Category Archives: Professional Practice

Learning in Publicizing.

Writing and blogging about my teaching (practically and especially theoretically) is very comfortable for me. I am passionate about writing, and I am distanced enough from my viewer/reader/listener that I find it naturally easy to share my professional thinking. I appreciate feedback, but my main purpose for writing has not been to seek this out, and I have processed feedback more as a reflection of my writing and ideas as opposed to of my practice.

Over the past few months, however, I have been forced into the discomfort of being public as a teacher—of exposing my actual teaching practices in action to evaluation and critique. This process has transitioned my thinking in a few ways. For one, I feel much more comfortable now with teaching in front of others (whereas before I would have rather shut the door so no one else can see me struggle through the act/art of teaching my students). I now know that I am able to tune out my observers and still be present with my students (which is very important to me), and the feedback I have received from them has been incredibly valuable, informing my further/future practice in critical ways. That said, this recent experience with publicizing my practice has also made me view my writing/blogging in a different light. Now that I have received valuable feedback from my applied practice, I find myself wanting to take the feedback from my written reflections/ponderings and apply it beyond my writing to my actual teaching practice.

In terms of my digital professional community, I have not made much progress in developing and initiating cycles of feedback and ongoing discussion. However, in my social professional world, I have seen tremendous growth in my openness (and eagerness) to accept and seek out critical feedback. Although this has not transferred deeply into my digital professional networks (for many reasons, time being a primary force), it has transformed my perspective and mindset regarding the value of these networks. I envision myself seeking out participation in professional conversations among digital communities as my practice progresses, and especially as I move into my first year of (certified) teaching.

Learning in Resistance.

Last weekend, I was in Omaha, Nebraska for a friend’s wedding. I met many new people, exchanged the normal “get to know you” small talk I have been socialized to engage in. Usually these conversations tend to follow a similar format—this is my job, this where I’m from, nice to meet you. Yet I was surprised to see a new pattern emerge this time around. Upon discovering that I am from the Seattle region and am currently training to become a public school teacher, I was asked many times about my thoughts regarding Garfield High School.

Garfield High School in Seattle has become the subject of both local and national headlines, in response to the staff’s recent boycott against the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test for students. While many opinions are floating around regarding the ethics and rationality of this decision by the staff at this inner-city public school, I believe the most interesting implication of this phenomenon is the fact that teachers at one school—only ONE school—sparked a national critical conversation about a topic related to our education system and how we should be accountable to our students’ learning.

More schools in Seattle are joining the boycott. There are people organizing on facebook in support of Garfield High School’s staff. Digital Technologies and Social Medias have afforded an incredible opportunity for educators to initiate collective conversations and (potentially) spark mass movements, from within their own schools and classrooms. These viral messages/movements can spread (inter)nationally in a matter of days and weeks (and potentially hours, minutes, seconds). If teachers at one school in Seattle can get people across our entire country talking critically about standardized testing, what else can we push/pull the Public to consider with a critical and creative consciousness?

Learning in dreams.

El sueño en mi pared
por Jane Medina

Tengo un sueño en mi pared.
Lo dibujé durante el segundo grado.
La maestra nos dijo:
_____—Niñas y niños, dibujen sus sueños,
_____dibujen los sueños que sólo ustedes pueden ver.
Casi todos los niños dibujaron
_____salones llenos de billetes,
_____o casas bonitas con flores y chimeneas,
_____o juguetes o dulces o Disneylandia.
Pero yo dibujé un sueño
_____de un salón de clase lleno de niños
_____y una maestra morena bonita
_____muy parecida a mí.

Tengo un sueño en mi pared.
Lo pegué con cinta adhesiva.
Las puntas de la cinta están despegándose ahora.

The Dream on My Wall
by Jane Medina

I have a dream on my wall.
I drew it in the second grade.
The teacher said,
_____“Draw your dreams, boys and girls.
_____Draw the dreams that only you can see.”
Most kids drew
_____rooms full of dollar bills,
_____or pretty houses with flowers and chimneys,
_____or toys or candy or Disneyland.
But I drew a dream
_____of a class full of kids
_____and a pretty brown teacher
_____who looked just like me.

I have a dream on my wall.
I stuck it there with yellow tape.
Now the tape is curling at the ends.

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell

What are the implications of an education system where the majority of educators and administrators—those who (theoretically) hold positions of authority and power over students—are White? As a child, I had very few teachers of color. How did this subconsciously impact my own perspectives and prejudices? What possibilities and potentials can arise when children experience and become accustomed to a diverse spectrum of individuals holding positions of power and authority?

What does it mean for me to be another White Man in a position of authority? How can I use this power to play with the power dynamics that have allowed me my own power and privilege in this country, community, classroom? How do I use this power responsibly, and what am I accountable to do with it?

Learning in vulnerability.

Stories are data with a soul.

—Brené Brown, Researcher-Storyteller

Learning in blogging.

