a multicultural mindset.

During a conversation between myself, my dyad partner, and our CT, our CT pushed us to think about how we plan with our particular group of students in mind. What are our goals–be explicit–and why are they important for this group? And how can we make sure that our lesson fits the school’s context and mission? She really pushed me to focus my attention on making sure there is very little direct instruction (especially because there will be “tours” for prospective parents thinking about applying to this school) so that students have as much, if not more, input and voice in this lesson than I do. I know this is something we should all strive for in the classroom, but I find it’s easier said than done simply because it’s easier to do all the talking and expect students to sit and listen. So I really have to keep myself in check here, and practice being the kind of teacher I want to be without falling back on the teaching I experienced as a student myself.