Mar 102016
 

I am still thinking of my critical theory journey and how it is and will continue affect my teaching. I don’t think I can ever stop thinking about it now, to be honest. In observing classrooms and teaching teachers, the idea of “authority” has come multiple times. Which led me to this topic. We have a problem about questioning authority. A very important part of critical pedagogy is the willingness, the desire, and / or the ability to question authority and stand up for yourself or others.

Question-Authority-Not-Mother-Magnet-(9383)

In our case, the quote would read “Question Authority, but not your Teacher.” But is that really what we want to be teaching? And is that what I did? (if you want to skip the following section, the tl;dr is hell no.) But to think about what I want message I want to teach, I need to examine what I learned as a learner in school.  Honestly, I have written and rewritten this post about 12 times. I have deleted it in its entirety twice, and as I go back in the revision history, I realize I started it on 25 February. It is now 2 weeks later, and I just have to hit publish on it and call it good enough. This is a post that will never be perfect.

Where I started (a personal story)

I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember two things about my ES education. I remember I was tested and placed in the gifted and talented program at some point. I remember them pulling me out of class and doing ‘fun’ activities. I remember thinking these were stupid. I remember looking at the teachers and telling them the activities were boring and uninteresting. I told my parents I thought they were stupid. I clearly remember having a meeting and the teachers agreeing to put be back into the classroom because, “these activities are stupid, why can’t I go back to class where I can learn something?”

I also remember taking the workbook home in 5th grade and completing the entire year’s worth of social studies worksheets in two or three nights. I got in trouble from the teacher. I didn’t care. I learned stuff. I was not a very inquiry based learner, was I?

In middle and high school in Montana, I remember every single interaction with a Counselor ended with the statement, “You will take the hardest classes you can handle now, so that it is easier later.” I never fought back against that. I also remember (and my Mom loves to tell the story, bless her heart) that I came home one day and said,

“Mom, I am the class comedian.”

She asked, “Don’t you mean the class clown?”

“No, the comedian.”

“What’s the difference?”

I replied, “The clown is the idiot streaking across the football field naked. The comedian is the guy who put him up to it.”

I was that kid. My friends and I celebrated elaborate pranks on each other and others, but we never damaged property. I also carried around a copy of Einstein’s Special and General Theory of Relativity my junior year and taught myself the math and physics to understand it. Sentence by sentence. I would get in trouble in study hall (we actually had a class called study hall) because I would not do homework, I would spend the entire hour every day with Einstein. I still have the book.

Yea, I was jerk. It didn’t get better. I transferred to Westwood High School in Mesa AZ 3 weeks into my senior year. So, take a smart, physics oriented kid, force him to move across country (as far as I was concerned) during my senior year. Exponential jerk. My first interaction at the school was with the high school counselor. I told him the classes I was in and showed him my transcript. My Montana high school did not do AP classes. AZ did. And they tracked. I was not allowed to take AP as a senior, because I was not in AP as a junior. The counselor finally allowed me to take AP Calculus because I threw a fit, and then handed me my schedule. I went to the book depository to get my books. There was no physics text book in the pile.

No. Physics. Textbook.

My head exploded. I walked back to the counselors office and literally forced the person in the office out. Can you imagine? As an educator now, I am shocked that I was allowed to do this. I walked in and said, “You, get out” to the student in his office. I then said, “You, fix my schedule. I told I was taking physics.” The counselor eventually fixed my schedule, and then arranged for me to take chemistry at the local community college (I think just so he didn’t have to deal with me any more) to replace the organic chem class I was planning on taking in Montana. I graduated from a high school in Arizona. I don’t admit that very often.

I do not know one single person I graduated with. Not one. No wonder. I was a raging jerk. I questioned authority, I made demands upon them, and I won. Honestly, there is not one single encounter I can remember in my K-12 schooling where I did not get what I wanted. I never got in trouble (but should have repeatedly).

