Category Archives: a teacher’s journey

You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong.

I (Clare) was sent this article from a friend and it truly captures the complexity of teaching and the misconceptions about teaching. All parent, politicians, and journalists should have to read it. A shout out to all teachers! Here is the link to the article from the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/22/you-think-you-know-what-teachers-do-right-wrong/

By Valerie Strauss February 22, 2014

School_Globe

You went to school so you think you know what teachers do, right? You are wrong. Here’s a piece explaining all of this from Sarah Blaine, a mom, former teacher and full-time practicing attorney in New Jersey who writes at her parentingthecore blog, where this first appeared.

By Sarah Blaine

We all know what teachers do, right? After all, we were all students. Each one of us, each product of public education, we each sat through class after class for thirteen years. We encountered dozens of teachers. We had our kindergarten teachers and our first grade teachers and our fifth grade teachers and our gym teachers and our art teachers and our music teachers. We had our science teachers and our social studies teachers and our English teachers and our math teachers. If we were lucky, we might even have had our Latin teachers or our Spanish teachers or our physics teachers or our psychology teachers. Heck, I even had a seventh grade “Communications Skills” teacher. We had our guidance counselors and our principals and some of us had our special education teachers and our study hall monitors.

So we know teachers. We get teachers. We know what happens in classrooms, and we know what teachers do. We know which teachers are effective, we know which teachers left lasting impressions, we know which teachers changed our lives, and we know which teachers sucked.

We know. We know which teachers changed lives for the better. We know which teachers changed lives for the worse.

Teaching as a profession has no mystery. It has no mystique. It has no respect.

We were students, and therefore we know teachers. We denigrate teachers. We criticize teachers. We can do better than teachers. After all: We do. They teach.

We are wrong.

We need to honor teachers. We need to respect teachers. We need to listen to teachers. We need to stop reducing teachers to arbitrary measurements of student growth on so-called objective exams.

Most of all, we need to stop thinking that we know anything about teaching merely by virtue of having once been students.

We don’t know.

I spent a little over a year earning a master of arts in teaching degree. Then I spent two years teaching English Language Arts in a rural public high school. And I learned that my 13 years as a public school student, my 4 years as a college student at a highly selective college, and even a great deal of my year as a master’s degree student in the education school of a flagship public university hadn’t taught me how to manage a classroom, how to reach students, how to inspire a love of learning, how to teach. Eighteen years as a student (and a year of preschool before that), and I didn’t know anything about teaching. Only years of practicing my skills and honing my skills would have rendered me a true professional. An expert. Someone who knows about the business of inspiring children. Of reaching students. Of making a difference. Of teaching.

I didn’t stay. I copped out. I left. I went home to suburban New Jersey, and a year later I enrolled in law school.

I passed the bar. I began to practice law at a prestigious large law firm. Three years as a law student had no more prepared me for the practice of law than 18 years of experience as a student had previously prepared me to teach. But even in my first year as a practicing attorney, I earned five times what a first-year teacher made in the district where I’d taught.

I worked hard in my first year of practicing law. But I didn’t work five times harder than I’d worked in my first year of teaching. In fact, I didn’t work any harder. Maybe I worked a little less.

But I continued to practice. I continued to learn. Nine years after my law school graduation, I think I have some idea of how to litigate a case. But I am not a perfect lawyer. There is still more I could learn, more I could do, better legal instincts I could develop over time. I could hone my strategic sense. I could do better, be better. Learn more law. Learn more procedure. But law is a practice, law is a profession. Lawyers are expected to evolve over the course of their careers. Lawyers are given more responsibility as they earn it.

New teachers take on full responsibility the day they set foot in their first classrooms.

The people I encounter out in the world now respect me as a lawyer, as a professional, in part because the vast majority of them have absolutely no idea what I really do.

All of you former students who are not teachers and not lawyers, you have no more idea of what it is to teach than you do of what it is to practice law.

All of you former students: you did not design curricula, plan lessons, attend faculty meetings, assess papers, design rubrics, create exams, prepare report cards, and monitor attendance. You did not tutor students, review rough drafts, and create study questions. You did not assign homework. You did not write daily lesson objectives on the white board. You did not write poems of the week on the white board. You did not write homework on the white board. You did not learn to write legibly on the white board while simultaneously making sure that none of your students threw a chair out a window.

You did not design lessons that succeeded. You did not design lessons that failed.

You did not learn to keep your students quiet during lock down drills.

You did not learn that your 15-year-old students were pregnant from their answers to vocabulary quizzes. You did not learn how to teach functionally illiterate high school students to appreciate Shakespeare. You did not design lessons to teach students close reading skills by starting with the lyrics to pop songs. You did not miserably fail your honors level students at least in part because you had no books to give them. You did not struggle to teach your students how to develop a thesis for their essays, and bask in the joy of having taught a successful lesson, of having gotten through to them, even for five minutes. You did not struggle with trying to make SAT-level vocabulary relevant to students who did not have a single college in their county. You did not laugh — because you so desperately wanted to cry — when you read some of the absurdities on their final exams. You did not struggle to reach students who proudly announced that they only came to school so that their mom’s food stamps didn’t get reduced.

You did not spend all of New Years’ Day crying five years after you’d left the classroom because you reviewed The New York Times’ graphic of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and learned that one of your very favorite students had been killed in Iraq two years before. And you didn’t know. Because you copped out and left. So you cried, helplessly, and the next day you returned to the practice of law.

You did not. And you don’t know. You observed. Maybe you learned. But you didn’t teach.

The problem with teaching as a profession is that every single adult citizen of this country thinks that they know what teachers do. And they don’t. So they prescribe solutions, and they develop public policy, and they editorialize, and they politicize. And they don’t listen to those who do know. Those who could teach. The teachers.

 

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The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About

I (Clare) read this really interesting article on Edutopia

I believe it has relevance for both teachers and teacher educators. Having to unpack and remember how we learned a topic/skill is hard. How do you break down the steps to learning so that our students can acquire the knowledge and skills.  This article has some highly useful examples and suggestions.  As a teacher educator I often make assumptions about my student teachers. They all have university degrees so they should be able to master the content easily. Wrong assumption! It takes time and good teaching. Here is the link to the full article. The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About 

 

Knowledge is a curse.
 Knowing things isn’t bad itself, but it causes unhealthy assumptions — such as forgetting how hard it was to learn those things in the first place. It’s called the Curse of Knowledge.

