Monday, December 30, 2013

guest post: renewal

 Guest blogger: Jehanne Beaton, Roosevelt High School, Minneapolis

Although it was more than two decades ago, I remember how desperate I was during those December weeks of my first year of teaching.  I just ached for a break.  I counted down to my two weeks away from school and teaching and my students.  My first teaching job landed me in a small, growing city on the opposite end of the country from home and family.  I didn’t know a soul there when I took the job, and it took me a while to develop friends.  Teaching consumed me.  I arrived at school hours before school started and, most days, stayed long after the students had left.  When I wasn’t at school, I was sitting in my miserable, basement studio apartment and grading stacks of middle school social studies assignments at a makeshift desk of a cardboard box covered with beach towels.  Like many young teachers, I had taken on additional work:  coaching, after school tutoring, chaperoning dances, and serving on multiple committees.  I enjoyed my students, but that didn’t mean they didn’t test me.  On the final Friday when the bell rang, signaling school’s two-week hiatus, I left my students’ papers in neat stacks in my classroom and sprinted to my car, driving three hours to the nearest airport.  I just couldn’t get home fast enough.

While away, I searched for ways to renew and sustain my energy and strength.  I reconnected with friends and loved ones, slept as much as my parents would let me, and read for pleasure, rather than out of responsibility.  And I came up with strategies to maintain my beliefs about teaching and kids and to remind myself why I became a teacher in the first place.   Since many of you may be in a similar situation of your own, I thought I’d share two that have served me well.

1.     Seek out your own teacher mentor.  Some districts have figured out that young teachers benefit from consistent and meaningful support from district and building mentors, and they have invested in hiring talented, thoughtful master teachers to serve as coaches and reinforcement.  Other districts, short on funds or foresight, may not.  When I was a young teacher, no such support structure existed at my school.  So I set about finding my own.   By winter break, I had a good sense of which veteran teachers in my building were held in high esteem.  (Ask your students who they believe are their best teachers, the teachers from whom they learn the most, whose classes they most want to attend.  They know and will tell you.)  Then, throwing any discomfort or anxiety out the window, I asked two teachers, one in my department and one who taught Spanish, if I could meet with each of them for lunch every so often to talk teaching.  Since that first year and in every school since, I have sought professional conversation and support from colleagues of my choice, most often teachers whom the students most admired and regarded most highly.  I have asked them to come and observe me teach during their prep time, or if they would give me feedback on a lesson or summative assessment.  By developing these informal mentoring relationships, you will support your own reflective practice and communicate your own growth mindset to your colleagues.  Further, it provides you with a trusted teacher friend who comes to know you and your work.  This person can be an invaluable resource for you in your early years of teaching.

2.     Create a “Why I Teach” Folder:  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been at it:  every teacher has horrible days. Any teacher who says they don’t is a big, fat liar.  But for each teacher, we also have moments, hours, days that remind us why we entered into this work.  Maybe you’ve received a touching thank you letter from a student or parent.  Maybe one of your students has worked past the edges of their abilities and surpassed your – or even their own – expectations of themselves.  Maybe there’s this moment when you see the learning light up for a student, and they ask a speaker a question that shows you they’ve been listening, they’re thinking, the work you’re doing in class is sinking in….  These are artifacts to hang on to and place in your “Why I Teach” Folder.  I started my “Why I Teach” folder over winter break my first year of teaching.  Every year since then, I drop a few items into it.  It’s thick now, and some items are weathered and stained.  Every time I return to it, thumbing through its contents, I come away more deeply committed to teaching.  Your “Why I Teach” folder will become a place for reflection, contemplation and renewal too, especially when days are hard.  The next time you read some non-teacher newspaper editorialist bad-mouth our profession, or that student of yours, Joe Bagodonuts, has worked your last nerve, or the teacher next door has been condescending about your ‘new teacher ideas’, or you have too much to grade and lessons to write and it seems like you and your students are stuck:  dig out your “Why I Teach” folder.  Re-examine and remember the good of the work.  Of your work.  I can’t tell you how much it helps. 

These two weeks will bring a needed respite to everyone:  your colleagues, your students, even your principals. And it stands as a giant milestone in your first year of teaching:  you’re almost half way there. 

I wish you a wonderful break.  Enjoy every moment.  On your way back, whether it be a three hour drive back from an airport or just Sunday night, at your cardboard box of a desk, scrambling to get those assignments recorded in the gradebook and your lesson plan ironed out for Monday morning, ready yourself with these strategies as one more way to help take care of your professional self. 