In cyber spaces,
magical places reside:

Social media are amazing tools for (professional) networking. Blogs provide an incredibly innovative space for educators to reflect on their practice, share their stories with each others, and exchange their ideas together. In a profession where constructive feedback and collaboration is far too rare and limited, these sites of inter-active (inter-national) communication offer the potential for informal and critical professional (and personal) development. Free of charge!

While I recognize and value the potential for blogging as a networking practice, I have found the greatest satisfaction in utilizing this space as a sort of publicized journal. I have shifted over the past month from a more theoretical/philosophical discourse (although I do still retreat back to this realm quite regularly) towards a methodology of storytelling. Through stories of directly witnessing teachers’ immediate responses in the face of controversy and discomfort to stories of specific students’ struggles and successes, I am starting to build a digital record of the toolkit I am currently/continually collecting/gathering as a student teacher and learner. Through reading these stories again, I re-visit the lessons these experiences have offered me, and consistently re-discover (new) meanings in ways that theorizing and philosophizing about them cannot capture. I am not sure if this is the same for other readers of my blog, yet I do assume/presume it is more interesting to read :]

Along with shifting towards storytelling, I have made a conscious effort to respond to every comment, even if to just acknowledge that I have read their message. The fact that someone else was willing to take the time to read my writing/work and respond to my words validates to me that I am using my energy to process/think about something worth while. In return, I want to honor the energy put into furthering the conversation (which would otherwise be with my self) by expressing my genuine response to their words. Many times, people’s thoughts compel me to want to push/pull the dialogue deeper and/or in different directions as well. Other times I simply want to smile, and I tell them this. As I continue to experiment with blogging, I would like to explore more of the in-between spaces of communication and dialogue among bloggers, as opposed to restricting myself to the mindset of writing a journal to/for myself. Time to practice some digital empathy!

Blogs connect people
across the globe; what can they
do in our classrooms?

Learning in poetry.

Equity / Justice Mission.
Where is the action?

Why Anti-Bias?
Out of integration, a
new bias is born.

Empathy is key
to building community
and transforming it.

Respond quickly to
discomfort. That moment makes
all the difference.

Poems are hidden
beneath / between / before us,
waiting to be found.

To Mr. Hermit,
hiding amongst books and desks:
Come out! See the world!

Oh distant student,
How do I show you I care?
I just keep smiling.

I won’t forget you,
my people in the margins.
In you, our hope grows.

Is Delinquency
a symptom of a need for
a Classroom that cares?

My project is to
inspire the Creators
within everyone.

Teaching is Wizardry.

The more I take on and experiment with the role of Teacher, the more I am beginning to see this practice as a magical play of energies. From the way we set up our spaces for learning to the specific things we say and how we say them, we mold and shape the energies of the classroom space. From the physical movement of student bodies as they transition between tasks to the social dynamics framed within the communities we build, we facilitate the daily exchange of energies among and between diverse groups of learners. Just one word or phrase from the mouth of the Teacher can completely shift and even transform the climate of the classroom—what an incredible power!

When we are given the space/opportunity to manage a classroom, we are given these magical powers to mold and shape communal experience. With what appears to be the simple wave of a wand and incantation of a few spells, twenty+ bodies are forced/guided/led/inspired to behave/move/attend/interact in particular ways.

The discussion skills and techniques we are learning/using are like a collection of incantations for controlling and creating constructive classroom spaces. When we refine our skilled use of these incantations, we harness the magical power we are given as Teachers. How can we ensure that we use this Power for good purposes? What are the things that will tempt us to use this Power in ways that are not for the benefit of our students? How can we ensure the intoxication of power does not blur our vision of our goals and focus—the Students?

Teaching is Networking.

Over the past few months, I have witnessed a major transformation in myself. Before starting this program, as I contemplated the possibilities for my eventual teaching practice, I was very focused on my teaching practice. My plan was to get through my certification process, get into a classroom, and then do the (subversive) social justice work I want to do. However, I have come to realize that this is not a project that I can, or should, embark on alone, or under the radar. As I continue spending more time in classrooms and schools, build relationships with students and teachers and parents and administrators, I am really starting to realize the practicalities of working in a field where relationships are at the core of this practice. This project is messy! I now think my work must be transparent, justified, and in dialogue with everyone in the networks of individuals that make the process and spaces of education a reality/possibility.

Time to stop being a hermit, isolated within my own classroom, and really build the professional and personal networks that are and will be key to my practice as an educator.

Teaching is Exhausting.

Since starting our student teaching experiences, I have been shocked by how tired I am. Physically, socially, emotionally… (I’m so tired I can’t think of the other realms of exhaustion I’ve felt!) By the end of the day, my body is sore, I don’t want to be around people, I’ve usually cried at least once (sometimes from the sadness of a story or interaction, usually from an overwhelming momentary happiness I call “overjoy”). As I walk through the school parking lot to my car, I feel totally and completely drained.

