Teacher Education


I got the latest edition of English Journal this week, and while I have been remiss in keeping up with past issues, I jumped for joy to see this one, which centers on one of my favorite areas of study: Logic and Critical Reasoning. I try to teach critical thinking to all of my classes, and I was excited to see what ideas were included to reinforce this absolutely vital universal subdiscipline.

I am happy to announce that I have not yet been disappointed.

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Forgive me, dear reader(s), for my absence; as I noted in an earlier post, I’ve been busy selling a house (which we sold in only about 2 weeks after putting it on the market ourselves), moving into a new house (which is bigger and only one story), and preparing for where I am currently – the Teaching East Asian Literature in the High School conference at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. So far, the week has been amazing, and I have learned sooooo much about East Asian history and literature.

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I’m a bit behind, as the consistent reader can easily tell from the absence of new material – test prep season is here in full swing, and I’m putting my efforts into bringing this year to a close. I wish I had more time to post, especially since I went to the great IATE 2010 conference in Bloomington, IL, just over a week ago, and it was amazing. I met some great people and heard some great sessions, one of which is likely to alter my entire approach to at least one class for next year.

I’ll update again soon when I have a moment to breathe, and I definitely have a lot of reflecting to do with only a month or so left of my first year. It has gone by fast, and I need the opportunity to look back and critically evaluate what I did – or didn’t do – that affected the course of this year.

[I’m also testing something with WP – don’t mind this.]

I’m up late grading papers, about to quit for the night, and somehow in my distraction, I got to thinking aimlessly.

My thoughts for some reason turned back to my eighth graders last year from student teaching, many of whom I still think about and wonder how they’re doing in high school this year. And as I thought about that, I thought about the last day of student teaching and how my cooperating teacher for that group acted.

I admit that I am a little bitter still about being robbed of a final moment with a class that was a struggle to connect with. I think singing them a song they had talked about for the majority of the time I was there would have solidified the memory, and instead, the time was spent watching narcoleptic cats, which none of the students enjoyed as much as the co-op did. And the send-off that we got as a class was almost entirely provided by me, since the teacher bailed on bringing drinks as he had agreed to.

But I am a believer in learning what I teach, and this practice has affected me profoundly during the discussion I’ve had with my sophomores over To Kill a Mockingbird. The model of Atticus Finch and his saintly heuristic of “walking in someone else’s skin/shoes” provides a high moral standard, and the fact that he turns it to people in the novel that seem at first glance to be just bad people (Mrs. Dubose, for one; Bob Ewell, for another) demonstrates how difficult it is to hold it consistently.

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A professional development opportunity I’ve taken advantage of this year has been a reading/discussion group of teachers in our building covering Todd Whitaker’s What Great Teachers Do Differently. (If that name sounds familiar, you might be a regular reader: see here and here.) It’s been very interesting to hear other teachers’ opinions on Whitaker’s 14 points, and a lot of discussion about our own school and how to make these things work has happened, mostly in a productive manner.

One subject that has come up – unsurprisingly – is the teachers’ lounge. (Which has also been a topic of discussion around Docere.) For almost every school, the lounge seems to be one of those institutions that teachers cling to despite the fact that it almost always propagates the worst attitudes that we could possibly have. Whitaker even mentions that the most common reply he receives from teachers when he asks what advice they would give to student teachers about the teachers’ lounge is “Stay out!” – which is sad, since there probably is a degree to which it might be cathartic for us to share our struggles and triumphs with other people who are in the same boat.

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I got a mailing quite a while back about an interesting professional development opportunity: a workshop entitled Teaching East Asian Literature in the High School, held in July at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. It sounded like a cool opportunity: pay $60 registration fee; receive a set of books to study and discuss (via Moodle) before the workshop; get put up for 5 nights with a free meal each day, study East Asian history and literature, and learn pedagogical techniques for the material; get a $300 book grant for producing a lesson plan on some of the material within 5 weeks afterwards. A great opportunity for a world literature teacher, I thought.

