Reflection on Teaching

I didn’t always want to become a teacher. After graduating with a B.A. in history, my passion for social justice led me to my first career as a librarian.  I believe that everyone should have equal access to information and educational resources, and I truly enjoyed providing information and education to people of all ages in my community.  I worked as a librarian for nine years, mostly in children’s services where I became an advocate for early literacy and family literacy.   This advocacy led me to work in close proximity with school librarians during the summer months. We worked tirelessly collecting and delivering new and used books to children who visited our city’s free summer meal sites.  Our motivation was in assuring that all school-age children would have access to books to support their literacy and would know the joy of book ownership.  Partnering with school librarians and witnessing the children’s enthusiasm for reading truly opened my eyes to the impact that public schools, literacy, and education in general can have on the community as a whole.   This realization spoke to my passion for social justice, and I now feel a calling to take on a greater role in providing a quality education for the children in my community.   

As the children’s librarian, I advocated for family literacy and encouraged book ownership and the importance of daily reading in the home, particularly during the summer months for school-age children.  This experience made me realize some of the disparities among students in regards to home life, economic level, and physical and intellectual limitations.   Observing these disparities motivates me to serve those students who face the greatest challenges.  Since the ability to read is one of the most important keys to opportunity, I would like to eventually become either a reading intervention specialist and/or a Reading Recovery teacher in a suburban, Title I, public elementary school.  I look forward to providing a patient, welcoming, non-judgmental space where I can help students develop the most important skill they can have in order to become lifelong learners: literacy. In order to be professionally and personally prepared to become a reading specialist, I will assess my areas of strength to build upon and my areas of improvement in the realm of elementary education.  In the following paragraphs, I will determine the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and personal and professional experiences I will need to successfully become a reading intervention specialist or Reading Recovery teacher, and how my areas of strength and improvement relate to these needs.

I am still lacking in much knowledge and many of the skills it takes to be a reading intervention specialist.  I need to pass both the Pedagogy and Professional Responsibility TExES and Reading Specialist TExES tests.  In addition to the completion of my basic coursework for my M.A. in Teaching, I will also need to take extensive coursework in reading instruction.  These courses will provide guidance in the areas of early literacy instruction, intervention strategies, and assessment. If I have the opportunity to teach Reading Recovery, that will require an additional year of graduate-level courses and mandatory, ongoing professional development.  Learning new things and being open to change are strengths of mine that I will embrace in becoming a reading specialist.  Even if I don’t take the Reading Recovery route, I plan to keep abreast of new techniques and research in early literacy intervention and assessment.  Continuous improvement is essential no matter what field of education I choose, and I’m open to improving and changing my instruction to more effectively teach my students at all stages of my career.  Being a reading intervention teacher means tracking the assessment of multiple students in multiple classrooms, and with much student turnover within an academic year for short-term intervention program such as Reading Recovery.   Planning for and assessing students across multiple classrooms takes a high level of organizational skill, which is an area of improvement for me.  In order to become more organized, I plan to consult colleagues about their organizational practices and consult my various professional learning networks until I find systems that will organize student data and paperwork most effectively and efficiently.

There are certain attitudes and dispositions necessary to being a general education teacher, and most of these are also needed for being a reading intervention specialist. Since I will be working solely with students who are struggling with reading, I will need to be especially mindful in practicing patience.  Rushing a student who struggles to read might only add to their reading anxiety.  Practicing patience is an area of improvement for me, but it may actually be easier as a reading specialist since much of the instruction will be tailored to the individual students’ needs, and I will feel less inclined to rush through material for the sake of the other students.  As an instructor coming into other teachers’ classrooms and pulling students out of their classrooms, there will be a need to cooperate and collaborate with classroom teachers.  Collaborating with colleagues in a professional setting is one of my greatest strengths, and working together to help students succeed will be a motivator to build upon my abilities to collaborate with my coworkers.  I do need to improve upon one aspect of teamwork: co-teaching or instructing a student in the presence of another teacher.  I become nervous and distracted when performing my duties in front of other professionals, which then interferes with the quality of work I’m trying to accomplish.  During my internship and in my initial years of teaching, I plan to take advantage of as many co-teaching opportunities as possible to build my confidence in performing while in the presence of other professionals.  

