The Power of Teaching to Make a Difference

Hello! My name is Marisol, I am an elementary school teacher and an instructor at my local state university. Let me just say that it is great to be able to be a part of this blog and share my experiences with you.

photo-on-2013-04-07-at-00-03Before I go further, let me tell you a little bit about myself.

First of all, I have known since FOR-EV-ER that I loved to teach. I played “teacher” nearly everyday with my little brother and sister (they were my first guinea pigs… I mean students). I also recruited our upstairs neighbors to be part of our escuelita (Spanish for little school). I had a total of four students. I was pretty sophisticated in my teaching approaches.

Of our three-bedroom apartment, one room was completely dedicated to escuelita. I had four little tables, little chairs, a black board, desk, and a real grade book. My mother had used her financial aid money to purchase the grade book at her campus university.

I gave her dittos that I made and asked her to make copies for me at her school. I created songs, a class schedule, and even differentiated instruction!

My students were different ages—my sister and her friend (our neighbor) were five. Her brother was seven, and my brother was nine. My brother has Down Syndrome, so I had to make his work specifically designed for him. So, in a way, I was also doing classroom inclusion.

Escuelita lasted many years. I learned a lot and so did my “students”. Those students and their families are now long-time friends.

Fast forward many years, and here I am now—a teacher and an instructor in the field I love the most: education!

It seems however, that teaching and going to school, are not as “fun” as it use to be.

As society changes, so do our schools, our students, and our communities.

As teachers, we keep running this way and that way just to keep up with the tides of change. And oh gosh… the pressure! The pressure we face on a daily basis coming from so many directions. We don’t get enough time to decently plan our lessons, make copies, get ready for class, grade, or even EAT!

Woah. Just thinking about the daily responsibilities of a teacher is overwhelming because only a teacher knows the dynamic ways in which we are called to function. This takes a toll on us physically and emotionally.

I am writing this blog post because I want to share with you a story that has helped me navigate my six years of teaching and to remain passionate about my calling (job).

The school I first worked at is located near the Mexican-U.S. border. The whole school qualifies for free lunch. It is in a low-socioeconomic area. The school serves about 1,300 students. I say all this to give the reader some context instead of creating a pity attitude towards the population in this area. I feel like I need to bring this issue to the forefront of my discussion because there are many that have unconscious or conscious biases about students and their families who are labeled as low-socioeconomic.

While there are a ton of things that I could talk about in my experiences at this school, I am going to focus on parent involvement.

This is because I recently had a colleague say, “Oh, I wish I could engage the parents to advocate for their children and to develop an understanding about the expectations of how children have to act in school.”  The school that my colleague works at is in a high poverty area. There is violence at the school, sometimes against the teachers themselves.

I can only imagine the type of feelings this teacher is experiencing. There are so many different layers to these problems.

Let me just say that I do not assume to know all the answers or even all the “layers” to the problems. What I can share is my perspective and ideas about difficult environments in teaching.

When I first got hired, I rented an apartment near the school I would be working at. I wanted to live in the same neighborhood as my students.

I am so glad that I did, because I grew so much professionally and personally.

20140211_163333_16793011447_oMy first year teaching, I taught second grade, and in this class, I has a student named Awesomekid (yes, I obviously changed his name for the purpose of this blog). When Awesomekid came to my class, he could not read or even write his name (his real name is 5 letters long). He had already been retained in first grade. Some teachers suspected a learning disability. They would say things like, “Oh yeah, Awesomekid’s mom does not care. She has like four other kids, and they are all the same. She never comes to any of the meetings”.

Awesomekid’s behavior was also a big problem. He often got into fights at school and talked back to teachers. When he was sent to the office and administration called home, there was usually no answer. Administration was all too familiar of Awesomekid and his family.

You see, although most teachers and administration knew Awesomekid and his family, they did now know him or his family. Awesomekid was a fellow neighbor of mine because we both lived in the same apartments. I developed a relationship with all my students—Awesomekid especially, because of how often I saw him. I learned so much about him just from what I saw after school.

First of all, his mother worked two jobs—yes TWO jobs. His older sibling was in charge of watching her other brothers and sisters. She was a freshman in high school.

Awesomekid was ALWAYS outside. This explained why he did not bring in his homework or it was not complete. There was sometimes not anyone to help Awesomekid after school. If I saw him playing outside I always asked him if he had done his homework. He knew that if he needed help, he could always ask. Awesomekid rarely asked for help, though. I had tutoring after school and he would get most of his work done there.