The problem: limited opportunities. And I happened to call just after they had filled their 25 seats, so I went on a waiting list.

But the good news is that I was informed this morning via E-mail that I had been given a placement because someone else dropped out. So I’m going now, and I’m quite excited. This will be my first professional development opportunity not provided by our district or regional office, and I’m glad to have it.

Seriously, I get tired of writing about the teachers’ lounge. If it weren’t for the fact that I do like socializing with my colleagues during the one real time I get to see any of them (besides my lunch duty, which I share with another new teacher), I think I would avoid it. It seems like when I pay attention to what’s actually in there (which I do somewhat out of necessity, since my lunch period starts 15 minutes before the rest of the group), I inevitably find something that makes me go through what seems like the stages of grief: anger that someone in my hallowed profession would applaud something so stupid, depression that someone would actually disseminate bad information when our job is to promote knowledge and understanding, and finally acceptance (or maybe resignation) that I can’t change everything.

But then the idealist in me says, What do you mean, you can’t change everything? How will you know if you can’t do something about this if you don’t make an effort?

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Despite the fact that we’re only in the second week of school, there has already been a fair amount of drama that has erupted at the small rural school I teach at, some including students of mine. A few days ago, the story everyone was talking about was about how two of my students (coincidentally, both in my 1st hour class) had gotten in a “fight” – one had hit the other in the eye, for reasons that I won’t disclose (although I will note that I could see both sides in the argument that was the catalyst for the altercation).

One of these students has had problems with attendance in the past, and she rather nonchalantly told another teacher that she found out she was pregnant. (I say nonchalant, but here’s how the teacher described the conversation: “How are you doing today?” “I’m pregnant.” With an awkward silence where the teacher didn’t quite know how to respond, presumably because you don’t want to say, ‘Oh, congratulations!’ because it might be seen as condoning an unplanned, out-of-wedlock pregnancy or because the student might not be favorable to this event. And I won’t even touch the idea of pooh-poohing it in front of the student, which has its own set of problems.)

The teacher was telling us this in the teachers’ lounge, which was probably appropriate enough since several of us have her in our classes and would benefit from knowing of her pregnancy in order to accommodate her special circumstance and to help her get through this year, which is her senior year. Well, at least, that’s what I thought when I heard this news.

Apparently not everyone in the teachers’ lounge during our lunch period felt so. One particular teacher commented, “Well, she should just quit now, because it’s going to be too hard for her.” (This teacher also happens to occupy the classroom next to mine.)

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It pains me to note here that one of my favorite English professors at my alma mater has announced that he will not be returning to our university. He was the head of our English education program, as well as my personal university supervisor for my student teaching, and he informed a number of recent students in the English ed program of his decision not to return. As I told him personally, I think he will be sorely missed, and I do think that the English program will suffer more than a little for the loss. Not only will a suitable replacement need to be found for heading up English education, but I think it is a rare feat to find someone who is so interested in incorporating language study into English language arts and who expresses such an interest in trying to understand what makes teachers last. (I continue to devote myself to keeping up on my membership with NCTE and our local chapter, IATE, because of his conclusion that a common strand tied to longevity of teachers is membership in professional organizations.)

The silver lining in all of this for me is that he is leaving the university not to take another professorship but is instead returning to his passion: teaching middle school language arts, specifically in Boston, where he taught language arts for a number of years. On hearing this news, I was not surprised in the least: although he has done marvelously teaching college English courses, talking to him for any length of time will bring out this passion, and I think this move is a good one for him.

So, Dr. M, this is to wish you well in your return to – shall we say – the middle. You have given me so many insights into the teaching of English (I just started reading an EJ article by Peter Smagorinsky and thought of you) and to the world of YA literature – and for that especially I am extremely grateful. May your return be satisfying – and don’t worry, I’ll keep you in mind if I ever make it out to Boston.