In this post, we’ll identify how the Curse of Knowledge affects educators. Then we’ll outline seven ways to alleviate the curse. The ultimate goal is to improve instruction.

The Curse of Knowledge

The Curse of Knowledge has been variously described in articles by Chip and Dan Heath, Carmen Nobel, and Steven Pinker, and also in books such as The Sense of Style and Made to Stick. It has been applied to a variety of domains: child development, economics, and technology are just a few.

All of the resources describe the same phenomena — that a strong base of content knowledge makes us blind to the lengthy process of acquiring it. This curse has implications for all teachers:

  • We do not remember what it is like to not know what we are trying to teach.
  • We cannot relive the difficult and lengthy process that learning our content originally took.

As a result, we end up assuming that our lesson’s content is easy, clear, and straightforward. We assume that connections are apparent and will be made effortlessly. Assumptions are the root cause of poor instruction. And acknowledgment is the first step to recovery.

Lifting the Curse

Here are seven ways to make learning easier for your students.

1. Emotion

Barbara Fredrickson, a champion in the field of positive psychology, has studied the effects of mild positive emotions on desired cognitive traits like attentiveness and ability to creatively solve problems. In what she coined the broaden-and-build theory, Fredrickson found that pleasant and mild emotional arousal before experiencing content leads to greater retention. A quick joke or humorous movie can serve as the positive emotional stimulant. So learning is easier and the Curse of Knowledge is potentially circumnavigated when injecting a bit of emotion into your lesson.

2. Multi-Sensory Lessons

Though Howard Gardner’s influential work states that we each have a preferred learning modality, new research highlights the fact that effective lessons need not be unisensory (only kinesthetic, only auditory, etc.) but multi-sensory. Multi-sensory experiences activate and ignite more of the brain, leading to greater retention. So use a multisensory approach in your lessons to make learning easier.

3. Spacing

Blocked practice is ancient and is no longer considered best practice. An example of blocked practice is cramming. Though it feels like learning, blocked practice results in learning that is shallow, and the connections quickly fade. The preferred alternative is the opposite of blocked practice: spaced practice.

Exposing yourself to content and requiring your brain to recall previously learned concepts at spaced intervals (hours, days, weeks, or months) makes the content sticky and results in deeper retention with solid neural connections. As spaced practice is the way that you learned the content you teach, it makes sense to employ the same technique with your students. So thinking of your content as a cycle that is frequently revisited makes learning easier for your students while helping alleviate the curse.

For more information on spacing content, check out Make It Stick or 3 Things Experts Say Make A Perfect Study Session.

4. Narratives

Everyone loves a great story because our ancestral past was full of them. Stories were the dominant medium to transmit information. They rely on our innate narcissistic self to be effective learning tools — we enjoy stories because we immediately inject ourselves into the story, considering our own actions and behavior when placed in the situations being described. This is how we mentally make connections, and if students are listening to a story interlaced with content, they’re more likely to connect with the ideas. So connecting with content through a story is at the heart of learning and can help alleviate the stress associated with the Curse of Knowledge.

5. Analogies and Examples

An analogy is a comparison of different things that are governed by the same underlying principles. If understanding a process is what we’re after, looking at the result of the process proves informative. An analogy compares two unlike things by investigating a similar process that produces both. Said differently, an analogy highlights a connection, and forming connections is at the core of learning.

Whereas an analogy compares similar processes that result in different products, an example highlights different processes that result in similar products. Copious use of examples forces the brain to scan its knowledge inventory, making desirable connections as it scans. So learning is easier when analogies and examples are used to facilitate mental connections.

6. Novelty

New challenges ignite the risk-reward dopamine system in our brains. Novel activities are interesting because dopamine makes us feel accomplished after succeeding. Something that is novel is interesting, and something interesting is learned more easily because it is attended to. So emphasis on the new and exciting aspects of your content could trip the risk-reward system and facilitate learning.

7. Teach Facts

Conceptual knowledge in the form of facts is the scaffolding for the synthesis of new ideas. In other words, you cannot make new ideas with out having old ideas. Disseminating facts as the only means to educate your students is wrong and not encouraged. However, awareness that background knowledge is important to the creation of new ideas is vital for improving instruction. Prior knowledge acts as anchors for new incoming stimuli. When reflecting on the ability of analogies and examples to facilitate connections, it is important to remember that the connections need to be made to already existing knowledge. So providing your students with background knowledge is a prerequisite in forming connections and can make their learning easier.

Making It Easier

The Curse of Knowledge places all of our students at a disadvantage. As educators, it’s not enough to simply recognize that we are unable to remember the struggle of learning. We need to act. By incorporating facts, highlighting novelty, liberally utilizing examples and analogies, cycling our content, telling content-related stories, making our lesson multi-sensory, and harnessing the power of emotion, we can make learning easier for our students.

 

By incorporating facts, novelty, examples, analogies, and emotion; and cycling content, telling content-related stories, and making lessons multisensory, we can make learning easier for our students.

Source: The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About

5 More Years for Our Longitudinal Study of Teachers

In mid-December, I (Clive) received a nice holiday gift: word came that we had ethical approval from the University of Toronto to continue our longitudinal study of teachers for another 5 years (news of the extended funding by SSHRC came earlier). This is not a “high risk” study, but it is always a relief when the approval comes. We can now look forward to following the first cohort of 20 participants into their 16th year of teaching and the second cohort, also of 20, into their 13th year. This is a welcome development, as a longitudinal study obviously becomes more significant as the years pass.

Clive BeckThis study, co-directed by Clare Kosnik (who also directs her SSHRC study of 28 teacher educators) – and involving a wonderful team of researchers – began in 2004 with 22 new teachers; the second cohort of 23 was added in 2007. Over the years, 3 participants have left the study but are still teaching, while another 2 have left teaching and hence the study; so the total is now 40. This is an unusually high retention rate both for teaching and for a longitudinal study.

