Teach-Now in Korea

This article originally appeared in the November issue of BiBimBap magazine, an online journal for EFL teachers in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. You can view the ISSUU version here.

The Teacher Certification Debate

In America, there are two debates going on about teacher preparation programs; one is happening in the media, among education policy experts and at the highest levels of education administration. The other is happening around kitchen tables in the homes of career-changers, and in coffee shops with college graduates and undergrads, who are interested in becoming a teacher. Both debates are concerned with the structure, quality and quantity of preparation needed to sustain an effective teaching career in U.S. schools in the 21st Century. However, the latter debate also includes concerns about the costs associated with taking a year or two off from making money and instead taking on the prohibitive costs (read: student loan debt) of getting a teacher certification from a traditional school of education.

Case in point: my own path as a teacher has been varied and circuitous because I was most interested in gaining actual experience in the classroom over acquiring more formal theoretical knowledge in grad school. And I found many opportunities in my own community and around the world to get into the classroom, develop a style and a toolkit of my own and grow immediately as a professional. Adding to my uneasiness about grad school was the fact that I was debt free when I finished my undergraduate studies and vehemently wanted to stay that way.

Furthermore, I knew many alums of the many prestigious teacher prep programs at the local universities while working as paraprofessional in a Seattle public school. Many of those teachers told me that the experience I was gaining in the classroom as a teacher’s aide was preparing me as much as or more than a formal Master’s In Teaching program would by itself. I felt frustrated by the limbo between having the relevant experience and lacking a flexible, affordable and high-quality path to teacher certification. It turns out I had to come to Korea to discover the answer to my teacher prep woes!

We should not forget Martin Haberman’s research showing that long-serving “star” teachers are often from low-income backgrounds, have graduated from non-elite colleges, or are people of faith. Others, like Alex Caputo-Pearl, have somewhat radical politics. What makes these nontraditional teachers special is that they are mission-driven to help struggling students succeed, and they are enthusiastic about holding all children to high intellectual standards. Those are the attributes teacher preparation programs should seek.
-Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession

Teach-Now, Literally

Emily Feistritzer worked for the U.S. Department of Education studying alternative-route teacher certification programs across the country. After 30 years as a preeminent expert on the subject, she decided to create a program which addressed the holes and inadequacies that she saw in many alternative-route teacher prep programs. Thus, Teach-Now was born; a rigorous, practical and affordable teacher certification program aimed at “preparing tomorrow’s teachers for tomorrow’s learners in tomorrow’s world”.

Apart from the student-teaching portion of the program, the Teach-Now classes and coursework are completed fully online. Assignments, readings, teaching videos, discussions, and professor interaction are all facilitated via the Teach-Now online learning platform which is similar to those of EdX and Coursera. Small cohorts of 15 or fewer teacher candidates and their module instructor meet weekly online, in real time, using the AdobeConnect video conferencing program. Lectures, discussions, flash collaboration mini-projects and analysis of exemplary teaching videos happen in the VC’s (virtual class) by the cohort members and their instructor who could be many thousands of miles apart. In fact, my cohort consisted of three English teachers in three different Korean provinces, five international school teachers in three different provinces of China, an American school teacher’s aide in Germany, and a paraprofessional working in an Arizona charter school.

Teach-Now relies on open source readings and resources from the web, as opposed to expensive textbooks. The resources range from podcasts about Lev Vygotsky and the importance of play in learning, Rick Wormeli YouTube videos on differentiation, and, of course, the writings of John Dewey on progressive teaching methods.  

Where the Teach-Now program really excels and differentiates itself, thanks to Ms. Feistritzer’s vision, is in the hands-on experience teacher candidates get with valuable education technology tools. Assignments ask teacher candidates to analyze and dissect the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in an electronic mind map, create an academic data infographic, collaborate on a debate about blended learning via Voicethread, participate in an ed policy Twitter chat or develop a Pinterest board rich with lesson plan ideas. All individual and group writing assignments are completed, shared and submitted in Google Docs.