I learned to challenge authority and more importantly, HOW to challenge authority. Have a plan. Know your rights. More importantly, know the rules and use them to your advantage. I refused to allow those authority figures to hold me back from what I wanted. And, what I wanted was education.

I remember being told repeatedly growing up that I should never plan on attending college. We could not afford it. I should put it out of my head, not think about it, not plan on it, not try for it. It was too expensive. Not once. Not twice, but repeatedly. It was, really, the only fight I had with my parents, but it was a regular battle.

I showed them, however. I attended a community college on a full ride scholarship, and refused to earn a diploma. An AA wasn’t good enough. I transferred to a nationally ranked, private college, Knox College, for three years and paid for less than one year of school by working the rules of financial aid to my benefit. I took out student loans to do a M.A. in Philosophy from University of Iowa, and don’t regret a single penny. I paid cash for a M.Ed. from the University of Nevada, Reno. And currently have a full ride private grant that is paying for my Ph.D.

I love my parents, but I realize that much of what I did after high school was to give them a giant finger.

As I look back, I fought authority often. I usually won. But there were very few consequences for failure in school.

Question authority-BF

Where I am at now

Now, I am now teaching teachers. That scares me, a little. Think about the fact that I questioned authority consistently in my educational journey. I did the same thing as a teacher. I advocated throwing away my textbooks in 2012 (and I did stop using them that year). I was thoroughly willing to re-think how lines are taught, and challenge every other teacher to do the same. That post ended with the statement:

After all, if we are going to be arbitrary, at least let us be arbitrary consistently.

Challenging authority and being subversive is kind of what I did on my blog for the last 4 years.

And now I am teaching teachers. That is scary.

I observe classrooms where the teacher is leading 4th graders through amazing math and science discussion. The learners in the classroom blow my mind with how ahead of the game they are. They also respond instantly to “Class Class” with “Yes Yes,” stop talking, and give 100% of their attention to the teacher.

I have seen a class that was doing high school level mathematics (again a 4th grade classroom). This teacher is amazing. A Title 1 school where every learner is engaged and learning. They stand up, push in their chair, speak to the class, pull out their chair, and sit down. Every time they have something to say. In this class, if they are called on and don’t know an answer, they remain standing and ‘phone a friend’. That learner stands up, pushes in their chair and helps.

Question authority.

Are these learners being taught to question authority? They are being taught, for sure. They are learning math, science, English, etc at an amazing high level. They are learning content. But are they learning that “First Reponsibility” of Franklin’s?

Question authority.

The most common question I am asked by my future teachers is, “How do we handle a learner that won’t do what we ask?” They have clearly bought into the idea of “Question Authority, but not your teacher.” My responses are: make lessons that are engaging and interesting. Get learners up and moving. Allow for exploration (one of the steps of inquiry learning). Stop lecturing at them. “Telling isn’t teaching, Listening isn’t learning.” Etc.

Question authority.

As an educator, I encourage teachers on Twitter and my blog to stand up to admins who make unreasonable demands. I know I stood up to my admins repeatedly. I was called into the principals office and asked to stop several times. I said no. I never lost my job. I was still rated Highly Effective. Teachers have power, but often are afraid to use it.

Not every teacher does exercises their power. Not every teacher can exercise their power. Some teachers can’t or won’t because they fear repercussions. Some teachers will absolutely lose their job, status, or ability to teach if they question authority. That is horrible, but it does happen.

Question authority.

So I really end up where I started. Questioning authority is standing up for yourself or others. My future teachers need to unlearn the idea of “Question authority, but not your teachers.” They also need to be supported when they start teaching and question authority when they stand up for their learners.

The process of unlearning this message is vital, and it is my job now to guide them towards that goal. But how? How can I effectively teach new teachers, freshmen through seniors in college, to challenge authority in education?

They already have cognitive dissonance because they are being taught effective teaching techniques. Math and science ed is being grounded in inquiry based methods, activities, and engagement. ANNNND then they walk into the lecture hall of 200 students and are talked at for 50 minutes.  Do I want them questioning authority when a grade is on the line and it could cost them hundreds of dollars and to retake a class? No. I don’t.