It is likely the high retention is due in part to the teachers’ participation in the study itself, which they often tell us is very beneficial to them; sometimes they say it is the most useful PD they experience all year! This is a limitation of the study, since it means they are a relatively motivated group (although it is not something we could have avoided). However, it is interesting that teachers would find it so helpful to have someone listen to their experiences and views about teaching for an hour of so once a year. Perhaps it is a form of “PD” that should be used more often, as an alternative to top-down lectures by “experts” on how to teach!

 

Current Issues in Teacher Education: A Video Series by Said Sidani

In my graduate course, Current Issues in Teacher Education, I (Clare) gave the students lots of choice for their final assignment. Said Sidani took an incredibly interesting approach – he created a series of videos. I was so impressed I asked him if I could post them on this blog. Some are specific to Ontario but the first one, perceptions of teacher education, was applicability beyond our context.

             For my culminating project, I wanted to examine asaid-image
few topics that stood out to me throughout our course. As a recent graduate from a teacher education program and a beginning teacher, I wanted to focus on themes that resonated with me and that I wanted to learn more about. Instead of writing an academic paper, I decided to use a video series to present my findings.

This video series is divided into 4 parts that focus on: 1) Perceptions of Teacher Education, 2) Occasional Teaching, 3) Hiring Regulations, & 4) Teacher Induction. Each video consists of a narrated Prezi that presents relevant literature related to the topic. I draw on course readings, research in the field, and personal experience.

My intended audience is teacher candidates, teacher educators, professors, students, and anyone interested in the teaching profession. Since there is a large number of stakeholders in education, I believe that almost any viewer will be able to take something away from watching. My goal is not to deter anyone from joining the teaching profession, but rather to inform them of some of the issues that exist and the work that needs to be done.

The position I present is that teacher education is in need of reform. Instead of deregulating teaching, we must focus our efforts on improving people’s perceptions of teacher education programs. Also, occasional teaching and hiring regulations in Ontario are part of a broken system. They discourage new people from entering the profession which in turn impacts the quality of education that students receive. Finally, teacher induction programs that promote mentorship are essential to a beginning teacher’s journey. However, when they are delivered through the use of a transmission model instead of a transformative model, they are not nearly as effective.

The videos are available on YouTube and can be accessed via these links. For the best viewing experience, the video quality should be set to 480p (this is usually automatic). Thanks for watching.

1) Perceptions of Teacher Education:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWMtBGAoeZQ

2) Occasional Teaching:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45caUBGrqRw

3) Hiring Regulations:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unzh1QiWnVg

4) Teacher Induction:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNxXqZSHGm8

This link will play all four videos in sequential order:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8SgF7ohrls&list=PLdOXV0MCo16GcNDd9DSy4DIuw_GgMAYWi

Teacher Researcher Group Celebration

I (Clare) was approached by Rosemary Evans, the principal of University of Toronto School IMG_0885IMG_0873(UTS), to assist with forming a teacher research group. Rosemary had received funding for the Eureka Fellowship program from Newton Foundation to start a teacher researcher group. Clare happily accepted Rosemary’s invitation then invited  current and former doctoral student (Pooja, Elizabeth, and Shelley) to co-facilitate because they had much to offer and the team approach would model collaboration. .Over the next two years we met on a monthly basis for approximately two hours. IMG_0879

The teacher researchers presented their findings last week and it was one of the most IMG_0867special moments of my professional life. The teachers did an amazing job presenting their research. Their research was high quality and it informed their practiceWe plan to turn their reports into an ebook. Here is a list of the projects that the teachers completed: IMG_0874

 

  • An Examination of Admission Profiles and Early Student Success at UTS by Garth Chalmers –
  • Exploring the Use of the Fort McMoney Documentary-Game in Grade 9 Geography Classrooms by Mike Farley
  • Using Digital Tools in the Guidance Classroom by Catherine Wachter
  • Maximum City by Josh Fullan
  •  Integrative Thinking in a Classroom Setting by Christopher Federico
  • Self-study of My Work as a Vice Principal by Heather Henricks
  • Reflections on Being a Member of the Eureka Fellowship Program – Amy Parradine
  • Reflections on the Eureka Fellowship Program for Teacher Researchers Clare Kosnik, Pooja Dharamshi, and Shelley Murphy
  • Final Thoughts – Susan French

IMG_0888IMG_0890

Reflections on My Teacher Education Program

I (Clare) am currently teaching a graduate course Current Issues in Teacher Education. The first assignment asks students to:

Write a reflection paper on your experiences in a professional program (teacher education, Teaching English as a Second Language ….). Provide a very brief description of the program. Some questions to consider are: What were the strengths/weaknesses of the program? How well did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher? What were the limitations of the program? Have your views of the program changed since graduation? How could the program have been improved? Did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher (or other position)? Do NOT respond to all of these questions. Select one or two and respond to them. In the fourth class of the course, you will work in small groups and share your paper with your fellow students.

Since all of the students in the course are teachers they have a good perspective on their program. Their assignments were so stellar I felt these would be of great value to share with other teacher educators. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing these papers. I learned much and I suspect you will too. I have changed the name of the university so that no school of education is identified.

Making Connections

When deciding where to apply for my teacher education program I only knew two things; I wanted to fix what I thought was wrong with schools and I wanted a concurrent program. I had awful and awesome experiences in both elementary and secondary school and could not fully explain why, but I wanted to. I also knew that my timid nature would benefit from the extra practicum hours and practice present in a concurrent program. This narrowed my view to XXX University, YYY University, and ZZZ University. Amazingly, I had my pick so I turned to my teacher friends to help me make my decision. It honestly came down to a conversation I had with a friend in which she said, “If you want to learn the theories that drive education go to YYY and if you want to learn how to be a teacher, go to ZZZ.” On this conversation alone I decided on YYY because my interest was in educational reform and my mind was far from thinking about the necessity of knowing how to be a teacher.