The final module or unit of the Teach-Now program is in the mold of a traditional student-teaching practicum in which teacher candidates need to complete 250 hours of in-class instruction in their subject area or grade level of certification. Similarly to traditional student-teaching models, teacher candidates need an experienced mentor teacher to support, observe and evaluate the candidate’s performance. What is different with Teach-Now, is that you also record a class once a week, upload the video to your Google Drive, share it with your instructor and cohort-mates, receive notes on your performance and discuss it at the weekly VC. This professional development method is precisely what the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project calls for in order to better identify and develop the best teachers and teaching strategies.

 

My Experience with Teach-Now in Korea

I had a wonderful experience completing the Teach-Now program from here in Yeosu. The opportunity to achieve my goal of becoming a certificated elementary teacher while living and working abroad, and not going into serious debt, has been a huge gift for which I am grateful. However, there were a few key factors which made the experience possible, as well as a truly rigorous and meaningful preparation that was flexible enough to work with my unique teaching situation. Keep these in mind if you are reading this and are interested in the program.  

First, I had some great cohort-mates who were located in similar time zones in East Asia. They were serious professionals with years of teaching experience before joining the Teach-Now program. I learned a lot from them and received a lot of valuable feedback on my teaching as well.

Second, my Korean co-teacher at my elementary school in Yeosu is a wonderful, progressive teacher with nearly two decades of experience in the classroom as a homeroom teacher, head teacher, English teacher and low-level administrator. Despite her years of experience in Korea, she was eager to learn from my American-style teacher preparation and therefore allowed me to experiment with some distinctly Western-style teaching methods in our English classroom.

Last, I teach a few extra classes on my own, without a co-teacher and without a curriculum. This also allowed me huge amounts of freedom during the practicum especially, but also during the academic modules. I used those free form classes to complete an assignment or put into action an emphasized teaching method.

If you do not have these elements; solid cohort-mates in your time zone, a great Korean co-teacher and some flexibility in your teaching schedule, then you may need to think twice before applying to Teach-Now. Otherwise, go for it!

  

Teach-Now in the News:

Teach-Now as a great alternative-route certification option for military spouses abroad.

Teach-Now program revolutionizes teacher preparation.

Education researcher moves into the certification business.

On Twitter you can follow Teach-Now @teachnowprogram or via #tncohort.

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New Teacher Job Interview Do’s and Don’ts

COP Interview Tips

Jennifer Gonzalez and her Cult of Pedagogy site is one to follow on social media. Her YouTube Channel is full of great and immediately usable how-to videos ranging from classroom management strategies to the Jigsaw Method. She recently published a series of interviews with educators in various administration positions that have extensive experience in the teacher hiring process. I was very interested to listen to the podcast and follow the transcript of the conversation for a couple reasons.

First, I am going to be interviewing for my first classroom teacher position in about a year from now. While I have had my own ESL classroom in Guatemala, Colombia and South Korea, I have not been certificated and charged with my own elementary homeroom class yet.

Second, it’s no secret to those who know me personally and professionally that I aim to lead a school community one day as a principal. While this is a long ways off and ultimately contingent on my professional development and competency as a classroom teacher, it is my long-term professional goal as an educator. Thus, I am always interested in hearing about different administrators’ scouting, recruitment and interview strategies.

As a bilingual instructional assistant (paraeducator) in a Seattle public school, I sat on many hiring committees, including those interviewing vice principal, head teacher, classroom teacher, special education and paraprofessional candidates. Therefore, I have some of my own insights about best practices in educator interviews, both from the hiring perspective and the interviewee perspective. Many of my own ideas jibbed with what I heard from CoP’s group of administrators and some of their advice was novel. Below I have included my favorite quotes from this interview series along with some of my own commentary in italics.

Chris Nordmann (@ChrisNordmann), Academic Dean at the Kaleidoscope Charter School in Otsego, Minnesota.

“….just their willingness to continue learning. What are they doing to better themselves? How can they inspire others around them, students and staff, to improve themselves as well?”