Other students of mine also lived at the apartments, or very nearby. There were times I had many students and their little siblings come knocking at the door to say hi. If the ice-cream truck happened to pass by at the same time I would get ice-cream for all of them (now that I think about it those coincidences may not have been coincidences). I loved sitting on the curb talking to all of them and eating ice-cream.

I taught him how to read and write (this could be a whole other blog because this journey was also beautiful).

Awesomekid’s grades and behavior improved dramatically.

I also got to know his mother. We became friends. It was obvious that she cared very much for her children. She later confided in me and shared that she had never really felt welcomed at school. While we spoke about different topics, the one thing that she always told me was how thankful she was about all the work I had done with Awesomekid.

Contrary to the school’s narrative, Awesomekid’s mom cared—she cared very much.

img_3241I believe this is one of the many lessons that I learned through teaching.

Sometimes we may perceive that parents don’t care because they do not participate in school activities. We expect parents to come to school functions, to be “involved” in their student’s academic development; we want to see the parents volunteer, to pick-up or drop off their kids. If we don’t see these, we then counter with ideas of uncaring parents.

In this case, Awesomekid’s mom worked two jobs, and she could rarely attend school functions. Most of the time, she was too busy to even help her kids with homework and relied on the older siblings to help the younger ones. Despite all this, she was a very loving mother, and she sacrificed so much to make sure her children had a place to live and food to eat.

What scared me the most about this experience is the thought of, “What if I had never gotten to know Awesomekid’s mom?” or, “What if I never knew about Awesomekid’s living conditions?”

These thoughts terrify me because they make me realize that I might have misjudged Awesomekid’s mother in a very unfair way. I would have been so absorbed in my beliefs that I would have unintentionally set lower academic standards for Awesomekid. I wanted the parents to come to the school and be present in the school, and hear what the school had to say instead of the teacher—ME—going to the parents, making house visits, listening what the parents had to say.

The power of teaching works both ways.

The first is the power that we, as teachers, have to make an impact on a student’s life. The second—and for me the most beautiful—is the power that teaching can have on our own way of thinking.

While each of us will face different obstacles in our teaching career, let us remember that our calling is a noble one and one that has great power to make a difference.

I know that the times I felt like quitting (seriously, I thought about just walking out the door sometimes), I felt afraid, I felt frustrated, and I felt unappreciated.

During those moments, my strength came from thoughts of students such as Awesomekid. His smile, him writing his name, him reading, and him coming to visit every school year.

That renews my passion and somehow gives me the strength to continue in this field and love it more each day.

The Messy Business of Teaching Science

image2“It didn’t go like I wanted it to.”

The tears were streaming down her face before she even sat down.

A half hour earlier, I received an email from Marshall: “Are you in your office? Can I come meet with you about my lessons?” I assumed she needed to borrow materials or perhaps alter the next day’s plan, so I was a bit shaken when she immediately began crying as she entered my office. The capstone assignment for the science methods course is to plan and teach a 3-day mini-unit. In the course, we have talked about teaching and learning through inquiry, the 5-E cycle of instruction, STEM . . . all to prepare students for the experience of teaching hands-on, exploratory science. The week had finally arrived and the students were ready.

“It didn’t go like I wanted it to.” By her expression, I thought that maybe a student was injured.

“Okay, take a deep breath and tell me what happened. It’s going to be fine.” I was already familiar with her mini-unit, as we did a great deal of collaborating in class.

She wiped her face and explained, “Well you know I’m in first grade and we did a lesson on pollution so I had buckets of water and they had to work with their group to filter the water until it was clean so that we could talk about how hard it is to clean pollution and how we need to not pollute our surrounding bodies of water, because you know we had the oil spill a few years ago, and I thought it was going to be really good.” She talked so quickly, without a breath, like she was eager to unburden. She continued, “Well it was a disaster. The water got everywhere and the kids were talking too loud and my cooperating teacher hated it because they were being noisy and it was so hard to get them to be quiet.”

image1“So did the water have anything in it that could stain their clothes?”

“No, but it was all over the place.”

“Did they clean it up?”

“Well, yeah, we had paper towels.”

“Do you think they were learning?”

Her eyes were still red, but she was calmer at this point. “They were definitely talking about what I wanted them to talk about. They were just so excited that I couldn’t get them to be quiet, and the teacher hated that.”

