I’m Not Proud Of My First Year, But I’m Glad I Didn’t Quit

lindseyHi, I’m Lindsey Warden. This is #WhyITeach.

When people hear that I teach middle school, they usually think I’m crazy, and when they hear where I started my teaching career, they usually think I’m even crazier.

I started teaching in 2015 through a placement program and picked up my life to move to rural Mississippi, where I spent a few weeks in the summer preparing to welcome over a hundred seventh graders to my English classroom in the fall.

Sweltering in the unreal Mississippi summer heat, I threw myself into learning all I could in informational afternoon sessions while co-teaching in a summer school classroom each morning. I was not even remotely prepared for the challenges I would face in my own classroom, no matter how enthusiastic and confident I felt.

My classroom lovingly decorated, books for a classroom library carefully gathered, and lesson plans for the first weeks of school written, I quickly realized that I was an outsider in a tightly-knit community.

The compliant and respectful kids that were selected for my summer school class gave way to children who ran the full gamut behaviorally, emotionally and academically speaking. Less than twelve of my students that year were reading at or above grade level, and that wasn’t the worst news compared to test scores from their previous achievement assessment.

The school leadership, who cared deeply about their students but fought high-impact battles against apathy, funding difficulties, and alignment of teaching practices to the requirements of newly adopted Common Core State Standards, held me to high standards and were in and out of my classroom often to help me troubleshoot my problems. As I began coming to terms with exactly how difficult my first year in the classroom was about to be, my students were also realizing that I basically had no idea what I was doing. My classroom ran wild, my students disliked me, and I was filled with anxiety over my instructional and management failures. Many of my co-workers expected me to quit before Christmas.

I didn’t quit.

Whenever I felt like quitting, I thought of Desmond*, a tiny boy in my inclusion class who spent the first quarter failing every test. One day in November, he made a 70. Then, he made an 80. When he made his first 100 and jumped out of his seat dancing with joy, my heart swelled with pride for him and his success. I began to realize that even though my kids deserved a better teacher than me, I might be making a small difference in some way.

I also thought of the kids I couldn’t seem to reach, like Cory, a chronically absent boy who would miss school for weeks at a time. One time, when he finally did come back, he revealed that he had been living for months with an abscessed tooth that the family couldn’t or perhaps wouldn’t get treated. I thought of students I could see parts of my experiences in, like Kadir, a Yemeni refugee whose family had settled in north Mississippi and who I often imagined felt even more out-of-place than I did. I thought of students whose stories crushed me to my core, like Tamora, who seemed upset one day and divulged to me in the hallway that she was being abused by her step-father.

I continued to teach for the academic outcomes, like Desmond’s and worked hard to turn my students into readers and pull them to higher levels of achievement. But I also continued because I realized quitting would just be one more example of instability in the lives of children who craved adults who cared, and adults who wouldn’t give up or quit on them.

I’m not proud of my first year teaching.

I know I did poorly in the classroom, and I know my students deserved and needed a more experienced teacher. Or a teacher with ANY experience at all.

I’m in my fourth year of teaching now, and am nearing graduation with my M.Ed.

Pursuing my master’s degree in teaching has helped me fill in the gaps that I had from taking a nontraditional route into the profession, and my classroom runs more smoothly than ever. My students and I love learning together using a project-based approach and have done everything from tracing our family genealogies back to the 1800s and 1700s in American History to drafting United Nations resolutions and debating them in a mock UN session in English.

I genuinely love my work in the classroom and enjoy seeing my students excited to learn. While I have since moved to a different town and now teach students in a suburban setting, I carry the lessons learned with my first groups of kids with me daily and remember that children in any school need teachers who care. A few students from my first few groups have since reached out, now as high schoolers, and thanked me just for being there and for coming in every day.

This is why I teach.

Aside from helping students improve and meet academic and behavioral goals, I teach because I love the human connections this career has allowed me to form.