There are many professional and personal experiences I need to have before I can become an effective reading intervention specialist.  The most important is teaching reading in a general or special education classroom.  This experience will inform me about knowing when a student may be a good candidate for an intervention assessment.  It will also be valuable to know the issues students have in other subjects if they are below-level in reading.  I think it is important for a specialist that will be pulling students out of class or entering another teacher’s classroom to intervene to have the experience of being the classroom teacher, so that they can relate to what both the classroom teacher and the student might be experiencing.  Being a general or special education teacher will also be valuable because it may give me the opportunity to work alongside a reading intervention specialist, so that I might have a chance to observe what they do and how they work with students.  Before I start my internship, setting up observations with and speaking with reading specialists will be the best way for me to see how they instruct their students and what deficiencies I need to address to become an effective specialist.

These skills, attitudes, and experiences will all contribute in preparing me to be a reading intervention specialist, but will only be completely effective if I commit to continuous improvement once I become a specialist.  After I complete my M.A. in Teaching, pass my PPR and Reading Specialist exams, teach in the classroom for at least three years, and complete additional coursework in reading instruction and assessment I will be prepared to start my career as a reading intervention specialist.  It will be a long, time-consuming, and expensive educational path, but worth it if I can help the children in my community become literate, lifelong learners.

  

 

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How Do Teachers Grow in Their Craft?

Ten years ago I started my first career as a children’s librarian in a public library.  The first week,  I was to observe a baby storytime, and then be observed the subsequent week.  Before this, my only storytime experience had been with Kindergarten-2nd grade, a very different audience from the one I was transitioning to, so I was looking forward to the initial guidance and feedback I would receive.  Approximately five minutes before the baby storytime was scheduled to start, the librarian that was to train me came into the office in tears, severely distraught over a fight with her husband.  She then left me there to fend for myself. Needless to say I was extremely nervous, and felt bad for the quality of program I presented that day.  My observation the next week never happened and I basically schooled myself on best practices for my early literacy programs (this was not taught to me when I was getting my master’s in library science). I primarily relied on professional learning networks (PLNs) to get schooled in children’s programming, made a ton of mistakes and adjustments, and eventually mastered that area of my field after several years.  Now that I’m entering the field of education,  I have a feeling that my first year of teaching will be very similar to that first hour of baby and preschool storytime, only the consequences for those I’m teaching this time are way more important.  I plan to do an internship instead of student teach, so I feel like my first year will involve me falling flat on my face, many times.   But at least I know I’m going to fall,  so I can attempt to brace myself for it.

As a teacher in training, it’s encouraging to hear about the practices featured in a radio documentary called Training Teachers.   I was excited to learn about teaching residencies modeled after medical residencies in this American Radio Works (ARW) documentary: http://www.americanradioworks.org/documentaries/teaching-teachers/ .  Getting to practice with highly qualified teachers and receive immediate feedback seems so valuable, as does the fact that the teachers in some of these residencies are practicing on adults standing in for actual students. This makes it less nerve-racking for the teacher in training because they don’t have an actual student’s education in their hands while they are still in process of training.  The immediate feedback also makes it easier to pinpoint problems and think of other methods in the moment, but also allows for reflection after the fact.  I’m also very encouraged by the development of the high leverage teaching practices.  One of the educators behind the practices, Deborah Ball, admits how difficult it was to create a comprehensive, yet practical list of the fundamental practices that teachers need to employ in order for their students to learn.  According to Ball, the list is not “the end,” and her and her colleagues request suggestions from educators as to practices that need to be added (Handford & Pekow, n.d.).  For a teacher-in-training like myself, who will not have the advantage of student teaching before being on my own in a classroom, knowing the high leverage practices will be extremely helpful in guiding my teaching.  