“Just so I’m understanding . . . you’re upset because they were excited and noisy and made a mess . . . with water.”

“Yeah.”

I was relieved and almost felt like laughing.

We were confronted with a true teachable moment for a future teacher.

“Listen,” I said, “There are definitely classroom management lessons to be learned here. But science is messy sometimes, and that’s fine. It should be. They’re first graders, and you gave them tubs of water, then told them to touch it. Of course it’s going to make a mess!” She giggled. “Water dries. If your students are exploring and learning, then making noise and messes is part of the process.” She still had 2 days left to teach, so we then spent a few minutes talking about ways to truly manage the noise and mess, not eliminate it.

Marshall had fallen prey to a feeling that many teachers often struggle with: the discomfort of giving up control.

It’s a delicate balancing act of maintaining a safe and positive classroom environment with the freedom to explore, and even fail sometimes—letting go of the need to be perfect, to be right, to be “in charge.”

This is a frightening, but liberating, experience for a preservice teacher—one that I wish more teachers experienced!

elizabeth-allisonDr. Elizabeth Allison is an assistant professor of elementary science education at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. She enjoys teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in the K-6 program as part of the Department of Leadership and Teacher Education. When working with any students, whether in the k-12 setting or in teacher education courses, she strives to instill a love and respect for science and education.

Operation Literacy Engaging Everyone

We don’t know his name, or that of his older sister, but we were still moved when he exclaimed, “I love Dr. Seuss! Daddy can I take this one?”

chapman-literacy1We glanced at one another excitedly as the boy clumsily pulled the Seuss work out of the book station we had just inaugurated. His sister found one, too, and was proud to be like her brother, book held high above her head.

Smiling, his father asked him which books he was going to bring back for other kids to take.

As they walked away hand in hand, the boy, his sister, and their father continued their conversation about books, and about reading. We were filled with a sense of gratitude for a moment that brought our vision of free neighborhood book stations to life.

These seemingly unplanned moments where learning connects families, communities, and each of us to a deeper self are what we live for as educators and future educators.

This year’s Literacy Alive! project brought many such moments to the members of Chapman’s Chi Beta Chapter.

Each year, the chapters of Kappa Delta Pi connect around a national literacy campaign called Literacy Alive! to “create programs and events in their communities that bring empowering literacy skills to their participants.” This year, more than 150 projects were submitted nationally, adding up to 57,052 people served and 44,625 books collected for distribution. As a chapter, Chi Beta was recognized for its partnership with a local initiative: Operation Literacy Engaging Everyone (Operation L.E.E.) in Anaheim, California.

Operation L.E.E.’s Facebook page reads, “We are a group of community members out to promote literacy and spread the love of reading in our community by providing book stations with free books.” The book stations are located at various homes and businesses in Anaheim, and represent a true community effort. A vision of local educators, the book stations are filled with donated books that anyone can borrow or take or donate. Operation L.E.E. started with five book stations and hopes to increase that number throughout Anaheim and in other interested cities.

chapman-literacy2Our first adventure with Operation L.E.E. was at the South Junior High School Service Day, where Chapman’s KDP members were tutored in making book stations by students. The amazing woodshop teacher, Chapman alumnus Matthew Bidwell, guided us around the classroom while seventh and eighth graders made assistants of us and demonstrated their mastery of carpentry. It was a fun and exciting day of building book stations from instructions, wood, and know-how.

As future educators, we talked about how it reminded us that our students will always be our greatest teachers, and that our classrooms can be spaces for doing good.

chapman-literacy3We also helped sort more than 500 donated books, prompting a recognition of our community’s generosity and spirit.

As book donations rolled in they were collected at the home of Operation L.E.E. leader, Juan Alvarez. A local educator and parent, Juan welcomed a collaboration with Chapman, and KDP members helped distribute books to book stations around Anaheim. Juan also welcomed us to his home, where we hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Operation L.E.E. at the location of the first official book station.

chapman-literacy4Here, Operation L.E.E. was presented with congressional recognition from Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, and the book stations officially went live!

In recognition of the success of Operation L.E.E., KDP awarded Chapman’s Chi Beta Chapter with a Silver Award.

chapman-literacy5As the project continues to grow, you can help by donating books, providing funds or materials to build more book stations, or volunteering to host a book station at your home or business (contact operationleeoc@gmail.com).

