Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Interests and curiosities

This is my favorite thing to consider. I have the tendency to focus on the future without really considering its implications for the present. I love to buy or check out professional books to read, the actual reading of them is another story all together!
Last semester I took History of American Education. I am married to a historian who did one of his fields in graduate school in the history of education. Not surprisingly, this is an area that fascinates me. It is so easy to believe that the way we do things now is the way it has always been. And yet, the reality is so different. To realize that we have only had a public school system in Virginia for 150 years is astounding. Seeing this broad picture helps me to more critically analyze aspects of our educational system. It makes it clear that the "way we've always done it" is not even close to truth. People tend to argue that this method of teaching reading or of discipline is best because it is time tested and true. Yet, most aren't time tested by any stretch of the imagination. We need to look more carefully at our assumptions that are based on tradition.
This interest in considering the truths of our educational history (as best as possible) leads quite logically into an interest in educational advocacy. At this moment, I can't imagine not being in a classroom with a group of "my" students. However, I feel strongly that I want to leave the classroom before I become someone who needs to leave. So, I consider many options outside of the classroom. Educational advocacy, in some form or another, has become a fascination of mine. In a true stretch, I think of working for a politician to help shape educational policy. I believe that our country would greatly benefit from having more teachers in those positions. (Of course, when I stop to think about it, I think we need more teachers in so many different positions!)
More short term, I am looking for ways to become an advocate while still teaching. This is a challenge because of the time commitments involved in my family and my school, but it is worth considering. I have managed to go to Richmond for a few days to work on a possible restructing of the licensure system in Virginia. It was fascinating!
I would also be interested in looking at the educational systems in other countries. There are countries that seem to have made huge gains in areas in which we are lacking. There is a lot we could learn if we were willing to be critical of ourselves. I would really enjoy teaching overseas for a year somewhere to learn firsthand.
Everything I consider throughout this seems to lead me back to questions. No matter what I consider, I am left with the strong sense that it is important to question, analyze, criticize, and pull apart everything we do in our educational system today. What a tremendous job!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Educational Philosophy

I first had to write my educational philosophy during my student teaching. At the time, my philosophy centered around the cliche├ęd phrase, "all children can learn" Amazingly enough, ten years later, my philosophy still rests firmly on that phrase. However, my understanding of it has changed quite a bit.
Since I first wrote my philosophy, I have logged seven years of teaching, worked with a variety of colleagues, read a lot of professional books and articles, and participated in this program. As a result, all of my thinking about teaching and education has changed.
I have had the opportunity over the past seven years to teach students with a variety of labels: gifted and talented, learning disabled, mentally retarded, students with Asperger's Syndrome, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and many students who are still learning English. However, I have learned that these labels are only a small part of the picture. I can get a clue about each student here, but that is all. I have found over the years that some of my quickest, brightest students have had learning disabilities labels. This has helped me see that it is my responsibility to be sure that all students do learn. Instead of simply believing that all children can learn, I have come to understand that I have a responsibility to be sure that they do.
Finally, throughout my time in this program, I have come to the conclusion that the responsibility is larger than simply me. The responsibility belongs to all of us, as a society. We must do whatever it takes to ensure that all children are able and have the opportunities to learn. If students are not learning, we must reconsider what we need to do to help them. And we must be willing to challenge all of our assumptions, not to simply accept that how we have always done things is best or that new ideas will be quickly accepted. It is a communal responsibility. The next step, for me, is to determine how best to actively live this philosophy.

Educational Advocacy

One unexpected result of this program, for me, has been my interest in educational advocacy. I think my interest has always been there, but I have not had the motivation or the understanding to follow through on it. So far, my advocacy has been mostly limited to my own school building. I have gained confidence to be speak up for what I believe is best for the students, the families, and the faculty.
However, I would like to go further with this. I have seen other students in this program who are involved in a broader manner in educational advocacy. That has been a major plus to this program. The range of people in the classes is wider than I would ever have dreamed. I expected to take classes with K-12 teachers. And while many of us are that, there are people involved in higher education, governmental educational agencies, lobby groups, and more. In this way, I have had the opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of opportunities to advocate for educational issues. Before this program, I did not have the first clue as to how to go about getting involved in this area. Now, I at least have some roadmaps to guide me.
So, the social foundations program has opened my eyes to educational advocacy opportunities, helped me gain confidence that I have something to say, and encouraged me to question the traditional ways of doing things and find better methods.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Individual Audit

I've been struggling with how best to go about presenting my individual audit. For the moment, for lack of a better idea, I'm going to work through my reflections, thoughts, plans, ideas, and more here on this blog. I have found blogging to be an effective way for me to reflect independently. For some reason, I am surprisingly motivated to write in this manner.

One of the things I have spent a lot of time thinking about lately is the range of classes I have had the opportunity to take through this program. As a reminder to myself, here are the classes I have taken so far:
· Social Foundations of Education Fall 2002
· Sociology of Education Fall 2002
· Children's Literature and Performance Spring 2003
· Asian Education Spring 2003
· Aesthetics and Education Summer 2003
· Human Resources Management Summer 2003
· New Designs for Learning Spring 2004
· Multicultural Education Spring 2004
· School and Community Relations Summer 2004
· Policy in Curriculum and Instruction Summer 2004
· History of American Education Fall 2004

It took me a bit longer than expected to recreate this list, but it is interesting to spend some time considering these courses. I have greatly enjoyed them (with one minor exception). It has actually surprised me how much I have looked forward to attending class and to the readings.

Three of the classes I took are administrative classes. I decided to give one a try one summer and found it to be fascinating. All three of these classes have been wonderful. However, the students have been vastly different from students in the social foundations classes. The atmosphere in social foundations classes is very informal and relaxed. As a result, we are able to support one another, question each other, and work together very quickly. The administrative classes atmosphere is more tense. There is still a supportive environment and everyone works well together, but it is not the same. Each of the administrative classes left me with the sense that those students would greatly benefit from a social foundations class.

I have been extremely impressed with the professors in these classes. Those professors who come up from Charlottesville are fantastic. I took a class with Dan Duke and I would happily take any class with him. He is inspirational. In addition, those local professors have also been wonderful. It has been well balanced between instructors who are academics and live primarily in that world and instructors who work in K-12 education everyday.

All of these professors have challenged me to ask questions about education. This has been the greatest benefit from this program, for me. I am now much less likely to simply accept that the way things have been done is automatically the best way to do them. New Designs for Learning even had me questioning the design of our school buildings. It is a huge change for me to think so critically about these things. I have always been one to accept the status quo without question. Even as I look back at my first few years teaching, I can see how much more effective a teacher and, more broadly, an educator I can be when I am willing to look at things through many lenses.