Knowing that I can make a small difference each day, just with my own kindness and tenacity, and knowing that I am modeling qualities like empathy, perseverance, and open-mindedness for the world’s future leaders and activists is so rewarding, and it keeps me coming back to the profession year after year.

When my time to serve students comes to an end, I know I will look back with love on my extended community of learners and look forward to the future with hope for all the extraordinary things they will do in this world. ❤️🍎✏️

Connect with me on KDP’s Educator Learning Network!

*student names have been changed

I Teach, Because It’s What I Was Always Meant To Do

Hi, I’m Jill Bontrager. This is #WhyITeach.

jillGrowing up, I loved school. I did really well in school.

In fact, I even pretended that I was a teacher on occasion when playing with my dolls.

However, I never planned on actually becoming a teacher—or so I thought. Nope, I was going to be a police officer. I wanted to save people.

Then one day, which turned into years, I became the one who needed saving. My family fell apart; my life was dramatically altered by some disheartening events, and I no longer believed I could make a difference. Yet, my desire to help people never went away. In fact, it grew stronger; I just didn’t see it that way. As I grew older, I still didn’t consider teaching, so I found my way into customer service and sales.

My innate desire to learn and help others do the same enabled me to be quite successful in that area. But all along, God had other plans.

Ultimately, after many people and events were placed strategically into my life, my calling was finally realized. As it turns out, my hardships are the very reason I teach.

studentsI teach because there are wounded students out there who need someone to connect with them.

I teach because every student needs a person in his or her corner cheering them on, even if their parents won’t or can’t do it.

I teach because I know how important it is to be truly seen by your teacher and know that you are thought of even when you are out of school.

studentsI teach because I want students to use their critical thinking skills we learn in my English classes to excel and not be taken advantage of; to see the logical fallacies presented to them in the media, in society and even by their friends and family; to watch them find confidence when they write an essay they never believed possible; to see pride beaming across their faces when they accomplish a goal that seemed insurmountable.

I teach because my students fill my heart with joy and fulfill my calling in this world. I teach because if I didn’t, who would I be?

I am a teacher, and I teach because that is who I am and what I was always meant to do.

Connect with me on KDP’s Educator Learning Network!

From the Military to Teaching: Challenges of the Entry Year

Steve Gordon

Today’s bloggers are Stephen P. Gordon and Janis Newby Parham. Their article, “Transitioning From the Military to Teaching: Two Veterans’ Journeys Through the Entry Year,” appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

Many members of our military services leave the military well before retirement age and seek a second career.

Jan Parham

One option many of these military veterans choose is teaching.

If we reflect on this trend, it makes sense. Most former members of the military joined because of their desire to serve a cause beyond themselves. Many veterans were instructors and enjoyed the experience. Like others who enter teaching, military veterans who choose this path are committed to helping young people grow and develop.

Former military members have a lot to offer the teaching profession. They are used to finding solutions to challenging problems, have worked closely with different cultural groups, and are dedicated to completing whatever mission they are given. Overall, we have fewer men and people of color in teaching, but high percentages of veterans who enter teaching belong to those groups. These former military members often teach in high-poverty schools and in high-demand disciplines such as science, math, and special education. Research on military veterans who have entered teaching indicates that they are effective teachers, work well with colleagues, and do a good job of keeping parents informed of their students’ progress.

Reality Shock

Despite the capabilities that military veterans bring to teaching, they also face special challenges. They are used to following specific policies and procedures in the military and having those policies and procedures explained to them in detail. In contrast, district and school policies and procedures do not provide the level of direction that those in the military do, and schools often have “hidden norms.”

Former members of the military were used to following the orders of superiors; if they were officers, they were used to those they led following their orders. Military veterans new to teaching quickly realize that military-style discipline does not work with students, and therefore student discipline can be a serious problem for military veterans beginning their teaching career.