It was exciting for us to help support local educators who are moving beyond their classrooms to make an even greater impact in their community. And we were able to practice engaged citizenship by helping local educators bring a model program into fruition.

In addition to strengthening our relationship with one of our partner districts in Anaheim, we also developed new partnerships with other collaborating organizations such as Los Amigos de Orange County and the Anaheim Public Library.

chapman-literacy6Toward the end of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, we had our serendipitous visitors, our first book station patrons, and they knew exactly what to do. For us, it was like watching from a distance—watching our efforts and those of the community sprout into an opportunity.

For the father and his children, it was a seemingly spontaneous moment to talk about reading.

But we saw meaning in our project and could envision many such moments happening at this book station and at others around the city. Operation L.E.E. had come to life, and Chapman’s Kappa Delta Pi chapter helped make it happen.

Guest author Anat Herzog is an educator who has a deep love for her students and their families. She is a doctoral candidate at Chapman University and Literacy Alive! Coordinator for the Chi Beta Chapter of KDP. Her eventual goal is to open a school based on the pedagogical principles of John Dewey and Paulo Freire.

Welcome to the KDP Public Policy Committee Blog

What is our mission?
Kappa Delta Pi established the Public Policy Committee several years ago with the purpose of creating “a forum to communicate and exchange educational policy issues that advance the field of education in a reflective manner in order to sustain professional opportunities, advancement, and growth for educators, and success for students.”

publicpolicybanner

What have we accomplished?
Since its inception, the KDP Public Policy Committee has hosted a series of webinars that inform the general membership about advocacy and education-related policy issues. The committee also has published several scholarly papers titled “Reasoned Voice” to inform and guide members when advocating.

voiceWhat are we currently doing?
This fall, the KDP Public Policy Committee launched a voter registration campaign. The goals of the campaign are to educate members about the four parties’ education platforms (listed in alphabetical order – Democratic, Green, Libertarian, and Republican) and to encourage members to vote in the upcoming presidential election on Tuesday, November 8. To date, KDP members have received two emails about the parties’ positions on standardized testing and financing a college degree. Three more emails are forthcoming in the next few weeks.

What can you do?
We invite you to follow our blog between now and the upcoming elections on November 8. We will publish a series of postings that will help KDP members to become more informed voters.

After the elections are over, we will turn our attention to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Between now and then, we are asking KDP members to share what’s happening in your district and state regarding ESSA. We want to know! Please email your comments to membership@kdp.org.

Sincerely,
Nathan Bond, Chair of the KDP Public Policy Committee

A Source of Inspiration and Leadership – National Student Teacher of the Year

McKennaDunnOn behalf of Kappa Delta Pi (KDP) and the Association for Teacher Educators (ATE), I am honored to introduce McKenna Dunn, our 2016 KDP/ATE National Student Teacher/Intern of the Year.

McKenna graduated summa cum laude in 2016 from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. She majored in Spanish Language Arts and Reading, and she minored in Teacher Education. McKenna was valedictorian of the 2016 class and was a member of the Alpha Gamma Phi Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education. She currently lives in New Zealand, where she volunteers at local schools.

McKenna has been described by her professor and honors thesis advisor, Dr. Katie Peterson, as “a source of inspiration and leadership” for her classmates. Peterson continues, “McKenna also demonstrated a remarkable ability to innovate teaching practices so that she met the needs of individual learners. The passion and care that she uses to deliver curriculum makes her students feel comfortable to take risks creating environments where students are able to explore concepts and ideas in developmentally appropriate ways.”

Selected from a competitive applicant pool, the award selection committee praised McKenna’s student engagement, energy, and composure and said her project epitomized what they are looking for in an exceptional student teacher.

In sharing the news of this achievement, McKenna wrote:

“Being chosen as the national student teacher of the year is an extremely humbling honor. To know that a group of such experienced and talented educators chose me validates that I have definitely made the right decision to pursue teaching as my career path.”

KDP and ATE congratulate McKenna and wish her well as she begins her first year as a practicing educator. She will be honored at an upcoming ATE conference with a $1500 award and the opportunity to address the conference attendees.

If you or someone you know will be student teaching or interning this academic year, I encourage you to learn more about the KDP/ATE National Student Teacher/Intern of the Year Award. Applications are due by June 15, 2017.

The author of this blog, Susan Perry, is the Director of Advancement for Kappa Delta Pi.

