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.

Selective Rigor: What to Do About It?

Dr. Bruce Torff

Dr. Audrey F. Murphy

Today’s bloggers are Bruce Torff and Audrey Figueroa Murphy. Their article, “Teachers’ Beliefs About Rigor of Curriculum for English Language Learners,” appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.


Educators have looked high and low for the causes of achievement gaps between the “haves” and “have nots” in our society, and for good reason:

These gaps are distressingly large and resistant to change.

Possible causes include in-school factors (e.g., rigor of curriculum, teacher experience and attendance, teacher preparation, class size, technology-assisted instruction, school safety) and various conditions outside of school (e.g., birth weight, lead poisoning, hunger and nutrition, reading to young children, television watching, parent availability, student mobility, parent participation).

No one seems to know the exact causes, but some combination of factors does the deed.

Could it be that one set of factors has been hiding in plain sight? Do educators’ well-intended beliefs about “what works” for different populations of learners play a role, if a largely unseen one? According to research, the answer may be yes.

It’s true, but unsurprising, that success in school has a lot to do with the level of rigor in the curriculum; students given challenging work achieve more. Educators know that lessons need to pitched to challenge but not overwhelm learners, as if to follow Dewey’s advice that teaching should begin a little over the head of the learner. Accordingly, educators’ judgments do much to establish how academically demanding the curriculum will be.

But research shows that teachers favor somewhat less rigorous curriculum for learners they perceive to be low in socio-economic status, SES. And our research published in this issue of The Educational Forum indicates that English language learners are among the student populations educators believe to be less able to handle the rigorous curriculum prescribed for their more English-proficient peers. The rich get richer, getting rigorous curriculum leading to high achievement, prompting more high-octane lessons. And the poor get poorer, with impoverished curriculum leading to lower achievement, yielding another round of undemanding lessons.

In several publications, we tie these beliefs to cultural norms about how learners tick and how teaching should proceed. Beliefs about learning and teaching in our culture, part of the culture’s commonsense “folk psychology,” prompt educators to reduce the rigor of curriculum for some populations, exacerbating achievement gaps. Because of our culture’s way of doing things, well-intended educators fan the flames of the blaze they seek to extinguish, by their efforts to give students the level of academic rigor they deem appropriate.

A question is raised: How can we counter this cause of achievement gaps?

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 February 28, 2019.

School Choice Is Like Choosing Where to Eat? Hardly!

Today’s blogger is Chris Gilbert, who is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. His article, “Creating Educational Destruction: A Critical Exploration of Central Neoliberal Concepts and Their Transformative Effects on Public Education,” appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

Since the election of President Trump in 2016, the phrase “school choice” has rapidly become commonplace in popular and political discourse. Through sheer repetition and careful messaging, supporters of school choice have worked to sterilize the phrase in order to make it appealing and ultimately normal.

For instance, during a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (2017) compared school choice to a selection of food trucks surrounding the Department of Education. “Now,” she remarked, “if you visit one of those food trucks instead of a restaurant, do you hate restaurants? Or are you trying to put grocery stores out of business? No. You are simply making the right choice for you based on your individual needs at that time.”

In other words, school choice is akin to choosing where to eat. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Despite this attempt, and others like it, to downplay the significance of school choice, abundant evidence suggests that it is anything but inconsequential. As I discuss in my article in The Educational Forum, a body of research has shown that school choice mechanisms such as charter schools and school vouchers have had a number of negative educational and social impacts (Carey, 2017; Ravitch, 2014; Strauss & Burris, 2017).

Additionally, I discuss the larger ideas that have produced school choice, primarily those concepts of competition and individualism. In the educational reality produced by these concepts, schools function as competitive entities, families compete for voucher money and limited spots in charter schools, and teachers work against one another to receive paltry raises.

When I worked as a high school English teacher in North Carolina, I experienced this reality firsthand. As I discuss in my article, in 2014 I joined a campaign to push back against policies that sought to inject competition into schools and pit teacher against teacher. Through a statewide effort, teachers and other activists fought to replace notions of competition and individualism with collaboration and collectivism.