Do I want them questioning a principal when they are a provisional teacher their first years out when they can be fired at will? Not really, but at the same time, yea, I do. When the questioning is because it is in the best interest of their learners, I do want them to question authority. I know I would. Even during those first years. But would I have really done that during the first years? Probably not.

The reality of questioning authority is hard.

The calculus of questioning authority takes into account the repercussions. But honestly, the catch phrase “Pragmatically Question Authority” loses a lot of value.

I think in the end, for my future teachers, I have settled on this for now. I would like them to practice “Thoughtful respect for authority.” That at least encourages them to think hard about whether the authority is making decisions in the best interest of learners.

quote-unthinking-respect-for-authority-is-the-greatest-enemy-of-truth-albert-einstein-226475

 

Feb 202016
 

As I have been examining my practice through the lens of Critical Theory, I asked myself how would I teach differently now than I did even a year ago? Great question.

If-you-change-the-way__quotes-by-Wayne-Dyer-40  It is time for me to look at AP Stats differently.

The last year I taught AP Statistics, I created great connections through the entire year on each topic, how each piece fit together, and how the end results started from the beginning topics. I carefully planned it so that every element of the year connected. And then, after the AP Exam, we had 4 weeks where I challenged the learners to come up with a question, do the research, and answer the question. Topics ranged from bullying, treatment of gays in stores, to trash on the side of the road. A huge, broad range of topics.

But, we did not do anything about those topics. We didn’t share them with the community. We didn’t have time. We collected great information, but we did not ACT on it.

If I teach it again, the first week is answering the following questions.

  1. What problem in our community do you wish to solve?
  2. Is this problem something on which we can we collect data?
  3. What data do we need to collect before we can formulate a solution?
  4. Share with class.
  5. Are there any similarities in problems?
  6. Can we consolidate any of the ideas?
  7. Discuss.
  8. Revisit 1 – 7 until we can not do 6 any further.
  9. List the topics for the class.
  10. Form groups for each topic based on your own interest and your own passion.

After that first week process is over I would think we have between 2 and 7 different projects in each section. I would have to be flexible and let the class drive the number and type of projects. The only thing I can think of why to reject a project is if we would have to deal with FERPA violations, incredibly sensitive topics like rape or incest, or other legally sensitive issues.

This is the truly difficult part of the teacher’s role, is playing the gatekeeper. I would want the learners to make decisions on what they want to study, but I know that there are some topics that are not researchable by high school learners. We don’t have an IRB to do experiments on people, for example. But we want some groups to do experiments. So I would need a committee of people at the school willing to be the final Yes / No on some topics. This is actually true to the real practice of research.

After we have decided on the specific topics, then we start into the process of answering the following questions:

  1. What types of data are there in your question?
  2. How do we display those types of data?
  3. How do we collect the data in the most scientific manner?
  4. etc, etc, etc.

These are questions that come out of the AP curriculum word for word. The only difference is that I, as the teacher, will be phrasing the lessons in the context of their projects. We will be learning from the different groups why we need to know about categorical and quantitative data. We will be learning from the different groups why bar graphs work for one type, but not for another type, and we will have to dive deeply into cluster, stratified and every other type of sampling in order to come up with the BEST way of collecting data for each project.

The goal now is to dive into the AP Stats curriculum deeply. We won’t need to come up for air because we will be inhaling the vapors of our excitement for our project. (wow, that metaphor was tortured, wasn’t it?)

  • What if a learner wants to switch? I don’t think there is a problem with that. Let them choose their enthusiasm.
  • What if an entire group decides they are more passionate about different other projects? Great, then we dissolve that research group and form a new one.
  • What if they decide to start over with a new question 1/2 way through the year? If they really want to go backwards, and redo all the work they have done on experimental design, research design, question creating, data analysis, and all of the rest of the topics then why stop them from relearning the material in a different context? Granted it is a ton of work, but they are learning, relearning, and taking charge of their education on a topic they are interested in. Why block them artificially?