“Also somebody who values what other people do within the building. For example, we had someone who was talking about, you know, a lunch lady was gone and they went back and served lunch for the day. Somebody who was willing to go above and beyond to do something outside of their responsibility for the good of the school. I think that’s– If somebody has those things, I can overlook some experience.”

I think being a teacher who is also a lover of lifelong learning themselves is essential. Honestly, I don’t know why you would be in the profession if you aren’t a lover of good books, new information, intellectual exploration and personal growth.

I also just love Mr. Nordmann’s emphasis on valuing all the little things that different school staff members provide to the school community. When I taught an after-school poetry and soccer club in Seattle, the night janitor would often walk in to our classroom in order to do some cleaning or maintenance. I made a point of introducing him to the group of students, asking them if they knew what he did for them each day, and explicitly clarifying the importance of the janitor’s role at the school. You’ve got to model and teach that every life has value, but you’ve got to see and believe it for yourself first.

Penny Sturtevant, Principal at Big Walnut Middle School in Sunbury, Ohio.

“We’re looking to see that you’re pliable, you’re open, you’re willing to collaborate and be a piece. So I think they can relax and say – It’s okay to say, “You know, I’m not an expert in that.” And give that honest response. Take that off your weight that you have to be the expert.”

“They’ve shown the initiative to know our school, and maybe just something about our community. That they felt it was important enough that they spent, invested their time to go and find out, and maybe even know a little bit about who’s interviewing them if they have that opportunity.”

“They talked about the enthusiasm they were bringing that a beginner would bring, but they had that experience of someone who had been in the field.”

“So I would encourage them to pause, think their response, speak their response and not worry about having a vast majority. Short interviews sometimes are the best. I got what I needed.”

“Openness, willingness to learn, and then I think, make yourself unique. You may not think about what makes you unique, think outside education. It could be something as simple as “I’m a runner and I would love to bring running club to the kids.” “I have traveled the world.” Or–I have one staff member who knows American Sign Language so she started an American Sign Language club.”

Growth mindset, initiative, enthusiasm, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, Ms. Sturtevant is describing the kind of people I would like my students to become. Why should her expectations for the teachers teaching and mentoring those students be any different.

Also, her anecdote about a career-transitioner claiming to have the enthusiasm of a beginner, but the experience of workplace veteran really resonated with me. I have taken an alternative route to the elementary classroom and in my first year I will have the enthusiasm and nervous energy of a beginner. But, I have been in a lot of classrooms and have a lot of experience, nearly a decade in fact, with schools, students and the nuts and bolts of teaching and learning. I am going to use that line!

Herbert O’Neil (@herbertoneiljr), Director of Academics for Lifeschool in Dallas, Texas.

“…..so I believe people need to really, really focus on being confident and showing the committee or whoever it is, that you confidently work well with students in just about most situations, or that you have potential to be able to do that.”

There is a great TedTalk for almost all things of interest at this point, and, not surprisingly, for interview body language as well. Amy Cuddy gives a great talk about the importance of your pose and posture in different life situations, and advises interviewees to practice their ‘superman’ pose before going into an interview in order to boost their confidence. Check it out here.

George Couros (@gcouros), Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and learning for Parkland School Division in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada.

“It is a really high priority, so I want to hear the word relationships in your interview. You know, over and over and over again, not just in the first answer. Like if I ask you what the most important quality and you say relationships, but then you never hear about it again, then that tells me something.”

“One of the traits I look for– I’m looking for school teachers, not classroom teachers, in the sense that if I’m looking for a grade three teacher in our school, I don’t want you only working with your children. I want to know that when you go on supervision, and that’s part of what you do, that you’re making the time and effort to connect with kids that are not in your class–and what are you doing outside of this?…..Every kid in that school is yours, not just the one you teach that year.”

“I want to create an opportunity where those people who connect with me walk out a better teacher. Whether they get the job or not, they become a better teacher because if they don’t get the job with me, they’re probably still getting other interviews. They’re going to be working with children. So if I can help them, even if they don’t get it, that’s beneficial to all of education.”