It is important to note that the competitive and individualistic reality we struggled against did not manifest by chance. Rather, it resulted from neoliberalism, the dominant social, economic, and political ideology of our time. Neoliberals believe that the logic of the market should dominate all aspects of our lives, and they seek to create an educational system that mirrors the corporate world.

While neoliberalism is certainly not new, and its effects have been apparent in the educational realm for some time, neoliberal notions of competition and individualism now have an unprecedented level of political support and threaten to become the new normal. In the present moment, it may be more important than ever before to step forward and dissent. I hope this message serves as an invitation to do so.

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 January 31, 2019.

 

References

Carey, K. (2017, February 23). Dismal voucher results surprise researchers as DeVos era begins. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html

DeVos, B. (2017, September 28). Prepared remarks by Secretary DeVos to JFK Jr. Forum at Harvard Kennedy School. Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/prepared-remarks-secretary-devos-jfk-jr-forum-harvard-kennedy-school

Ravitch, D. (2014). Reign of error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Strauss, V., & Burris, C. (2017, July 26). NAACP sticks by its call for charter school moratorium, says they are ‘not a substitute’ for traditional public schools. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/26/naacp-report-charter-schools-not-a-substitute-for-traditional-public-schools-and-many-need-reform/?utm_term=.5f179b7ef7f7

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.

 

Intersectional Thinking as a Tool for Educational Equity

(L-R) Roderick L. Carey, Laura S. Yee, David DeMatthews

Today’s bloggers are Roderick L. Carey, University of Delaware; Laura S. Yee, Georgetown Day School; and David DeMatthews, University of Texas at El Paso, whose essay on intersectionality appears in The Educational Forum.

Anthony is an 11-year-old Black boy in Ms. Johnson’s fifth-grade classroom. Although he’s a contributing classroom citizen, well liked by his peers and eager to excel, Ms. Johnson struggles to sustain his interest in reading. She restructures reading groups, attempts to draw connections between popular television shows and the content of books, and even purchases titles portraying racially diverse children and topics that other Black boys in his class seem to find interesting: cars, machinery, sports. Shunning even books that portray Black boys, Anthony retreats further. “I still don’t see myself in these books!” he exclaims.

Mr. Richardson, the principal at a racially and ethnically diverse U.S. high school, noted that toward the end of the year, more boys than girls enrolled in advanced math and science courses for the following year. To remedy this disparity, he used a grant to create a summer enrichment STEM program geared toward girls. However, very few Latina girls enrolled. Yesenia, an enthusiastic Latina sophomore, declined to enroll in the program because of the overnight travel required. She noted, “I can’t take that time away from my job and family this summer.”

What similarities do Anthony and Yesenia’s school and social experiences reflect? What similar yet unsuccessful thinking did Ms. Johnson and Mr. Richardson use to engage their students?

Perhaps intersectionality, a concept more regularly taken up in women’s studies, political science, and sociology, can provide some insights into these school-based challenges. Intersectionality describes the co-relational forces of how oppressions such as (but not limited to) racism, sexism, and classism interlock and intersect simultaneously within the lives of individuals. Intersectionality has been adapted as a way to understand that forces like race, class, and gender (as well as ethnicity, sexuality, age, and nation of origin) may not stand alone in their impact on individuals’ lives.

Schools are not free from such dynamics; they mirror and perpetuate them. So, intersectionality pushes educators to view the complexity inherent in students’ lives, drawing attention to the sometimes hidden yet critical domains of oppression that overlap in the experiences of students who most often struggle to secure success in schools.

Why didn’t the interventions put in place by Ms. Johnson and Mr. Richardson work for Anthony and Yesenia? Both students are marginalized for multiple facets of their identities.