The program was a one year teacher’s ed program taken part time concurrently with my undergrad program for 3 years. My first year of undergrad and one other year of my choice was to be entirely devoted to undergraduate studies. There were two mandatory courses for all teacher candidates in the first year of the program, Inquiries into Schooling and Inquiries into Learning. There was also a panel specific course. Being in the secondary panel I was required to take The Adolescent and The Teacher, a psychology course about child development from birth to adolescence. Each year of the teaching program there was a year long practicum. The first year is a community education placement that focuses on an education initiative in a community. As an example, in my first year, I collected children from three different elementary schools in the queen west area of Toronto, took them to a bookstore and ran an afterschool literacy program that included reading buddy time between the younger and older students. This year is ended by a one week observation block in a school. The following two years are in school placements that are one day a week for the university’s academic calendar and followed by one month practical block after exams are finished. With the practicums there is a non-credit, once a month class that is aimed at unpacking the experiences in the practicums and gives strategies to help student teachers be successful. They were either held on campus, at the practicum schools, or at a school nearby (I had one of each of these arrangements).

The strengths of the program rest on the amount of time you spend in schools. I found I was very comfortable with school routines and the students by the time I was asked to take over the class in May. It would have been helpful to start the year off with an observation block so student teachers get to know the students and routines very quickly rather than the month or longer that it takes only going once a week. Once you get to know those routines and the students though, the practicum becomes part of your regular week and that is very helpful. It is still one of the better practicum programs in my opinion. There was one professor I had as well who was truly inspiring and a real mentor to me. She truly embodied a constructivist approach as well as knowing her students as a pedagogical tool. She saw how even in my first year of teacher’s college I was highly critical of our education system and showed me how to connect my personal experiences to theories of reform that already existed in education. Her strengths in this area, however, exposed that this was a weakness in the program overall.

Though I had one amazing professor who profoundly affected me as a learner and educator, I cannot say the same for any of my other professors. This leads me into one of the three biggest weaknesses of YYY’s Education program. Through my time in the concurrent system I was the student of 12 different teacher educators. Many of these professors fell into two types. There were many professors who were so well versed in the research and theories of education that they could not make the material accessible to us. Either from a lack of practical or phronetic experience in the classroom, or from the material being too advanced too early, the professors did not have an impact on us. The difficult theoretical readings paired with what seemed to be easy and meaningless reflective papers meant that the courses did not seem appropriate or purposeful. The other problematic teaching style was that of the teacher model. This is where the professor assumes the role of elementary or secondary teacher and treats the student teachers as children and rarely as professionals. The purpose is explicit – to model classroom strategies- but the tone is condescending. These courses also had challenging theoretical readings but they were rarely discussed in class and so the learning from them was left to the individual learning and their ability to access that learning on their own.

Struggling with these professors and the material further highlights another weakness in the program: a lack of a unifying goal. I went into teachers college already knowing that there was a distinct difficulty in education of a defined goal of public education. Before entering university I understood that there was problem with our education system that promoted or at least maintained class distinctions. I could see that the end goal of school varied depending on which economic class the child belonged to (not in theory of course, but in practice). As a new student teacher it only took one or two get-to-know you activities in my classes to understand that we all had different ideas on what the end goal of school should be. Is it to maintain social order, prepare students for jobs, create independent and creative thinkers? It was plain to see that we all had different ideas about what we were really learning to do. What wasn’t plain to see was what the university thought the end goal of public education should be. There was no conversations around it, there were no chances for us to explore our own ideas and have them challenged. There were just professors, with their own ideas, teaching conflicting ideas to young student teachers that didn’t have enough concrete experience with which to ground the multiple theories in. The result was disjointed classes that all used the same philosophers and experts in education to argue different pedagogical approaches to subjects and students. The two different types of professors further show that they didn’t even agree on the end goal of our university experience; one type embodying the academic theory based pedagogical approach, and the other, a concrete and practitioner based approach. Though I think a combination of some sort could be the most beneficial for student teachers, it needs to be far more intentional and clear so that student teachers have a better sense of what they are supposed to be learning. The distinction between the two types of professors was so obvious and opposing that on several occasions I heard other classes and unnamed professors spoken ill of. Only upon later reflection have I realized how this problem I witnessed in my elementary and secondary education was also present in my teacher’s education program.

The final weakness of the YYY program that I will explore, and have already hinted at, is the idea that we had very little control over our own learning. The very thing that drove me to become an educator, what I am the most passionate to learn about, has rarely been addressed. The mandatory courses we were forced to take were problematic in that they were too general, the material was complex, and we didn’t have enough experience to understand the theories. The elective courses were much more specific but often did not take into account the realities of public education (Ie. a technology in education class that will be out of date by the time the school I’m teaching in sees half the technology we were using). Furthermore, there wasn’t an elective course that had anything to do with what I wanted to learn about. There was only one opportunity, my first year of the teacher’s program and my second year in my undergrad where I got to explore a topic that was a key factor in my decision to become a teacher. In that year, our observation and community placement year, we were assigned a community mapping project in which we also had to research and devise a thesis on how education in that community was affected by a particular factor outside the actual school. I mapped my rural hometown and wrote about how the class divide in the community leads to a class divide in the school that is not addressed and causes many of the problems I witnessed when growing up there. I was passionate about the topic, the professor helped my find academic papers that addressed the issues I was writing on, and we talked about our projects in class as we developed them. I learned more in that project than I did in the entirety of my other classes put together because I was in control, I knew the purpose, I was connected to the content with experience and interest, and I was supported in that. In most of my other courses I felt like my voice and opinions were dismissed or there was no space for my thinking. The reflections we did were not enough for me as I am sure they were not enough for many of my peers. I had already done so much reflecting which is what led me to choose teaching as my profession, I wanted more meaningful learning experiences that addressed my individuality as a student teacher.

Though my experience was largely negative, the one professor I had, and the one project that was meaningful had a huge impact on my career as a teacher. It validated my personal perspective on education and when I presented my project (early because I was so interested I finished it months in advance) my professor told me that I should do my masters one day and further explore that topic. I had never considered myself a candidate for anything beyond university (being the first in my family to attend a university) but I ended up pursuing that path based on her acknowledgement of my academic skill and the hope that I could further study the topics that I was interested in.