Relationships, relationships, relationships. Mr. Couros’ emphasis on relationships heartened me because I feel it is a strength of my practice as a teacher. Working in South Korea, with over seven hundred ESL students, our limited shared vocabulary and cultural experience, along with the sheer numbers, are barriers to building relationships. Yet and still, I have managed to create some incredible bonds with many of my students, and I feel like if I can do that here, it may come easier when I am back home, working in a more familiar cultural context and using a common language with fewer students.

Joe Collins (@collins6HCPS), Assistant Principal at Harford Technical High School in Harford County, Maryland.

“To me, because that implies that they can learn. By that they can learn the language of the system, of the school. They can learn what’s important to that principal and often times incorporate it into the conversation. The best that I’ve been in you can tell they’re not experts by any means, but you can tell they have a strong grounding in their instruction.”

“You know, you’ve delivered a lesson, twenty kids, ten got it, five didn’t, five thought you were teaching Spanish and it’s a Social Studies class and five are way ahead of you. What do you do? It’s the person that can just go beyond what you expected, which was “Oh, we’ll differentiate” and “Maybe I’ll pair up the five who are really ahead and…” That’s what you would expect to hear, but it’s the person that might say “I don’t really know how I know they got it…what kind of formative assessments would I do to make sure that they got it?” Then you start to perk up and you go Ooh, okay. Then you can get the conversation going to a different level because they already speak your language.”

“ They’re the ones that are asking you the questions. And they’re asking you, “What’s the demographics of the classroom? What kind of technology do I have? Is there a curriculum that’s already provided for me or will I be developing my own?” Those are all things where they’re way beyond the basics. They don’t– Throw any scenario at them, they’re going to handle it because they’re grounded in their beliefs and what they know.”

“You know Lead Learner? I don’t know if you’re familiar with Lead Learner from England. He’s one of the guys that I follow religiously and he’s a head — kind of an executive director in England, so it’s not really applicable to my situation at all, but he gives such great insight.”

Mr. Collins’ point about asking questions and attempting to engage the administrator or hiring committee in a conversation is huge! This is my main takeaway from my experience on hiring committees. The candidates who did not ask questions, who did not prepare questions beforehand, who did not attempt to engage their potential colleagues in a conversation, did not show interest in the job, the school committee, and, frankly, us as potential co-workers. This also indicates a lack of curiosity and a lack of imagination. It is strange not to be curious about how this school works that you may work at soon, don’t you want to know what it’s guiding philosophies and pedagogies are? In addition, it is unimaginative to think that an unsuccessful interview is a wasted interview. If we want our students to learn from failure then we need to imagine how our own interview failures might teach us something, and not be failures at all in the long run.

Ed Interview: Carmela Dellino

dellino

1) Can you briefly describe your background in education and what your current position is?

I began my career in 1979 as a middle school English teacher. I taught for four years as a high school English teacher, after which I decided that I could best serve students and families as a school counselor. My school counseling career involved four years at a middle school and 13 years as a high school counselor. I then worked as a high school assistant principal in the same school at which I had been a counselor.

After years of being at my school and in many ways still consider the most rewarding work years of my life, I decided to leave secondary education and seek out an elementary school principal position. Admittedly, it was not hard to transition out of the high school AP role. What made it difficult was leaving the school community I had come to love. Since leaving my job as a counselor I really felt a void. I missed the “distance” I felt with kids and families, although most would not say that I was anything from “distant.” I was seeking a smaller school community, one that I could know really well and I also wanted to transition to a high poverty school. Throughout my educational experience, I found that what really fueled my soul was working with students and families who had been marginalized and who did not have all the benefits of privilege that others had. I also wanted to work in an elementary school so that I could support students and families before the gap was so wide and before students were feeling helpless and hopeless.

I served as the principal of a small, richly diverse elementary school principal in a highly impacted area of the City of Seattle. Wow! That was an amazing experience. After four years, I was asked to work as the Executive Director of Schools for the southwest region of Seattle.

I currently work for the City of Seattle as an Education and Leadership Consultant. In this capacity, I provide coaching, consulting and mentorship to Title 1 elementary schools in the city that are receiving Family and Education Levy dollars.

I guess that was not so brief.