Most days I drive from school to tutoring, hoping the whole way that it will be a quick session, my posture and expression so obviously saying, “I can’t wait to get home.” The 16-year-old that I tutor always asks me about my day, wonders if I have any more stories from another 6 hours spent with the first graders. I always have stories to share. As the anecdotes start spilling out, as I continue verbally reflecting on the joys and challenges and events and moments in the classroom, I begin laughing. Every time.

Our tutoring session usually goes by quickly. Time flies when you are working one-on-one with a student! While I drive home, I start thinking again about the stories and anecdotes I shared at the beginning of our session. In stark contrast to my drive from the classroom-to-tutoring, my drive from tutoring-to-home is characterized by the definite conclusion, “I can’t wait to see the kids again tomorrow!” Almost every day it seems, this cycle repeats.

Teaching young learners is hard work. I used to babysit 4 kids every day in the summer, which seemed like a lot of labor (at the time :]). Take this experience, multiply the number of kids by 6+, then add on the requirement of actually teaching all of them a (standardized) curriculum, individualizing/differentiating instruction to each child, managing them all and making sure each of them are listening/learning, and fitting this all into a very structured time frame. (Try getting 24+ kids just to eat lunch in 15-20 minutes—that’s only the tip of the iceberg.) Then on top of this direct work with the kids, actually finding the time and energy to design/plan lessons, (re-)organize the classroom space, meet with parents/colleagues, reflect on the day’s practice…. Ay. This is no easy task.

I thought I had a good idea of what I was signing up for when I applied for my K-8 Teaching Certification Program. I had no idea how naïve I was at the time. How am I going to find the time + energy to do the (additional) social justice + public health work I got into teaching for in the first place? This is going to be one of my biggest challenges. I need to remember this focus.

I also need to hold on to the pure joys I feel as I drive from tutoring-to-home, the “overjoys” that greet me every morning as the kids walk into the classroom and I greet each of them with, “¡Buenos días, ______! ¿Cómo estás?” Who knew a 6-year-olds response to this (simple) question would be my motivator for getting out of bed in the morning?

Teaching is exhausting. What good work isn’t?

Teaching is architecture.

Since I decided to become a teacher, my volunteer work in public elementary schools has shifted from a purely service-oriented focus to a more observant and analytical position. As I enter different classrooms and observe new teachers at work in these spaces they have constructed, one of the first things I almost always do is draw a floor plan of the physical space. When I was a child, I always wanted to be an architect (along with a bus driver, high-rise window washer, and Target employee), until I did an internship in high school and realized how much I hate CAD and the other computer drafting softwares that dominate the field. Drawing floor plans of classrooms by hand sparks my creative and imaginative interest. It also helps me feel present in the space I am in, and draws me towards sensitivity to subtleties and nuances I might have otherwise overlooked. Once I have mapped the physical architecture of the room, I begin to see how this connects to the social architecture of the space—how do children move around this room, and how does the arrangement of furniture and things influence their interactions? This becomes a very telling narrative of the energies within the classroom, and often correlates with the initial organic feelings I sensed when I first entered.

The power of choice in classrooms is a crucial consideration, as children who feel empowered and in control are more likely to be engaged. However, in terms of not assigning seats, I would be weary of the impact this might have on building an inclusive community. Will students simply group with people that are similar to them, re-affirming social distinctions and choosing to become segregated? At the same time, I wonder if this could be an incredibly useful exercise in talking about inclusion; an evolution of “you can’t say you can’t play” to “you can’t say you can’t sit.” What would this look like and feel like in a classroom of young learners? It would be interesting even just as a temporary experiment, to see what would happen if students were allowed to pick their seats throughout the day. I am excited to try out these mini-level social experiments in my own classroom; the metaphor of the classroom as a laboratory will come to life!

One thing I notice every time I walk into a classroom is how cramped everything feels. With twenty to thirty desks squeezed into each of these spaces, there is not much room for anything else, especially not fluid movement. When I was in India volunteering in a school modeled after natural education philosophies, I was struck by how open and free the classroom space felt. There were no desks; everyone sat on the floor with mats. The classroom space was smaller than classrooms I am used to at home, but even with the same number of kids, the space felt so much larger and navigable. Kids could move and play, and their lessons often incorporated kinesthetic activities. Do we really need a desk for every student in every classroom? What would happen if we were to decide we do not want desks in our classrooms? What would the rooms look like and feel like? What could we do with the freed up space? What would be the reaction of other teachers and administrators?

Our lessons and discussions regarding online technologies have led me to expand these concepts of learning environments beyond physical classroom spaces to also see cyber spaces as constructed classrooms and laboratories for learning. Contemporary online resources offer an amazing opportunity to extend the process of learning beyond the school day and to include families in this journey. We can create and use these cyber spaces as tools for teaching and engaging students, children, families, and communities. Much like the environment of a classroom, I believe the structure and design of these cyber spaces is a critical element for successful learning. How can we design these cyber spaces so that they promote positive, deep engagement and authentic, active learning experiences?