Second semester is about finishing probability so the learners can moving into confidence intervals and tests. This is where the decision making comes into play, and as the learners become confident in this area, they will be making decisions on their topics.

Those last four weeks of school when I used to do projects would now be turned into “Action.”

  • Meet with the administration or counselors of the school about the data collected and share the statistics and conclusions. Work with the them to come up with a plan to solve problems, or at least come up with a plan to work on solving problems.
  • Write letters to the newspapers and media.
  • Write letters and meet with politicians.

The end goal is to allow the learners to drive the content of the class. They would be much more engaged in their own questions than any question I could come up with.

They would still be learning 100% of the AP Statistics curriculum, but now they would be more engaged and see the purpose for each “module” of the curriculum in a more solid, substantial way. This should help with AP scores (but I have no data to support this).

And in the end, hopefully it would make the community (however the learners bounded this) better.

What it would take from me is a huge willingness to give the learners power over their own education. They would have the ability to make decisions, and be allowed to follow through on those decisions. Some of those decisions will not turn out with positive (statistically speaking) results. They will get negative results. That is real life.

It would take time to plan, to organize content around their projects, and to think deeper about the connections. It would take time to connect with admin and parents to explain why I am doing this. It would require the admin of the school to be willing to allow learners to have the power.

It would absolutely weaken the oppression of the learners done by curriculum designers.

I want to do this. I am not in a classroom any more to do it.

Is anyone willing to partner? I will help. I will support. I will do everything in my power to make your life easier while doing this.

I think it is worth doing.

Feb 192016
 

Learning is funny. There is an entire realm of things to know out there in the real world. Yet until you start looking, it is so easy to gloss over all of those things.  I started looking with a more  critical eye at the world and at my own practices, and realized that I was not meeting my own objectives of inclusiveness and change. This post is an extension of my last post: My Critical Pedagogy / Theory Journey.

Early this week, Adisa Banjoko and Arash Daneshzadeh posted an article named: Why Don’t The Black Kids Like Math and Science?: Easy Answers. I was intrigued. They promised easy answers, and I doubted there were any such things. I suggest everyone read the article. I will have my learning pre-service teachers read it this semester as well.

easy-button

Have you read their article? Go do it. It is worth it. Just promise you will come back.

There are two paragraphs that explained  teaching pedagogy I want to point out.

I explained to one of the math teachers, a White female, how crucial this was. “If your students are mostly Latino then you need to tell them about how the Mayans invented the concept of the zero several hundred years before the people of India and they had no contact.” I talked about how Aztec and Mayan architecture is something that should be used to as a cultural bridge for them to understand their legacy in math and science.

Her vacant eyes she blinked in hollow despair “But I don’t know all that stuff.” Her unwillingness to pursue new racial and cultural paths to math told me she was not interested. She still struggles to keep her students engaged to this day. via (Emphasis mine.)

Ms. Banjoko and Mr. Daneshzadeh give resources that will take any teacher from zero to … well, not a hero but at least a sidekick, pretty quickly. There are so many resources offered in the post that it will take me hours to read them all, but I am in the process of doing just that.

But, think about the teacher in the quote above. “Her unwillingness to pursue a new racial and cultural path…” Ouch. How many teachers are willing to take on the task of teaching content AND teaching culture? That is the problem the White female teacher in the post had. This teacher defined her job as only teaching math.

Her job, my job, is not to teach math, it is to teach PEOPLE. What is the best way to teach people? Well, it depends upon the person, really. That is the point.

The New Teacher Center created this meme several weeks ago. I saved it because it spoke to me.

3 habits

Why? Because of the statements embedded in it. “Seek growth opportunities, take responsibility for learning.” Hmm, the White teacher above did neither. They had an opportunity to grow AND take the responsibility for learning by learning themselves. That is a no brainer.

“Take risks and try new strategies.” Holy Hell Batman, the authors of the article handed the teacher a new strategy laid out in detail. The White teacher above walked away.