2) What inspires you about the work you do at Roxhill?

What inspired me? Students, families and staff. What I came to learn on a daily basis was the power of resilience, determination, compassion, a shared vision and perhaps, most important, the innate capacity and ability of children and families to overcome massive barriers and to achieve at the highest level. What also inspired me was the staff that worked tirelessly with students and families so that they could grow and thrive at the highest of levels.

3) Can you share a story from your first year as an educator, counselor or principal that illustrates an important lesson or skill you think all first year teachers should know or have?

I remember seeing this question when I first read your email a long time ago and I thought to myself, how could I ever respond with just one story. My lessons learned have been many, from the very first year as a teacher, counselor and principal.

But, here’s what I remember:

Teacher: I was 23 years old and teaching HS kids who were 17 and 18. I wanted to show that I was in charge and not get walked all over, yet I really wanted them to “like” me. I remember using sarcasm with this one kid in my second period American Lit class. Well, to make a very long story short, I quickly learned that sarcasm and trying to be liked was anything but what I should be doing as a teacher. Sarcasm is hurtful. Sarcasm is mis-understood. Sarcasm is abusive. Sarcasm is anything but modeling compassion, understanding, “belief-in”, etc… I never was able to salvage a relationship with that student. I can see his face to this day.

Principal: Really, the story here has to do with Alejandra. Her first year at Roxhill, she would barely step into the school house doors. She did not feel it was her place to do so and she did not have the confidence in her own right and skill set of being a voice not only for her kids, but for all kids. I remember I saw her in the back parking lot and she was clearly fuming mad. I asked her what was wrong and she said she could not explain herself. I invited her into my office. At first she said no and then I said that I was there for her — to listen to what was going well and what was not going well. I tried to reassure her that we (me, teachers, the school) are not always right and that we make mistakes and if we have made a mistake, we need to hear about it and learn from it. I also said that she was an equal partner in her children’s education and that when we partner — truly partner – with parents, then our children will thrive. She came into my office. I learned of something a teacher had done that really upset her. The teacher had made a mistake and long story shortened, the problem was rectified. (Teacher did a great job of acknowledging that what she had said was a problem.)

From my first days and for every day that I was a principal at Roxhill, I learned the power of parents as partners in what we do at school. I also learned, experienced and re-affirmed what the great President of Malawi, Dr. Joyce Banda said at Nelson Mandela’s funeral service:

Leadership is about falling in love with the people and the people falling in love with you. It is about serving the people with selflessness, with sacrifice and with the need to put the common good ahead of personal interests.”

4) How do you continue to develop as a professional? Where do you see your professional growth taking you?

I love this question — and struggle with the answer. In my current role, I find that I need to be very mindful to seek out professional development. I can read articles and go to conferences (actually, not so much), but the best PD for me involves processing the work with colleagues. I do not have a small group of educators (I learned a great deal from you from our conversations. You pushed and challenged my thinking!!) that I can talk with, bounce ideas off of. I have been reading as much as possible and listening and learning from the teachers and staff in the levy schools.

Where will my professional growth take me? Hopefully to be partners with teachers and administrators in the field in closing the gap and seeing students achieve at the highest level. I want to continually know more about school reform. What is working? Why does it work? How do you get there? What does it take? What are the key moves for school leaders? How do you support the school leaders in doing what needs to get done?

5) What kind of learning culture do you try to establish in your school and among your colleagues/staff?

I try to establish a sense of urgency that is nurtured with compassion, commitment, and careful and strategic efforts. Everyone in a school (staff, families, students, and even community members) should understand what we are striving to achieve. With this shared vision, everyone needs to work collaboratively to achieve that vision. Hopefully, what happens, is everyone feels our work has meaning and purpose; we feel inspired and supported to do the very challenging work ahead of them; we feel like we are partners in the thinking about what is happening in the school (even though as a school leader, you will be the final decision-maker), and we have fun doing it!

6) What are you currently reading for personal enjoyment? And what book would you recommend for a first year teacher?