A closer look reveals that Anthony faced marginalization not only for his race, but also in the way his race intersected with gendered expectations for Black boys. Anthony, a young Black boy from low-income circumstances, was also questioning his gender expression, and so the reading interventions missed the mark by not considering this crucial nuance. Mr. Richardson’s STEM program for girls considered gender but did not take into account intersections of gender with ethnicity, class, and cultural norms. Removing Yesenia from her home, even for supplemental educational, could prove difficult for her recently arrived immigrant family without significant supports in place.

In our article “Power, Penalty, and Critical Praxis: Employing Intersectionality in Educator Practices to Achieve School Equity,” we argue that intersectionality provides educators deeper insights into the lives of their students. Educators or youth service providers implementing interventions to create equity and address disparities caused by societal oppression must utilize intersectional thinking to more precisely meet the needs of their increasingly diverse student populations. Employing intersectional approaches to PreK–12 policy and practice supports the possibility for better shaping and enacting critically refined curriculum and programs. Intersectionality can prove to be a highly effective tool in deconstructing taken-for-granted notions of our students and how best to serve them.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Carey, Yee, and DeMatthews’ essay with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through February 28, 2018.

The Researcher’s Responsibility in Communities of Color

Today’s bloggers are professors Gholnecsar E. Muhammad, Georgia State University, and Bettina L. Love, University of Georgia. They describe here the background for their interest in Critical Community Conversations, which they recently wrote about in The Educational Forum.

Throughout history, researchers have come into communities of color to engage families and conduct research in unethical and inhumane ways. In these events, researchers have used our communities for profit or self-gain without working to advance these same communities or without deeply learning from or listening to community members.

Perhaps the most well-known case is the Tuskegee trials, conducted between 1932 and 1972, when U.S. Public Health Service researchers persuaded roughly 600 Black male sharecroppers into a clinical study by telling them that they would be given free medical care, meals, and burial insurance. Two-thirds of the men participating in the study had syphilis, yet were never informed of their disease or given a treatment for their illness, although a cure existed when penicillin was developed in the 1940s. They were lied to and told they were being treated for “bad blood” when, in fact, they were not.

Instead, the treatment was withheld; many of the men, and some of their wives and children, died as a result. It wasn’t until 1997 that President Bill Clinton offered a public apology, calling the experiment shameful and racist.

An earlier example, in 19th-century South Africa, was an enslaved Khoisan woman, Saartjie Baartman, who was taken to Europe so that pseudoscientists could “study” her body and “investigate” her sexuality due to her body shape. They wrongfully concluded that Black women have a greater sexual appetite.

During their research, Baartman was raped, tricked, and forcibly put on display (sometimes in a cage) in a museum for lookers to observe and mock. When she died in 1815, her body was dismembered and displayed in a French museum until 1974. Her remains were not properly buried in her homeland until 2002.

Neglect of and disregard for Black bodies in so-called research does not begin or end with these two cases. Although ethical and more humane research standards have since been put in place, we still question the authenticity and carefulness of researchers as they study communities of color, including their intent, their honesty, and the ways they represent and write about Black and Brown youths and families.

As we continue to engage with communities, conduct research with communities of color, and prepare the next generation of researchers, we are mindful that elements of the unethical research of the past can be and have been repeated today. This charges us to ask:

  • Do educational researchers love the people in communities of color and the participants in their studies?
  • Are researchers going into communities for self-gain or merely to publish in journals from the problems that Black and Brown youths experience?
  • Are researchers receiving substantial funding for their studies while the communities they study get no benefits from those dollars? Are researchers of color employed on these funded projects?
  • Are researchers deeply listening to and being positively changed by people of color?
  • Are researchers treating people of color as positively as they write about them in research articles?
  • Are researchers displaying honesty and integrity in their methods of collecting information? Or again, are researchers merely taking the information they desire and leaving people unhealed? In other words, are we seeing modern-day Tuskegee trials in educational research today?

We have found from our personal experiences that we need to ask these questions and understand who is being given consent to study our people and our communities. We need university researchers to have a keen awareness of the responsibilities and the impact they can have in authentically partnering with community members. We purposely use the word “authentic.”