Partners in Loving the Children: A New Year’s Wish

Whitney_photoToday’s blogger is Dr. Anne Whitney, Associate Professor of Education at Penn State University. Read her full article, “Partners in Loving the Children,” in The Educational Forum.

Happy New Year! I always think of back-to-school time as the Real New Year, for in my family of two academics, an elementary school student, and a preschooler, fall truly is the starting point by which we mark all of our time.

We celebrate this new year by finding new shoes that fit, checking jeans for holes, and sharpening pencils. We open our journals to fresh pages and set fresh goals. We get our carpet cleaned after a summer of dirty bare feet, and we clean out the area by the front door where we put our jackets, shoes, and backpacks.

In the days leading up to the start of the new year, my daughter pines for the letter that will tell her who her teacher will be. When the letter arrives, my phone starts to buzz with questions from other parents: Who does she have? Who do her friends have? What do you think of Mrs. X? In our small community, this is typical parent information-sharing. We all want a good teacher for our kids.

But to my daughter Emily, just starting the fourth grade, it’s more than that. She’s asking: With whom will I spend my days? Upon whom will I be relying as I try new and difficult things? Under whose wing will I recover on bad days? Under whose influence will I grow?

The first few weeks students spend with their classroom teachers will shape a new and important relationship.

I take this relationship as seriously as Emily does. Kylene Beers explains in her often-shared meditation on why she “hated” her daughter’s first-grade teacher: “Though I had been a teacher for years before having Meredith, before sending her off to first grade, I had never truly understood the power of a teacher in a child’s life.” It’s like that for me, too. I have been forging relationships with teachers for my whole career, whether as a classroom teacher myself or as a teacher educator. But my sense of the stakes in these relationships changed when it was my own kid. And specifically, they changed most when the going got tough, as I describe in my article in The Educational Forum. When my own daughter was struggling with reading, the love with which her teachers surrounded her—and me, as her parent—helped her in school, but also helped me become a better parent.

Here is my new year’s wish for all kids returning to school: May you enter a classroom community characterized by love. May your year in school be a joyful year in your raising. May your schooling be a team effort. May your teacher be a fierce champion of you and what you need. May your parents, teachers, neighbors, and country join in a great and mighty fight for the loving learning that you deserve.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Whitney’s article free with the education community through September 30, 2016. Read the full article here.

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Two Books Are Better Than One

The initiates, officers, and members of the Delta Rho Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi at Kean University were pleased to support the needs of elementary students in a public school setting with 601 books that were given to them on Read Across America Day. IMG_7574

Our chapter held a book drive throughout the Fall 2015 semester to collect these books. In February, we started by hosting a Literacy Alive! social event. This was a great way to prepare for our project and have everyone get to know each other in a comfortable setting. At the event, members, initiates, and officers created bookmarks for the students, and created bags with bookmarks and pencils to go with the theme of Dr. Seuss.

IMG_7575To celebrate Read Across America Day, Delta Rho visited Menlo Park Terrace School #19 for the day. The books were delivered, and the students received their gift bags. Some officers and members dressed up as Dr. Seuss characters to add to the spirit of the day. All who attended read a book to an elementary classroom and visited various grades throughout the building.

The second part of the project supported the needs of children and young adults at the children’s hospital who are undergoing cancer treatments. The hospital restricts paper books, so the children read books on iPads. These children need funding for purchasing books. Our project supported their needs through an iTunes gift card so they will be able to purchase books to read while they receive their treatments. Our project supported the non-medical needs of these children and they families.

Our chapter was recognized by the faculty and principal at Menlo Park Terrace School # 19 as well as the director of Embrace Kids Foundation.

This was truly an experience for our chapter, as it was the largest scaled project for literacy in chapter history.

IMG_7576The members, initiates, and officers gained experience in the areas of service, networking, and experience being in the classroom. The communities that were served—although different—were immersed in the love for learning and reading all Kadelpians have and show. Delta Rho is proud of Two Books are Better than One, and we are excited to receive the silver award for it.

The real reward, however, was knowing how many children and youth we touched in both communities through our project.

Guest blogger, Leana Malinowsky, is a first grade teacher at Pvt. Nicholas Minue School in Cateret, NJ, where she teaches the inclusion class. She is also a certified Reading Specialist. Leana is the Associate Counselor of the Delta Rho Chapter at Kean University, and she has been an active member since 2007—over 9 years!