Many military veterans who choose teaching as a second career generally attend alternative certification programs that focus on pedagogical knowledge in general, and so they may have difficulty teaching specific content because of insufficient content knowledge. This problem is especially difficult if the former military member is assigned to teach courses he or she is not certified to teach.

The military requires close collaboration among peers to complete a mission, and military veterans often are surprised by the independence of their teaching colleagues and the level of “privatism” in teaching. This can lead to feelings of isolation the veteran never experienced in the military. The lack of the detailed policies and procedures they were used to in the military, hidden norms, problems with classroom management and teaching, and feelings of isolation can leave military veterans who have become teachers in a state of “reality shock” that makes them question their decision to enter the profession.

Support and Growth

Our study in this issue of The Educational Forum tracks two military veterans, Bonnie and Chad, through their first year of teaching. The teachers in our study dealt with all of the problems described here during their entry year. The new teachers’ greatest source of support in dealing with their transition into teaching were the mentors who had been assigned to them for the entire entry year and other teachers who had been identified as helpful colleagues.

Although their first year of teaching was challenging, through assistance from other teachers and their own experimentation, reflection, and perseverance, Bonnie and Chad experienced considerable growth by the end of their entry year. Among the many things they learned that first year was that developing relationships with their students was critical to student learning and that it is better to motivate students than to try to control them.

By the end of their first year of teaching, Bonnie and Chad had improved their teaching considerably, discovered how much they loved children, enjoyed teaching—and, most importantly, had decided to remain in teaching.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through May 31, 2019.

International Day of Education

As educators, we understand the value and power of education. We witness it each day—when our students have an “aha” moment, when they grin with pride after successfully completing a new task, when they graduate ready to pursue their dreams.

The role of education in changing lives and communities is now more important than ever.

A year ago, the United Nations ratified the new 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including Quality Education as goal number 4. The 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report determined that it is only through achieving quality education for all that the other 16 SDGs will be achieved.

In other words, the path to a just, peaceful, thriving planet is dependent on providing a quality education for everyone.

Unfortunately, millions of people around the globe do not have access to a quality education. As we remain steadfastly committed to Kappa Delta Pi’s goal of equity and a quality education for all, we work to serve members around the globe through campaigns like Change for Children, Books for Nigeria, and most recently, Backpacks of Hope.

We also support educators with quality resources and training though professional development courses on our new Educator Learning Network.

The power and impact of our community of committed educators continues to make a difference in the lives of students every day. In October, we will come together to recognize our role and grow as professionals at our international Convocation, focusing on the Power of You, the educator. For any educator who is interested in joining us, proposals are now being accepted on our website at http://www.kdp.org/convo2019.

As an NGO of the United Nations for 9 years, we invite you to join us in celebrating International Day of Education on January 24.

Because you are leaders of teaching and learning, this day celebrates you! On this day and every day, we need to remember that as education professionals, the people and creatures of the world are relying on us to make the world a better place. There is no other profession that has this role, privilege, and responsibility.

I leave you with a challenge. Share with the world your philosophy of education using the Showcase section of your FREE e-portfolio through our Educator Learning Network. Upload your philosophy to your e-portfolio and use the hashtag #EdPhilosophyChallenge on social media to share your philosophy with the world and others who are passionate about education. By doing so, you’re helping to raise awareness of the importance of education in our global society. (To create your e-portfolio, log into your KDP member profile and click on ‘My ePortfolio’ under the ‘My Account’ menu.)

Thank you for ALL that you do to make the world a better place through your chosen profession.

Faye Snodgress is the Executive Director of KDP.

Are We Asking the Right Questions About Instructional Coaching?

David Knight, Ph.D.

Today’s blogger is David Knight, Associate Director of the Center for Education Research and Policy Studies and an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. His research focuses on economics of education and school finance. Follow David on Twitter @dsknight84. His co-authored article “Evaluation of Video-Based Instructional Coaching for Middle School Teachers: Evidence From a Multiple Baseline Study” appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

Is instructional coaching effective? Educational administrators are asking that question as they make important decisions about how to invest limited school resources in ways that drive improvement.