Ultimately, I feel teacher’s education programs have the reputation that they deserve but that it embodies something that is a much larger problem. In my personal opinion, education is so desperately in need of radical reform to deal with the systematic and institutional problems that studying and reforming on aspects of it, and that includes teacher education programs will only go so far. Until we really take a look at the system as a whole and create a cohesive goal only minor gains will be made.

Reflections on a Teacher Education Program with a First Nations Focus

I (Clare) am currently teaching a graduate course Current Issues in Teacher Education. The first assignment asks students to:

Write a reflection paper on your experiences in a professional program (teacher education, Teaching English as a Second Language ….). Provide a very brief description of the program. Some questions to consider are: What were the strengths/weaknesses of the program? How well did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher? What were the limitations of the program? Have your views of the program changed since graduation? How could the program have been improved? Did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher (or other position)? Do NOT respond to all of these questions. Select one or two and respond to them. In the fourth class of the course, you will work in small groups and share your paper with your fellow students.

Since all of the students in the course are teachers they have a good perspective on their program. Their assignments were so stellar I felt these would be of great value to share with other teacher educators. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing these papers. I learned much and I suspect you will too. I have changed the name of the university so that no school of education is identified.

My teacher education program was at University XXX, where I was part of the primary/junior cohort (K-grade 6) cohort in the year of 2013-2014. The cohort had a First Nations focus. There were about sixty students from various places, with vast variety of experiences, knowledge, interests and skills. My teacher education program consisted of many strengths and areas of improvement. Due to the areas of improvement, I feel that my teacher education program could have prepared me better.

During my teacher education program at University XXX, I had witnessed many strengths and weaknesses of the program. I will start off by addressing the strengths and then the weaknesses. To begin with, coming to class at XXX everyday was the highlight of my day, as the program culture was very supportive, caring and one that respected diversity. I found all my professors to be extremely genuine and caring, as they treated every single student teacher as a whole (emotionally, physically and mentally). The student teachers in my class were a pleasure to learn with, as we provided one another with assistance with course assignments, we had lunches together in big groups, and we also made time to socialize after class by going to a near by pub. A quote from the article titled Teacher Education at the University of Virginia: A Study of English and Mathematics, that resonated with my experience at XXX, “There, she says, professors worked to create a strong, caring community that respected diversity…. being a part of a strong, supportive community was a key experience” (Merseth & Koppich, p.75). This quotation resonated with my experience at XXX, as I felt part of a community of educators who learned together by supporting one another. However, half way through the program, many students started getting in arguments with one another and complaining how they were not getting a lot out of their teacher education program. My cohort coordinators dealt with the situation in a very positive manner. My coordinators split the class in half, and we had a community circle where a talking stick was used, and everyone had the opportunity to say what was on their mind. Soon enough, the conflict was resolved and strategies were put in place for improvements. In addition to this, another strength of my teacher education program was during my practicum experience at YYY Public School in a grade 4 classroom. One and a half weeks in to my practicum, my associate teacher had been going through a great deal of back pain, to a point where she had to take a couple weeks off and had back surgery. I was in her classroom with a Long Term Occasion (LTO) teacher (supply/substitute teacher), whom I did not get along with as she did not let me teach a single lesson. I gave the LTO teacher a couple of days to settle in, in the hopes of her providing me with a chance to teach my lessons that I had prepared. I felt like a volunteer in her class, and the way she dealt with the students did not fit my teaching philosophy. I remember coming home and crying and making a connection of my experience with the LTO teacher to the song ‘Wrecking Ball’ by Miley Cyrus. Although I did have three other student teachers from my class at the same practicum school, I felt like I needed more support. I contacted my practicum coordinator and expressed my concerns with the LTO teacher. My practicum coordinator was very helpful and quick in dealing with the situation, as she had arrived at my practicum school the very next day, and had my placement changed with another associate teacher in the school. I was very impressed with the quick change.

 

Although my teacher education program had many strengths, through a critical lens, I found there to be a couple of weaknesses/areas of improvement in the program. To begin with, there were sixty student teachers in the class; I feel that class sizes should be smaller; about thirty to forty students maximum. Small class sizes allow for a lot more individual attention, and more critical questioning. Although my cohort had a First Nations focus, I felt that there was not enough infusion. Although we used a talking stick and were exposed to and provided with a certain level of knowledge, we were not provided with First Nation resources such as books, videos or lesson plans to use in class. I would have liked to receive a ‘First Nations Resource Tool Kit’ that had a package of important rituals, resources and activities to do with the students as a starting guide to educating students about First Nations. In addition to this, I did not gain much knowledge from one of my foundations courses. My professor was not an effective educator on this particular subject. I am not even sure up to this date, what I was suppose to learn from that class. My professor was of First Nation descent, which I really valued because I gained an immense amount of knowledge regarding First Nations, however I did not gain an efficient amount of knowledge dealing with the subject I was suppose to be taught. A quote that resonates with this experience is from the article titled How Teachers Learn and Develop, Teachers are even more important than the material they use because the ways in which they present material highly influence how they are viewed by students” (Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, Bransford, et al. p. 384). Another weakness I found in the program was not enough class time; especially in math seeing as how numeracy is really big within school boards and it is the number one subject students struggle with. I found my math class to be very engaging as we had our ‘math tool kit’ that included a variety of manipulatives, however the learning was rush and clustered together due to time constraints.

My teacher education program could have prepared me to fulfill my duties as a teacher more effectively. My teacher education program did not introduce us to the report card system, how to provide students with final grades or about the types of comments one should include in report cards. In addition it would have been beneficial for student teachers to know about specific buzzwords and interview questions that could be asked during school interviews. I would have felt better prepared if my teacher education program provided us assistance and guidance with job search. However, due to the competitive teaching market, my teacher education could have provided us with suggestions of what else we can do with our degree, other than just teaching in a classroom. I also believe that the program could have prepared me better by making the teacher education program for 2-3 years, instead of 1 year. A longer teacher education program would be able to provide students with more practicum experiences, critical thinking, learner- centered teaching, community based activities among diverse groups, and an increased and effective amount of content knowledge that covers all core subject areas. An example of an effective teacher education program is the Curry School of Education, which is a 5 year BA/MT program in Virginia. As stated in the article, by the end of this program “Somebody who comes out of the Curry School is going to be able to walk into a classroom prepared for almost anything. They’ll be knowledgeable in the subject area, knowledgeable in a variety of strategies of teaching methods, of classroom procedures and discipline” ( Merseth & Koppich, p. 64). This is the type of framework and actions that University XXX needs to implement for a more effective and improved teacher education program.