I am currently reading Wonder and Unbroken for my personal reading pleasure. Asiya Werfa wants me to lead a book club with Wonder. I am excited to work with some of the students at Roxhill again! My mom loved the book Unbroken and I really want to read it for her. Also, my brother’s father-in-law was a prisoner of war in the same camp where this takes place in Japan, so besides the Italian connection, there is a family connection.

Two books: Creating Highly Motivating Classrooms for All Students: A Schoolwide Approach to Powerful Teaching with Diverse Learners by Margery Ginsberg and Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen. There are many more, but those two are what I think of right now.

7) How do you gain institutional knowledge about a school, district or city office that you are tasked to lead? How do you join that community and learn about its history?

Another insightful and great question that comes with complex and yet simple answers. Listen, learn, and engage. All this implies that I am going to ask lots of questions and immerse myself in as much as I can. It will mean going to the local grocery store and hanging out with books and art supplies so that families can stop by to visit and I can meet all their family. Maybe they will sit with me as we read a book; maybe they will leave their child with me as we read a book; maybe they will just look at me and gradually come to trust that I care about them. I will go to the housing complexes in my area and one night a month, hold a time when I invite children to come to read and do projects associated with the reading. I will invite families to talk about their own experiences in school, what they hope for and want for their children (it is to be happy and successful) and what does the school need to do to help them. I will go to businesses, walk the neighborhood, talk to the local law enforcement, talk with social service agencies and parks, and church leaders.

My PLN Mind Map

kenny_short_pln

I created this Mind Map using the Mindmeister ‘add-on’ in Google Drive, so that it automatically saves in my G Drive. This PLN Mind Map was made a few weeks into my Teach-Now online certification program. Since then my Personal Learning Network (PLN) has grown. Below is a list of the additions to my PLN in the last nine to twelve months. If you would like to view my Mind Map online, go here.

I am still looking for a classroom to partner with internationally to do a Skype in the Classroom series. Since I am teaching in Korea I am looking for English-speaking classes and teachers that are in a similar time zone. That means American schools in Japan, Korea, China, the Philippines or SE Asia. Or, a classroom in Australia or New Zealand. If you know any teacher in those countries who might be interested, please connect us!

Ed Interview: Mike Popelka

1) Can you briefly describe your background in education and what your current position is?

I graduated from the University of Iowa with a BA in Elementary Education.  I taught upper elementary in the Chicago Public Schools system, then worked for a couple of years as a kindergarten teacher at a social service center/childcare provider that fed students into the public school system.  I moved to Seattle and apprehensively took a job teaching middle school at a private school; I found that I loved interacting with the older students as much as I did the kindergarteners back in Chicago.  I was responsible for teaching 6-8th grade science, 6-8th grade writing, and 6th grade homeroom.  I learned a lot during these years, and I found that I had a rekindled love for science– especially biology and physics.

I spent some time teaching PE at a K-8 school in Seattle, then briefly lived in Des Moines, Iowa working as a K-5 intervention teacher in the Public schools.  When my family and I moved back to Seattle, I was hired as an interventionist at Roxhill Elementary and soon found my way back into the kindergarten classroom.  I’ve taught a lot of different subjects in several different schools in three different states.  It’s been an interesting career so far!

2) What inspires you about the work you do at Roxhill?

This is my fifth year teaching at Roxhill, and every day I feel fortunate to be at school.  Any teacher will, with 100% honesty, answer that they are inspired by the personal connections with students and their families.  I feel the same way.  Many of the students I work with come from less than ideal circumstances; 40% of our students are English Language Learners, 80% of students qualify for the free/reduced lunch program, and understanding the cultural differences that occur in the classroom can be challenging.  As a kindergarten teacher, I often have students enter my classroom with no academic skills and often very little ability to communicate.  I probably complain about the amount of effort it takes to build up the foundational skills required to succeed in school.  I find inspiration in that struggle, though—I love the fact that I work hard, my students work hard, and that after all the work we do students finish the year ready for the challenges to come.