Ms. Banjoko and Mr. Daneshzadeh promised easy answers in their post. I am not confident the answers are easy. I think it takes a lot of work to learn about the individuals who are in my classroom. I think that work is mandatory, however. It is part of teaching people. It is part of leading while following, to paraphrase Freire.

If we want to have classroom where we are not subjugating the learners, where we are not oppressing them and holding them back from learning, we need to start celebrating them and giving them back the power that has been stripped away from them.

Reading the multitude of links provided by Ms. Banjoko and Mr. Daneshzadeh is a first step. Learning how that applies to the learners in the room with you? That is a great second.

Feb 052016
 

Anne Schwartz wrote a wonderful post this morning about “Why I am not quitting teaching.” It is a extremely thought provoking post, and it made me think. She wrote many times “I am not,” “I do not,” etc, but it is easy to turn it all around and see the positive in every statement. Because, IT IS a very positive post, hiding behind many negative statements. She ends with,

Mostly, I am committed to never reading another fucking letter from a disgruntled teacher about their decision to quit.  If you feel like writing one of those let me know and I am happy to give you suggestions just where you can put it.

I made it a habit of mine to follow this advice daily.

Teachers inspire other teachers

Anne is one of those people.

But, I have been questioning myself the last 8 months because I kind of feel like I did quit. I am not in a classroom daily. I am not interacting with high school learners, and this has caused me to have a crisis of confidence. Am I a fraud, now? Did I sell out?

Anne’s post made me think deeply this morning. She uplifted me, and inspired me to think. And I realized something.

I did NOT sell out.

I moved into a different category of teaching. I didn’t walk away from my learners, and my colleagues. I didn’t walk away from the challenges of teaching, I embraced them more, and deeper than I did before.

I now have the added burden, challenge, and yes, job, of telling young adults how they should teach. Most importantly, I must communicate WHY they should teach.  And if I am not 100% clear to myself and the world that teaching is the 100% best use of my time, energy and effort, than I have sold out and am a fraud.

Screw that. I loved teaching. I LOVE teaching.

#WhyITeach

Because for 8 years I knew I can walk in the door of my building and know with absolute certainty that I worked with the absolute best people who cared about people. I may not have agreed with them every day. But no one could ever question their commitment to our learners.

Because it was about my learners. Every single day. It was about their success, not mine. It was about our learning, together. It was their bad days (because they had them) and my bad days (because I had them) but it was always how to get better and do better.

Because content is great, but people are better.

Because standards are important. You must know know where you are going, or you just wander around aimless.

Because my worst day teaching was still better than my best day in the private sector (10 years of that prior to teaching.)

Because I hated grading, hated grades, but knew they were a necessary annoyance to the process. So I focused on what was important, learning, and not the grades.

Because after 9 years in a classroom, I still can’t believe they paid me to talk math with people every day? And I had the privilege of talking addition with one learner one day, and calculus with another a different day, and stats yet again on a different day. And each day, each learner needed a different conversation.

Because each day was a new day. The blow up by a learner yesterday was yesterday. Every day was new. With a new beginning, a new morning, and a new opportunity to fix a misconception or a misunderstanding.

Have I “sold out” like I was accusing myself? No.

I have embraced it more. I have become a bigger cheerleader.

Now, I am in elementary, middle, and soon, high school classrooms. I am in college classrooms recruiting future teachers. I am telling them, honestly, why I teach.

Thank you Anne. You helped me resolve the internal, nagging voice that was telling me I was a fraud. (Damn Imposter Syndrome.) Screw that.

I teach.

I teach people.

I used to teach people math.

Now I teach people teaching.

That is so cool. Can you believe they pay me to do this?

Good morning. It is a new day. Let’s go teach someone.

Nov 122015
 

I have been in Elementary school classrooms this semester observing my learners teach lessons. They are amazing, and the UTeach model of teacher education is one with which I am completely on board. My learners will have spent so much time in the classroom being observed and getting feedback that they will have no choice but to be amazing teachers. Add in the fact that my math teachers will only be taught to use interactive and engaging methods like the 5E model, and you have a home run.