 

This reflection paper has really provided me with some in-depth insight about my teacher education program. From an overall stance, I had only considered the strengths for the program. Through this paper, I was able to critically assess my teacher education program and what could be done to improve the program for future student teachers.

Some questions that still arise about teacher education programs are: When choosing placements for students, I am aware that the University has relationships among specific schools and teachers that have acted as associate teachers in prior years. Is the health and well being of those associate teachers checked each year? Or are student teachers just paired up with those teachers, because that particular teacher was used in the past? Another question I still have is, when preparing and improving teacher education programs, who has the say and input of what should be improved? How is this determined? Do student teachers have a voice in this? Are their opinions and advice considered for improvements of the teacher education program?

 

 

 

Works Cited

Darling-Hammond.L. (Ed). (2000). Studies of excellence in Teacher Education: Preparation in a five year program. New York: AACTE Publishers. ISBN NO: 0-9654535-5-3

 

Darling-Hammond, L. & Bransford, J. (Eds.) (2005). Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do. Jossey Bass.

Reflections on a Concurrent Teacher Education Program

I (Clare) am currently teaching a graduate course Current Issues in Teacher Education. The first assignment asks students to:

Write a reflection paper on your experiences in a professional program (teacher education, Teaching English as a Second Language ….). Provide a very brief description of the program. Some questions to consider are: What were the strengths/weaknesses of the program? How well did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher? What were the limitations of the program? Have your views of the program changed since graduation? How could the program have been improved? Did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher (or other position)? Do NOT respond to all of these questions. Select one or two and respond to them. In the fourth class of the course, you will work in small groups and share your paper with your fellow students.

Since all of the students in the course are teachers they have a good perspective on their program. Their assignments were so stellar I felt these would be of great value to share with other teacher educators. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing these papers. I learned much and I suspect you will too. I have changed the name of the university so that no school of education is identified.

 

Concurrent Education: Eat Sleep Teach Repeat

 

conversation
Repeat, repeat, repeat!

“Teaching is not a lost art but the regard for it is a lost tradition.

Hence tomorrow’s problem will not be to get teachers,

but to recognize the good ones and not discourage them

before they have done their stint.”

—Jacques Barzun

 

In the epigraph above, Jacques Barzun refers to the lack of well-trained teachers and society’s failure to support the good ones. A simple observation of our educational system today highlights the shortcomings of teacher education programs and people’s lost faith in the teaching profession. This paper presents my teacher education program, its strengths and weaknesses, and whether it prepared me to become a teacher. Do not be surprised, but I am discouraged.

As a child, I wanted to be either an entomologist or a teacher. As a teenager, I developed a fear of insects and a love for history. When I was 18 years old, I had officially been admitted to the Concurrent Teacher Education Program (CTEP) at the XXX. The CTEP program allows students to pursue two degrees (HBA/HBSc and BEd) simultaneously over the course of 5 years. Students are required to take education courses that provide them with a foundation for teaching before taking any BEd courses. They include topics such as conflict resolution, equity and diversity, and child and adolescent development.

The program prides itself in providing various opportunities for experiential learning, which include a 100-150 hour anchor subject internship, classroom visits and observations. The internship, considered part of the undergraduate degree and completed before any practicums, is intended to help teacher candidates develop teaching experience in their main area of study. Students participate in organizing extra-curricular activities, providing support, and working with a variety of teachers to deepen their knowledge of the teaching profession. Finally, candidates maintain an e-portfolio to help them track their learning as they progress through the program by encouraging reflection and promoting professional development.

Whenever I mention my program of study, I am told, “You do not have to worry about getting into teacher’s college in 4 years. It’s getting competitive and many people apply because they have nothing else to do.” This highlights one of the strengths of the program. There was a huge sense of relief and security in knowing that excelling in my courses and maintaining my professionalism meant that my dream of becoming a teacher was within reach and in my control. Candidates often saw themselves as part of the ‘lucky few’, but it definitely came at a cost. For example, the intermediate-senior program was only open to students majoring in chemistry, mathematics, or French (based on the needs of schools in Ontario). As a result, I ended up majoring in French Teaching and Learning when I may have enjoyed fields such as management.

Concurrent education was a commitment, which can be seen as both a strength and a weakness. The stipulation for entry also dictated what I studied for five years, which sometimes made my courses feel like a means to an end. It also meant sacrificing many of my undergraduate electives for education courses. The biggest assumption people made was, “It’s okay. You want to be a teacher. What’s the big deal?” The problem was that 18-year-old concurrent students were perceived as 100% set on becoming teachers, thereby ignoring the fact that, like most other first years, we were curious, had various interests, but were somewhat limiting ourselves because of the light at the end of the tunnel.

On the other hand, the socialization into the profession began almost immediately after the first few weeks of our classes. The many hours I poured into classroom observations, reflection papers, and inquiry before even stepping foot into YYY University was a test of my commitment. Exposure to various aspects of the teaching profession over a longer period of time allowed me to make more informed judgments. Some of my colleagues fell in love while others wanted to break up. There was no better way to realize my like or dislike for teaching without immersing myself in it. CTEP was all about immersion.