Some recent research suggests we might be asking the wrong question. A long list of studies identified highly successful coaching models, yet two large-scale randomized experiments [study 1, study 2] found that coaching had no significant impact on student achievement. A more appropriate question, then, might be, Under what circumstances, in what contexts, and for whom is coaching effective?

One way to answer that question is through design-based research, in which researchers and practitioners work together in partnership to study not only what works, but why.

In a recent study published in the October 2018 issue of The Educational Forum, my co-authors and I describe an evaluation of a video-based instructional coaching model where coaches video record collaborating teachers’ instruction. Teachers and coaches then review the tapes independently and then come together to co-construct a goal related to student outcomes. Coaches help teachers identify practical strategies for reaching those goals and tracking progress along the way.

This coaching model represents the culmination of a 2-year design-based research project where we made small improvements to the model over time, based on input from those actually implementing the model. We worked closely with instructional coaches on implementing a new approach to coaching that emphasized the use of video and teacher-led goal setting. During the first semester of implementation, we collected data and interviewed teachers and coaches. We presented our findings to the coaches, who provided additional feedback about their experiences implementing the model. Through this process, we agreed on changes to the model, implemented the coaching model with a new set of teachers, and continued this cycle.

The end result of this process was a coaching model that values the input of teachers, foregrounds the role of teacher-led goal setting, provides coaches with a set of evidence-based teaching strategies that serve as tools for reaching goals, and relies on video to support both data collection and teacher reflection.

In our study, we found that the coaching model led to significant changes in instructional practice, which, in turn, led to increases in student engagement in the classroom.

This type of research, referred to as design-based research or improvement science, comes in part from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools, and others, with support from the Institute of Education Science’s new research-practice partnership grants.

More than ever, researchers and policymakers are beginning to recognize that knowing what works in education is necessary, but not sufficient for leading continuous improvement. Like many educational programs, policies, or reforms, whether instructional coaching is effective will depend on context and local practices. If we continue to focus only on what works, we may lose a valuable opportunity to understand more deeply what drives continuous improvement in schools.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through November 30, 2018.

 

Workplace Bullying in Schools: Teachers Speak Out

Today’s blogger is Amy Orange, an Assistant Professor at University of Houston–Clear Lake, whose recently published article Workplace Bullying in Schools: Teachers’ Perceptions of Why They Were Mistreatedappears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum. In that article, she shares her research on teachers who have suffered mistreatment.

As educators, we are familiar with student bullying in schools and various ways to address the problem.

What isn’t publicly discussed as much is workplace bullying in schools. Yet workplace bullying in educational settings is more prevalent than in other environments (Fahie & Devine, 2014), with the exception of nursing (Berry, Gillespie, Fisher, & Gormley, 2016).

When I looked at the reasons why teachers felt bullied by their administrators, few patterns emerged that showed a single clear factor that led to teachers being targeted. Some felt it was because of their age and others felt that their own behaviors, such as being outspoken or questioning their principals, may have led to the mistreatment.

Others felt that their administrators were jealous of them, either personally or professionally. Some teachers perceived that it was simply about power and that their administrators needed to exert power over them for unknown reasons. Ultimately, most of them will never know why an administrator targeted them, but the perceptions they shared with me are their realities (see my piece in this issue of The Educational Forum).

Interestingly, when discussing my research with colleagues or at conferences, I’ve had some ask whether the teachers who felt bullied were “bad” teachers, as if that somehow excuses the administrators’ behaviors.

Others have asked how I know whether the teachers I spoke with were really bullied without talking to administrators too, as if the teachers’ perceptions of what happened to them were not valid without the administrators’ discussing their perspectives. If people feel bullied, it is real to them and they will react accordingly; it has consequences for their performance at work, their desire to stay in the profession, and their mental health.