BUT, as I have been in 3rd through 5th grade classrooms, I have noticed a very disturbing trend. Like this board I saw in a 5th grade classroom.

2015-11-02 12.20.48 (2)

Notice that the objective here was to “Reacquaint yourself” with the math terms by designing a city. OMG. Seriously. This was in the 5th freaking grade. No wonder geometry is such a difficult class to teach in HS, the learners are bored stiff and resentful the teacher is lecturing them on something they have spent time on already.

Next up, a 4th grade classroom. The terms I heard LEARNERS using today were; expression, equation, identity, and inverse.

No joke. 4th grade. The learners were using the terms correctly, and identifying the difference between an expression and equation and using inverses to construct identities while solving equations.

This was not a Gifted and Talented classroom, this was an at risk, high needs, pretty normal, typical classroom.

If I were to summarize what I have learned this semester as a teacher of teachers, it is this. High School teachers, we need to seriously up our game. We need to realize that the reason our learners look bored and apathetic is because we are rehashing what they already know.

We are NOT connecting to what they already know (even if we think we are.)

We are NOT challenging them to reach for deeper understanding (even if we think we are.)

And, we are NOT realizing the learners are entering our classrooms with a great deal of prior math experience and love. Connect with it. Pull it out. Create engagement.

My eyes are open, and it scares me to death what I have done in the past to my learners. The CCSS standards are working. The shifts in mathematics education are working. We must be leaders and take advantage of it.

Go spend time in elementary school classrooms. It will shock you what the learners are doing today. What are we doing?

Oct 222015
 

As I was observing my students teaching I stood in an elementary school hallway and saw this display.

2015-09-28 12.56.29

This was on both sides of the hallway, 15 on one wall, 15 on the other. So you don’t have to blow it up to see, I will explain it. Each page says, “Who am I” and below that says, “My favorite: book, subject, pet, food, hobby, tv show, I’m Good at, When I grow up, I would like to be” on the left with blanks to fill in.

Here is the thing that really made me smile, and then get angry. Between the two boards, over half of the students  said “My Favorite Subject is Math” or “I’m good at Math.”

No joke. This is a Title 1 elementary school, and in the sample of these two classrooms, these learners said they enjoy or they were good at math.

I was so happy.

Then I thought about high school math and I got angry.

Where does this joy go?

At what point in the education trajectory of learners does the joy disappear to be replaced by frustration, anger and dislike?

And then the bigger question of Why? What changed? The learners didn’t change? They progress through the classes, learning, enjoying, and being good at math.

My conclusion was that WE, teachers, the adults, change how we approach the math. I can only speak to high school, but I know I would have many discussions about math in PLC’s, and trying to steer the conversation to the learners is tough with some teachers. Why was this hard? It should be the standard.

It is not about content, it is about learners; people, human beings with needs and desires. Are we showing them through interesting problems they need the math? Why not?

Dan Meyer has been asking frequently, if xxxx is the headache, how is yyyyyy the aspirin? This is the right question we, as upper level K-12 teachers, need to be asking. Over and over. How are we fulfilling the needs of our learners? It isn’t with “it is on the test.”

I don’t have any answers to questions in this post. I really needed to share the picture. A picture of a group of learners who truly enjoyed math, and the emotional response I had to it. It shook me to the core to realize that as a math teacher, I was and am part of the problem.

I will be part of the solution too.

Just to end on a happy note, one of my learners from last year tweeted me and made me smile. People. I teach people. Not content.

Oct 142015
 

Okay, it was yesterday, but I was crazy busy and didn’t post it.

Yesterday, out of the blue, one of the learners I had three years ago tweeted this:

 


This is one of the times that makes me proud to be a teacher. It also makes me proud to know that I have had a positive impact on other learners who didn’t tell me this, but who are experiencing it daily.

Rock on, Cassidy. You make me smile. Thank you!

