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.




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.

Educational Philosophies Videoconference

I recently took part in a videoconference concerning different educational philosophies including essentialism, perennialism, progressivism, social reconstruction, and existentialist education.  I came into the discussion with a few questions, but one burning question: How can educators tasked with teaching a state-mandated curriculum subvert the traditional, essentialist nature of most public schools using progressive methods while still teaching to state standards?    This question first led us to outline the differences in traditional vs. progressive education, and we identified their main differences: traditional education is teacher-centered, whereas progressive is student-centered. Students primarily learn through passive means such as lectures or books (though sometimes Socratic method) in traditional education, but in progressive education, students are active learners who learn by doing.   In a traditional education, the end product of learning is a predetermined truth or set of objectives, while in progressive education, the end product of learning is not clearly defined, and not the most important part of education.  The process of learning itself is the point of a progressive education.  After delineating these differences, it became clear that even though the students in most public schools today have little to no say in the curriculum, they can still be given power over the methods of learning, the structure of the classroom, and can take part in their own evaluations as well.

Another issue that intrigued me prior to the videoconference was the existentialist philosophy of education.  We touched upon how feasible an existentialist education would be for most students and how some students may abuse and misuse the power they have been given if put in the situation of freely directing their own learning with little or no limitations or structure.  Dr. Dan Krutka made the point that students who have been conditioned to learn in a teacher-driven classroom may have a very difficult time adjusting to the amount of power afforded them by an existentialist learning situation.  It seems that this rare form of education is most effective when started while the students are very young or when used as a component of a more structured learning environment.

I think studying and knowing the different educational philosophies is not only really interesting, but very important.  As educators, we need our own educational philosophies to guide us in what we do, how we do it, and why.  Being familiar with these general philosophies gives us a foundation on which to build our own.