One other thing that inspires me is the professionalism and dedication of the entire staff of the school.  I have never worked in a school where each member of the staff is so interested in improving their own skills and gaining new knowledge before coming to Roxhill.  We solve problems as a team and genuinely keep the best interests of the students and the community in mind.  Even the most veteran teachers on staff routinely implement new methods.  It’s rare that one finds a place where their co-workers are helpful and friendly; rarer still is a place where one enjoys going to after work functions with their coworkers.     

3) Can you share a story from your first year of teaching that illustrates an important lesson or skill you think all first year teachers should know or have?

I learned a lot of important lessons during my first year of teaching.  I was miserable, and after not having my contract renewed I almost left the profession.  I worked in Chicago at the time, and I felt unsupported, underprepared, and foolish.  I showed up to substitute teach in a three story, 1,000 student school one day mid-year and was (surprise!) immediately assigned to take over a fifth grade class with 33 students for the rest of the year.  I felt it would be a good way to prove myself and work my way into a job with the district.  Unfortunately, there were no curricular materials, my students brought knives to school on multiple occasions and threatened each other in the closets, a student who had previously tried to light his sleeping grandmother on fire threatened to kill me, police arrested a student with a backpack of full of loose marijuana, etc.  I knew I wasn’t cut out for teaching.

No other jobs in other fields were feasible (many teachers like myself have a pretty limited skill set for office work), so I reluctantly accepted another teaching gig and found that despite my own struggles in the classroom the previous year, the problems were not all my own fault.  I learned that my first year failure was not simply because of my ability to teach, it was the situation that exacerbated my inexperience.  The students at my new school were just as challenging, but with a very trying year under my belt, support from other teachers and administrators, and a professional environment where openness and honesty were valued   I was able to complete two very successful years of teaching.  I realized that I was definitely going to be okay—I had not thrown away piles of money on my elementary education degree.

4) How do you continue to develop as a professional? Where do you see your professional growth taking you?

I recently completed a graduate program that focused on environmental education, community, and inquiry based teaching methods.  The work I did in that program have continued to help me see new possibilities with teaching—especially in trying to incorporate as much student voice into my lessons as possible.

I also truly enjoy many of the professional development opportunities I’m lucky to have in my district and my school.  I usually try to sit in the front and find at least one thing—a “take away”, if you will—that will benefit my instruction.  I have served on many committees, including the building leadership team and on a team that helped bring many aspects of full-service community school ideals to Roxhill.  Finally, I continue to work as a cooperating teacher with the University of Washington.  I have had three student teachers during the past four years, and I enjoy learning from the students and their instructors at the college.

I am working toward being a versatile educator who runs a safe, nurturing, interesting classroom.  I feel that my professional development experiences contribute bit by bit to me becoming the teacher I want to be.  Hopefully I get there before I hit retirement age!  

5) What kind of learning culture do you try to establish within your classroom and among your colleagues?

The learning culture I value most is one of discovery, confidence, and humor.  In my classroom I enjoy finding unique activities for my students to undertake.  My classes have sung Louis Armstrong songs at school assemblies, monitored bird populations in the woods near school, and analyzed old Harold Lloyd films.  I enjoy leading lessons of discovery that I feel I am uniquely suited to teach.

As a colleague, I try to balance humor and professionalism.  I want teaching to be seen as a profession for professional people, and I pride myself in (usually) being able to back up what I’m doing with solid research and from a place of authority.  I enjoy goofing around, but I am confident that everyone knows that I do my job, I do it as well as I can, and I truly care about the outcomes of my students and school.

6) What are you currently reading for personal enjoyment? And what book would you recommend for a first year teacher?

I’m always reading about four books; this is a tricky question to answer.  Right now a “hard” book I’m reading is War and Peace by Tolstoy.  I think that Tolstoy is really amazing at painting visceral pictures of emotions, and I’m really enjoying discovering this book for the first time.  A professional book I’m reading is The Nature Principle by Richard Louv, a long book about the value of connecting students and communities to the nature around them.  As for some light reading, I’m going back through my collection of Iron Man comic books.  He’s been my favorite since I was about 11 years old; I still love rereading the stories.