Even if it is a misunderstanding or misperception, it should be dealt with so that both the teacher and administrator reach an agreement about how to positively work together and treat each other with professional courtesy.

Prior research found a connection between low autonomy and the likelihood of being bullied in the workplace (Baillien, De Cuyper, & De Witte, 2011; Bowling & Beere, 2006). Therefore, one potential approach to managing this crisis is to increase the amount of autonomy teachers have in the workplace; hopefully this could contribute to decreases in workplace bullying in schools. Another approach may be to change the culture of the workplace. Changing workplace cultures that condone bullying, rather than refusing to deal with the problem, is not easy; but everyone deserves to work in an environment that is not harmful.

There are no simple solutions to this problem. One of the major issues with addressing workplace bullying is that we can’t create policies to make people treat others decently—kindness can’t be legislated. But we need to hold adults in schools to the same standards we do students and create the expectation of treating people with respect.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the current issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through October 31, 2018.

But It’s Only a Theory! A Case for Great Science Teaching in Elementary School

Today’s blogger is Lauren Madden, an Associate Professor of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at The College of New Jersey, whose recently published article Teaching Science Is a Sacred Art” appears in the special issue of The Educational Forum on educator activism in politically polarized times. In that article, she argues for enhancing elementary science and offers tools to help teachers in this process.

So often, when the public or political sphere engages in debate about scientific ideas, “it’s only a theory!” becomes a popular refrain from those denying the existence of evolution, the pattern of climate change, or the efficacy of vaccines.

Once the term theory is mentioned, somehow an enormous body of visual, mathematical, and practical evidence gets equated to a guess as to which Kardashian sibling might be pregnant.

As a result, the public begins to question the expertise of actual scientific experts, and science becomes politicized.

Well, so what is a theory? In science, a theory “is an explanation of some aspect of the natural world that has been substantiated through repeated experiments or testing” (Ghose, 2013). Some theories that are not [yet] controversial include cell theory, or the idea that all living things are made of cells, and the theory of heliocentrism, the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. These are not simply guesses—they are critical ideas that explain the way in which our world works. Knowing what theories are, along with other aspects of the nature of science, is essential for unpacking political debates about science and necessary for building a scientifically literate citizenry. And this process must start with the youngest students at the elementary years.

Then where do we start? In a recent essay in a special issue of The Education Forum dedicated to educational activism, I outlined a broader argument for enhancing elementary science teaching and offered tools to aid teachers in this process (Madden, 2018). One such tool is Lederman’s (2014) guest editorial in Science and Children, which provides straightforward suggestions for elementary teachers to help their students better understand what science is (and isn’t).

Teachers do not need to be experts on everything, but they do need to know what makes science science and how to help students learn to be good consumers of scientific information.

For teachers looking for tools specific to science topics that have become controversial, KDP offers some excellent ideas. For example, the UNESCO guidelines for teaching about climate change can be found at KDP’s climate education resource center.

Teachers are sometimes seen as change agents, but at a simpler level than that, teachers are knowledge agents. Elementary teachers hold the key to helping future generations understand the scientific process and navigate a highly politicized world. And perhaps in the future, we can look forward to eye rolls at the misuse of terms like “theory.”

What strategies do you use to help students unpack politicized nonscientific information?

Leave your ideas in the comments, and let’s work together to build a scientifically knowledgeable populace.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the special issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through September 30, 2018.

 

References

Ghouse, T. (2013). “Just a theory”: 7 misused science words. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/just-a-theory-7-misused-science-words

Lederman, N. (2014). Nature of science and its fundamental importance to the vision of the Next Generation Science Standards. Science and Children, 52(1), 8–10. doi:10.2505/4/sc14_052_01_8

Madden, L. (2018) Teaching science is a sacred act. The Educational Forum, 82(3), 303–308, doi:10.1080/00131725.2018.1458360