This same documentary also features the practice of lesson study in Japanese schools. Lesson study consists of teachers researching new teaching techniques and methods, planning a lesson using them, and having other teachers observe and critique the lesson, so the teachers are learning the newest methods of teaching, and also learning from each other.   I love this idea,  and the fact that the Japanese believe in the concept of continuous improvement,  in which most learning is done on the job and one is always striving to assess, reflect,  and improve upon one’s teaching (Hanford & Pekow, n.d.).  While I think it would be a little bit intimidating at first–having multiple colleagues sitting in on  lessons and making suggestions during the reflection time–I think it is something I would eventually get used to.  Being critiqued in the manner of the lesson study model would be a great way to practice high leverage teaching practice #19: analyzing instruction for the purpose of improving it.  Evaluating and reflecting on how I teach will only make me improve and be open to trying new methods of instruction for my students.

There are some schools in America trying out the practice of lesson study, but will it catch on in more American schools?  I hope so, but doubt it, because as education researcher James Hiebert said in Teaching Teachers, “We are so addicted to quick fixes. If it doesn’t fix things in two years, it’s not worth it” (Hanford & Pekow, n.d.).  Plus, the structure of the American school day would have to altered to accommodate the lesson study model, and additional money would need to spent to hire subs or paraprofessionals to watch classes while teachers attended lesson study.  I believe it would be so beneficial for American schools to adopt some form of lesson study, not only for the teachers being observed and critiqued, but also for the observers.   I have always benefitted tremendously from watching other professionals perform the same duties as me.  Everyone does things differently, and mindful observation can show even the most seasoned professional something new.  

One last thing that I really appreciated about the Japanese point of view on teaching is how they attribute achievement/learning problems to bad teaching instead of bad teachers.  A bad teacher needs to be replaced, but a teacher who is using ineffective methods can be taught new techniques and can develop as a professional.  As professor of education Deborah Ball said in Teaching Teachers, most teachers can not be expected to have a natural talent for teaching, but all teachers deserve to have training that prepares them to teach well, and the students they serve deserve to have well-trained teachers (Hanford & Pekow, n.d.).   As I enter the teaching profession, I need to plan not just how to educate and evaluate my students, but also how to educate and evaluate myself as a professional.  

Hanford, E. (Executive Producer) & Pekow, S. (Associate Producer). (n.d.). Teaching Teachers [Radio program]. Saint Paul, MN: American Public Media.

School Integration Videoconference

Tonight I participated in a videoconference in which we discussed school integration and segregation, and how teachers can draw on the “funds of knowledge” (the skills, resources, and knowledge of students and their families) that diverse students bring to the classroom.  We talked about ways that schools could integrate that would be successful.  I mention redistricting school zones for economic diversity, but another participant suggested increasing teacher diversity.  I found this solution to be the most compelling because diverse educators could bring their own funds of knowledge to the classroom if their students were not of the same background, and if their students were of similar background to their teacher, it would be beneficial for the teacher to understand his/her students’ backgrounds and needs.  

We also discussed the conflict between teachers unions and the community control movement in Ocean-Hill Brownsville in the late 1960s.  We determined that the communities wanted more control over the curriculum, so that it would better reflect the particular culture of the community, and they also wanted teachers who came from the communities in which they taught, so that they would better understand the culture of the students and their families.  Our discussion led us to the conclusion that both sides were fighting for what they thought was best for the students, and both sides allowed politics to overshadow the good of the students.  I found it troubling in this case that ideologies took the focus away from the students’ well-being, which Dr. Dan Krutka pointed out happens too much in educational debates even today.  

Finally, we talked about teachers seeking “funds of knowledge” from their students by getting to know the students and their families.   Teacher letters eliciting information about students and home visits were two effective methods of getting to know the students and their community and families.  I appreciated the focus on how beneficial opening lines of communication with parents of English Language Learners (ELLs) and recently immigrated students can be.  These parents may feel particularly intimidated by more traditional means of communication, like parent-teacher conferences, but may be put at ease if they meet the teacher in a less formal setting, like a home visit or at a community event.  We ended by determining that diversity in schools can be beneficial for all students and that teachers could be strong advocates for more diverse schools in their communities.