Jehanne Beaton spent 14 years in the classroom as a secondary social studies teacher.  Currently, she works as a partnership liaison at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis and is working to complete her Ph.D in Teacher Education and Social Studies Education. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

nonfiction book resources

I’m preparing to teach one of my favorite preservice teacher education classes, Content Area Literacy in the Elementary Classroom in January. Many of the preservice teachers in the class remember negative experiences with nonfiction from elementary school. They read nonfiction only in the context of writing the Animal or State report, and found little enjoyment in the texts they found. I get the opportunity to open their eyes to the wonderful nonfiction books available to students now, books that excite students, not bore them.

And seems as though everyone is talking about nonfiction lately. With the Common Core State Standards requiring students to read more and more nonfiction, teachers of all grade levels are on the lookout for high-quality nonfiction to incorporate in their classrooms. Here are some of my go-to resources for nonfiction in the classroom.

In a joint project between the National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council, the organizations publish a list of outstanding science trade books, K-12 every year. The lists can be found here. Some of my favorite recent winners include: Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (local author!), Bomb! by Steve Sheinkin, The Mighty Mars Rover by Elizabeth Rusch, and Lives of Scientists by Kathleen Krull.

Kirkus also publishes a “Best of” list which includes categories on nonfiction. Check out the categories here. One of my favorites from the “Best Middle Grade Books That Make History Come Alive” is Russell Freedman’s Becoming Ben Franklin: How a Candle-Maker’s Son Helped Light the Flame of Liberty.

Here are some other great resources:
  1. I follow the blog There’s a Book for That, and there is a fabulous list on nonfiction read alouds available here.
  2. If you’re looking for digital texts, there are many nonfiction texts available from the Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project.
  3. And then, of course, there’s the ALA’s Sibert Medal, NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award and IRA’s Children’s and Young Adult Book Awards
Happy nonfiction reading!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

apprenticeship of observation

Guest Bloggers: University of St. Thomas faculty members Muffet Trout, PhD and Debbie Monson, PhD
We often think about beginning teachers as being new to the classroom. For most, however, classrooms are very familiar places. Lortie (1975) describes this familiarity as an apprenticeship of observation. This apprenticeship begins long before beginning teachers become leaders of their own classrooms. All teachers were students at one time, and as such, have been in several classroom settings with different types of teachers creating both positive and negative memories. Watching one’s teachers over the course of K-12th grade is the apprenticeship to which Lortie refers. His concern is that these formative years as a student define how new teachers will teach. Without careful analysis of the complexities that make up teaching, this apprenticeship can hinder teachers from imagining different ways of approaching their practices.

We want all of us teachers to recognize our experiences in education prior to becoming classroom teachers.  Like Lortie argues, we have been students at the elementary, secondary and college levels and have been student teachers during our teacher preparation. Britzman (1991) describes these times when teachers learn about teaching as four chronologies. The first chronology begins when we are K-12 students, the second begins when we take university courses in general and in teacher preparation, the third commences with student teaching and the fourth begins when we assume full-time status as teachers.

As members of the TC2 community, your experience in the second and third chronologies to which Britzman refers is different than most K-12 educators’ experiences.  As members of the TC2 experience you have taken coursework on methods, psychology, general education and other topics while essentially teaching fulltime. You have had opportunities to apply learning from your coursework directly to the classroom.  For the first year, TC2 graduates, you are now officially on your own and trying to make use of all the knowledge you learned from both coursework and classroom experience to create a meaningful learning environment for your students. 

Looking back at Lortie’s  apprenticeship of observation and Britzman’s four chronologies, it would be interesting to see which of those times in your lives are the most impactful now.  Do you refer to “how you were taught” when thinking about how to plan lessons or manage your classes? Do you tap into theories when envisioning how you want to design units or lessons? And how do your students factor in to your teaching style and choices?  What is the center of your decision-making process, your experience, your content, your students, your schooling, or a combination of all of these?  And it would be interesting to see how that evolves over time.  How do the pressures of your first year compare to that of student teaching?  And how will that ease over time and give you the flexibility that most teachers feel to begin to evolve and create the environment you want?

Hopefully your time in TC2 and all of your other experiences have taught you to keep learning, growing, and searching for ways to connect to ALL of your students.

Britzman, D. P. (1991).  Practice makes practice. New York: State University of New York Press.

Lortie, Dan C.  1975  Schoolteacher: a sociological study.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

About the authors:
Muffet Trout is an assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of St. Thomas. Muffet started at UST in 2012, bringing with her more than 25 years of teaching experience pre-K through doctoral level classrooms. Muffet specializes in care theory and effective teaching practices that cultivate relationships.

Debbie Monson is an assistant professor of mathematics education at the University of St. Thomas. She spent 14 years teaching in St. Paul before completing her doctoral work and joining the UST faculty. Debbie’s research focuses on the relationship between beliefs and practices for teachers using a reform mathematics curriculum.