So often we have found that researchers come in and take from communities of color because those are the sites of the greatest needs used to problematize their research. We have observed researchers talk about social justice in articles but not display the same awareness in day-to-day life.

The responsibility we have to communities of color is also one takeaway from our Critical Community Conversations in the Atlanta area. In this work, we remind others and ourselves that our intentions and actions must be grounded in lessons from history, intersectionality, and anti-colonialism.

There is a history of hypocrisy when it comes to researching and engaging communities of color, and we know that element of history is still present today. We must go beyond good intentions and continue to question our actions as educators and researchers. We purposefully start our questioning with love because, as we remind ourselves each day, love is the first responsibility we have.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Gholdy and Bettina’s research with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through December 31, 2017.

Research from The Educational Forum: Lifting the Smog: Coaching Toward Equity for All

Today’s bloggers are Jacobe Bell and Reshma Ramkellawan, self-employed instructional coaches in New York. They reflect here on what led to their research article recently published in The Educational Forum.

A man stabbed, his fresh blood splattered all over the bodega counter. A crumpled body in the middle of the street, framed by paramedics, police officers, and weeping bystanders. What was supposed to be a rare lunch break with school administrators became a day that shook Jacobe to her core. It’s not every day a teacher wanders onto the scene of a murder. But Jacobe will never forget the incident for another reason: the perceived indifference of the school administrators. She still wonders if their response might have been different if the murder victim had been of a different race or a higher socioeconomic class. Who knows? What we do know is that a person’s lived experiences affect how they interact with and think about others. What causes educators to become desensitized? What causes educators to see some people differently than they see themselves?

We don’t have simple answers to these questions. Our experiences as instructional coaches, however, have allowed us to gain insight into how teachers develop nuanced understandings of the students they serve in the contexts in which they choose to teach. Smog and Discourse (Tatum, 2003; Gee, 2015) are two theoretical concepts that explore how our subconscious is a manifestation of our lived social, economic, racial, and cultural experiences. In the case of Discourse, implicit beliefs around class, economics, and education are articulated in our word choices (e.g, “these kids can’t do this,” or “stuff like this happens everyday—no big deal”).

Teachers engage in these language patterns because they are surrounded by smog that reinforces their beliefs. The administrators’ reaction to the murder scene is an example of this. They likely had been bombarded by media reports and personal experiences that perpetuated the image of the school community as violent, aggressive, and dangerous. This district in particular has several police officers on consistent patrol. As a result of their lived experiences, administrators (and teachers) often subconsciously fail to see the narratives of their school constituents beyond their own psychological constructions of them. No one ever wants to believe they have made their implicit biases explicit, whether they have chosen to work in an urban setting with children of color or in any community where ethnicities and races are different from their own. However, we cannot always control the smog within which our psyche formulates meaning of the world, especially if we do not have a say in our formative experiences. Institutional racism has significant influence on the smog we are surrounded by and its manifestation in Discourse.

As women of color, we are keenly aware of subtle indicators of racism. We want as many allies as possible in the fight for educational equity. In order for urban educators to be true allies, it is imperative that all of us spend time unpacking the reasoning behind the things we say, the topics we choose to teach, and manner in which we enact pedagogy. As instructional coaches, we help teachers unpack belief systems that impact the instructional decisions they make. It can often be uncomfortable having these difficult conversations with teachers. The approach we ultimately utilized, outlined in our article in The Educational Forum, relied on the foundation of trust and good intention that we established with our teachers. In order for us to ask difficult inquiry questions (e.g., “Why do you believe your students are incapable of learning?” or “Did you notice your tendency to make deficit-oriented statements?”), the teachers we coached needed to understand that we were not judging them for the Discourse and smog that shaped who they are. Rather, we wanted to support their transition to empathetic teachers who are responsive to the needs of their students, moving toward equity for all.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Reshma and Jacobe’s article free with the education community. Access this article and the whole issue at Taylor and Francis Online, free through October 31, 2017.