I feel that a first year teacher should definitely read Steven Wolk’s book A Democratic Classroom.  I was assigned this book as an undergraduate elementary education student, and I reread it every couple of years.  The website of Heinemann, the book’s publisher, advertises it perfectly:  “In his call to reinvent teaching, Wolk argues for teacher who ask questions, challenge assumptions, respect children, and understand the enormous role they play in shaping minds and society”.

My 2015 Professional Development Plan

I have finished up my student-teaching clinical with Teach-Now and am in the process of applying for my K-6 teaching certificate from the Washington D.C. OSSE. In the mean time, while I am here in Korea teaching English I am going to have pursue my own professional development as an elementary classroom teacher via my Personal Learning Network, MOOC’s, and keeping up with the latest education research. I have tried to make each of my PD goals a SMART goal, therefore many have a specific deadline for implementation at some point in 2015.

Here is the link to my full PD Plan for 2015:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1t-_parfMDI6mP-GR_idkJUYEo_6t1Pf8maKfvZFl3W0/edit?usp=sharing

I will list just a few of my top PD goals for the coming year below, along with some commentary on my progress where relevant.

Objective: Create and execute more student-centered lessons.

Action Step:

  • I am gathering student-centered materials and methods, experimenting with implementation, and will be giving a formal PD session at a teacher orientation of new foreign English teachers here in Korea.

Implementation:

  • As I research student-centered methods in more depth while I am teaching here in Korea, I will identify appropriate methods that I feel confident in implementing one-at-a-time, and integrate them into my lesson plans, routines and activities. My goal will be to implement two new student-centered activities in each grade level that I teach per month.

Objective: Deepen my understanding of math instruction pedagogy for elementary school students.

Action Steps:

  • I will have regular correspondence with my math mentor, University of Washington professor, Elham Kazemi.
  • I will complete the readings that have been assigned to me by my math mentor, Elham Kazemi.
  • I will take notes, ask questions, reach out to my PLN for further clarification and advice, and create a blog post about each math reading and my personal study in general.

Implementation:

  • I will have at least two blog posts about my math pedagogy investigation by July of 2015.
  • I will have more than 5 blog posts about math pedagogy and instructional methods a year from now.
  • I will observe at least 5 recorded math lessons and take copious notes in the next year.
  • I will note my preferences and pedagogical beliefs around math instruction, and make sure to create goals for my first year math instruction based on that research and understanding.

Objective: Investigate methods of teaching character in my classroom.

Action steps:

  • Take the Coursera MOOC “Teaching Character” with the instructor, David Levin, a KIPP schools co-founder. (I am currently in the middle of this six week MOOC. I am taking notes on the videos and getting a little behind on the assignments, but learning a lot, collecting many resources and strategies on character education.)
  • Read and blog my notes of Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed. (This is done, see the link.)
  • Identify further readings and professional development opportunities in this area. (From the David Levin MOOC I have discovered and saved to my reading list a number of good research articles on teaching character and its importance.)

Implementation:

  • I will create a student character self-assessment Google Form to be filled out at the beginning and end of the school by both students and their parents.
  • I will design community-building activities or a project that will emphasize the development of character strengths.
  • I will intentionally observe and note character strengths and weaknesses in my students and create a routine that facilitates regular one-on-one conferences or interactions with students in need of character support.

Objective: Develop my leadership capacity as a teacher, including in specific areas of education interest like Design In Schools, teaching character, student data management, global education, meetings and PD facilitation and collaboration.

Action Steps:

  • Watch, take notes and blog about the 2014 Global Education Conference sessions with education leaders that I admire.
  • Take IDEO “Design In Schools” MOOC in March of 2015.
  • Lead a professional development session for the new ESL teacher orientation here in Korea in April.
  • Execute a Skype in the Classroom lesson in Korea by August of 2015.

Implementation:

  • Be available to the principal in areas where you can advise and provide a level of expertise.
  • Participate and grow in my presence as an educator online, expand my Personal Learning Network, keep blogging, tweeting, and collaborating via the web.
  • Identify and cultivate a good, collaborative working relationship with a mentor teacher when I arrive at my first American school.