In addition to the analysis of commitment above, examining course structure and the social impact of the program shed light on its effectiveness. I am thankful that my courses allowed me to experience different grade levels before deciding on the Secondary School stream. By the end of my 3rd year, I had spent time with every age group and knew that Secondary was the right fit for me before beginning any official teacher training courses. These courses have contributed immensely to my teaching philosophy and my development as a practitioner. However, when comparing my undergraduate education to the BEd courses, I realized that the material had become repetitive. With the exception of my Curriculum Instruction courses, many of us saw little value in the teacher training courses because we had covered the same topics over the past 3 years. CTEP saw us as the most knowledgeable and immersed practitioners, when in reality, we were experiencing fatigue, feeling disengaged, and ruing the missed opportunities. Furthermore, the lengthy anchor subject practicum took place in my 4th year, thus leaving a significant gap between its completion and my graduation date. Thankfully, this has since been remedied and students now complete both practicums in their 5th year.

Finally, it is important to consider the impact CTEP has had on my interpersonal relations. I have developed many friendships with my colleagues over the period of 5 years. We became a close-knit community that struggled and celebrated together while sharing countless experiences and horror stories, all of which made CTEP very enjoyable. However, I did feel isolated from my university community because we were required to attend courses at the downtown campus for an entire semester in 4th year. After months away from my home campus, it was back to ‘normal’. The main difference was that I now felt like a teacher, having completed 80% of my teacher training, but was once again a student taking an undergraduate course. Not surprisingly, this has now been remedied since it hindered professional development and students now attend XXX University full time in their 5th year. I was a guinea pig, and after all of it, I am discouraged.

The program prepared me to be a teacher the same way military education prepares a soldier for the battlefield. It is a simulated experience, rich in theory and strategies, but devoid of the reality. Before we can consider admitting that teacher education programs are preparing us to assume the duties of a teacher, we are in need of great reform and rebuilding, from the ground up. On the topic of commitment, I am pleased that CTEP admission has stopped. Instead, XXX University has introduced a minor in education, which enables students interested in the field of education to complete foundational courses that help them develop their leadership skills while completing placements and participating in reflective inquiry. It is a step in the right direction.

In terms of coursework, teacher education needs a wake up call. I do not recall discussing topics such as classroom management, navigating the first year of teaching, realities of the teaching market (beyond “no jobs unless you’re in French”), the politicization of education, the history of education in Ontario, and the lack of support for new teachers. The topic of assessment in teaching should receive its own course; however, it was limited to a few hours in our Curriculum Instruction courses and many of us entered the classroom in September feeling overwhelmed, disjointed, and unprepared. We have all heard the saying, “Teacher’s college is a joke. If you can use a projector, you’ll pass.” My most inspiring teachers have told me that when I become a teacher, I will have to teach myself everything. While I am committed to learning as a lifelong process, I am disappointed that in theory, I have received specialized training deemed sufficient to assume the duties of a teacher; yet, I still feel incapable.

I am angered when people say, “If it’s your first year teaching, good luck. It’s going to be hell.” I am willing to challenge myself as I aspire to become a more experienced practitioner; however, I am more reluctant than ever to sign my French permanent teaching contract. Where are the mentorship programs for recent graduates? What happened to pride in our profession? For example, occasional teachers who have not completed an long term occasional contract longer than 97 days are not eligible for the New Teacher Induction Program. I vividly remember my principal telling me, “I cannot assign you a mentor because you have been here for a week, but report cards are coming up; you should reach out to a colleague.” The individualistic nature of the teachers at the school meant that no one was willing to help me. If I cannot help myself, how am I supposed to help the students? Teacher education programs and professional associations should play a more effective role in the induction of teachers into the profession.

Last but certainly not least, I never fully understood why my program only admitted students majoring in French, mathematics, and chemistry. Ironically, when I applied to the school district with teachables in French and history, I was hired as a social sciences occasional teacher and not for my French proficiency. My point is that teacher education programs have become more concerned with ‘filling holes’ in the Ontario system as opposed to developing teachers that can take their practice anywhere in the world.

In reforming teacher education programs, we need to examine why people want to be teachers and what they need in order to succeed in the classroom. It is as simple as asking for input from teacher candidates instead of delivering a predetermined curriculum that satisfies objectives in a document. Teachers are often told to include their students as partners in learning, but I do not recall being asked for any input until I had completed my program. What if teacher education programs were improved through collaboration with school boards and other stakeholders to gain a deeper, richer understanding of what students need in the classroom? An example is teaching 21st century skills, which require a thorough examination of the curriculum, teacher quality, and assessment. Initially, CTEP sparked a fire inside me, but my teacher education program and the school board have slowly extinguished it. Although I am grateful for everything I have learned, I am discouraged.

Reflecting on My Journey as a Teacher

I (Clare) am currently teaching a graduate course Current Issues in Teacher Education. The first assignment asks students to:

Write a reflection paper on your experiences in a professional program (teacher education, Teaching English as a Second Language ….). Provide a very brief description of the program. Some questions to consider are: What were the strengths/weaknesses of the program? How well did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher? What were the limitations of the program? Have your views of the program changed since graduation? How could the program have been improved? Did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher (or other position)? Do NOT respond to all of these questions. Select one or two and respond to them. In the fourth class of the course, you will work in small groups and share your paper with your fellow students.

Since all of the students in the course are teachers they have a good perspective on their program. Their assignments were so stellar I felt these would be of great value to share with other teacher educators. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing these papers. I learned much and I suspect you will too. I have changed the name of the university so that no school of education is identified.

Picture of winding roadHaving a 12 year old boy launch a pair of open bladed scissors towards another student across a room full of miniature sized adults during lunch is, from what I recall, the first time I asked myself, “Is this what teaching is?” If I were to promulgate the sentiment that teaching is a “wild triangle,” (McDonald, 1992) this would certainly be the case. My first year of teaching was a fantastic social experiment on survival. As in most life-or-death situations, there is a certain level of commitment to understanding what threats are imminent, as well as sourcing any and all tools to not only ensure your survival, but also your well-being.  What I have since come to valorize as a teacher survival skill since the scissor attack, is the importance of staying awake and paying attention. One danger in the teaching profession thereby limiting the fecundity of opportunities, is becoming numb and indifferent once you have acclimatized to an environment; teaching the same lessons, same subject matter, with a routine schedule. Although the scissor incident posed a physical threat to students in the class, there are other aggregate elements of a different nature that can compromise learning in the classroom. The microcosmic events of the classroom I have observed over the past 12 years, have created patterns that now lead me to direct this reflection to look at broader forces at play in my journey as a teacher. Consistent with many of the articles we have read in class, I am certain that teaching is so much more than content knowledge and I want to suggest that where teacher education might improve, is in providing tools for future educators to acquire situational awareness skills. One such skill I believe is essential to successful teaching is cultivating the ability to stay awake and pay attention; to students, teacher needs and the environment.

Part of what helps us to stay awake in many situations is intrigue. Curiosity is arguably one of the strongest motivators of learning. The disconnect that can happen in the classroom for groups of students is the lack of relevance to their immediate situation. There are students who are able to direct their attention on understanding the relationship between working hard now, to have tools for future application – a behaviour that is often praised by teachers. However, for other students, extreme behaviour like the example from the previous paragraph, are often utilized for students to remain engaged. In both examples, students are simply seeking the same answer, to the same question: “Are you paying attention?” This presents a conflict for teachers, as attention from the teacher can lead to neglect of others and can be counterproductive with the agenda of the day. However, are the two interests so misaligned? Aren’t teachers there to provide support and direct their attention towards the learner? How can motives between teacher and students be realigned?

Contextualizing students can provide a powerful answer. Our stories are where we find validation and often times an explanation for behaviour that may be incongruent with who we want to be. Providing methods to assist teacher with developing this skill is critical to achieving teacher sustainability. Teachers are constantly bouncing their attention back and forth between their immediate surroundings and where to steer a class. Giving teachers access to training and tools on validating statements like, “I see you and I hear you, this is important and we will come back to it, but right now we need to move on,” allows them to prioritize where and how to give their attention. This was not a skill that was taught or even discussed in my training as a teacher. There are in some cases, school support staff or programs to assist in managing this. The relationship between the teacher and student however is paramount to any outside support that may happen, but often the reality is that teachers are not set up for this kind of relational success. It is an exhausting process for many teachers to try and meet the needs of a class. Moreover, common characteristics of teachers lead many to continue to prioritize the needs of students over their own.

Teacher care and needs are complex and dynamic. Much like situational awareness of student needs is essential to the success and longevity of a teacher, so too is the self-awareness of teachers themselves. Many of my colleagues have communicated to me in casual conversations the struggle to connect activities of day-to-day responsibilities in the classroom with the demands and expectations that stakeholders have. This can add a layer of pressure as an additional element of accountability and responsibility is applied to a teacher’s performance. Stakeholders can include, but are not limited to administrators, parents, the public and the state. However it is rare to find a teacher, regardless of experience, who can clearly articulate what exactly it is they need to meet these expectations or to excel in their role. Often times the easy answer is increased monetary access or resources. During the most recent two years at my school, I had the privilege of being one of five staff members who participated in leading the Professional Learning Community (PLC). Our administration had elected to create a more autonomous environment regarding the professional development of the staff, thereby allowing more voices into the conversation of how the PLC should run. At the end of both years, staff participated in a survey and were asked to specify which areas their PLC days should focus on. After results were tallied, groups were free to meet within their specified area of need and generate ideas of how to accomplish meeting these needs. While some groups like technology in education and staff wellness were able to establish clear targets and strategies of achievement, more than half of the staff and over six other groups were not able to clearly state what they needed and opted for ‘department time.’   How are so many of my colleagues unable to articulate this? Have we become so repetitive and comfortable in our routines that the opportunity for something to change cause fear rather than hope? How can we expect our students to create and innovate if we are not willing to do so? I believe that self-evaluation skills have become dormant in many educators – we simply cannot expect changes if we do not know what we need in order to ask for it. Becoming aware and paying attention to what is needed to perform our jobs well becomes the catalyst for turning the opinion of stakeholders to want to work with us. It also allows for earlier intervention before the temptation of repetition and comfort deceive teachers into believing that it’s too late or too hard for change.

Learning environment is something that has eased its way into my consciousness. As a young student in Ontario I theorized that Catholic schools were “nicer, because they had more money.” Later on as a young adult and teacher, I developed an understanding that schools were not learner centered or designed to inspire, but rather a product of industrialization efficiency where the idea of factory and maximized output was prioritized over lived experience. Now, as a new graduate student at OISE, the common school building represents the powerful historical colonial legacy imprinted on much of the globe during a time where dominant cultures attempted to “civilize” indigenous populations through education. Why does environment matter?

As Beck & Kosnik (2006), explore in their book “Innovations in Teacher Education,” we learn that “space is important to community,” (p.79) and that “community is not just a frill: it is fundamental to effective learning.” (p.74). Environmental space matters. There is growing literature on the value of student learning environments. A book published in 2010 by a team of architects called, “The Third Teacher,” by O’Donnell Wicklund Pigozzi and Peterson, Bruce Mau and David W. Orr, looks at the link between school environments and how children learn, as well as practical ways to implement design changes to prepare students for life in the 21st century. But who, if anyone, is paying attention? We are able to tear down old apartments, houses and commercial spaces and within months have brand new, modern, highly functional structures that reinvent ways people move through space, yet we accept that schools built in the 1950s are sufficient for students. As a teacher my space had a profound impact on my mental state as my physical environment was isolated and disconnected from other areas of the school, becoming a contributing factor in exploring a career change.

My journey as a teacher has incorporated many moments of realization where I was not paying attention, to which there has been a price. After my sixth year of teaching, I had a strong sense that I needed to find something beyond teaching in the classroom. Dissatisfied by my experience in the classroom, I wanted to change my environment in order to evade the numbing and sleepiness that I observed happening to colleagues and students around me. Ignoring this urgent attempt to capture my attention has led to lost opportunities and questionably a loss of time. Even though I am early in my graduate studies it has already been a wonderful change, where I am constantly required to stay sharp and focused and renew my perspectives. Many colleagues of mine who have completed graduate studies and returned to the classroom consistently attest to the richness it has brought to their practice. Equipped with better tools, these educators are prepared to identify the multiple layers necessary to remain nimble and alert in the classroom. The confidence that is gained through the courage of paying attention to your situation, gives you the faith to leap from surviving to thriving.