Aug 312015
 

I have to be honest, I started, stopped, deleted, restarted, deleted and started this post again repeatedly over the last few weeks. Why? Well one reason is my computer died in the middle of a post, and it sat for a week while I was getting it repaired. Whatever. Lame excuse.

Another reason is that I was not sure what to say, or how I felt about the change from high school teacher to college instructor. I think I am still not sure, but I am wrapping my head around it more and feeling better about myself and my thinking on that topic. This post will be a bit rambling, and more than a little stream of consciousness, but bear with it.

So, here it goes; good and bad. I am going to just get it all out and see where it leads.

do not follow leave a trail

First, the bad: I felt very guilty about leaving my school. Seriously. The process of getting this position took all summer. The interview was a 7 hour long day in the middle of July, and it was a week after that before I knew if I got the job or not. Teachers reported back to school on the 5th of August. I was not able to give my school or my department much time to hire a new math teacher to replace me. I hate that. That I left my high school without giving them a long time to search and find a replacement makes me feel like I let the people who I had a strong attachment and bond with down.

The good: This new program at the University of Nevada, Reno is amazing. Seriously. Why is not every university in the US using this model of teacher development for math and science? I mean, really. We all recognize there is difficulty in getting math and science teachers. The UTeach model out of Austin, TX is a great model to fight the shortage. It is actually doing good recruitment and instruction to bring better math and science teachers to the classroom. Let me tell you the sales pitch (and it is a sales pitch that I have given to several freshmen classes.)

The Step 1 and Step 2 classes are free through a tuition rebate (after you successfully pass the classes, you get your money back.)

In these classes, you will observe twice, and teach three times in upper elementary (Step 1) and middle school (Step 2) classrooms.

At the end of the year, you will have two free credits, AND you will KNOW if you have an interest in teaching. If you don’t, because whatever, you walk away and you have two credits, no money spent, and you have lost nothing but a little time.

BUT, if you think that teaching may be something you are interested in, you finish the major you are in (right now Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Mathematics, but that will expand) AND you take the NevadaTeach program classes and you will graduate in 4 years with two degrees. Your science / math degree AND the coursework necessary for a teaching license.

Yes, free credits. Two degrees, two career paths, and no extra time or money spent to earn either one.

This program sells itself. We were expected to have 30 students in the program this semester. My partner Master Teacher and I recruited 45. We are 150% over the goal for enrollment. That is exciting, motivating and all around wonderful.

Then, we actually met our students.

OMG WOW.

On the first day of class (heck the ONLY day of class so far) we asked them to write why they took the Step 1 class. Here are a few, representative samples of why they enrolled:

I want a second choice if I can’t get into med school  (this came up several times.)

It seems like a fun program to be in, very excited about going into classrooms to teach an be like hands on.  (again, several of this type.)

I want to have my double major through this program and I think it will offer lots of opportunity in the future.  (wow, just wow.)

I want to explore teaching as an option.  (no fewer than 5 people said this.)

I’m taking step 1 because I want to have the best choice that allows me to have the best option to succeed in my future career.  (yes, this is the same as the last one, options, but notice the addition of choice. )

These are our students’ words. No editing. Just my comments in parenthesis. We have a motivated group of students who think teaching may be an interesting career. It is up to Megan and I to show them that it can be.

How do we do that?

One major element of our classroom and the program is that it centers around the 5E model of instruction. As we teach science or math lessons to our learners to teach to the ES or MS students, they are all 5E, inquiry based lessons. The math teachers who graduate from this program are going to have a strong basis for creating inquiry  based lessons for their classrooms. This is truly exciting. I am fully committing to dispatching an illusion of learning.

illusionoflecture1

What else is exciting is that this program did not exist last semester. I am part of the first year of creating the program from the ground up. If it fails, I will be a large part of why it fails. If it succeeds then I will be a part of why it succeeds (well not really, it can’t help but succeed.) But it is a risk to leave the safety of teaching, being department chair, teaching the courses I love, interacting with amazing learners and stop all of that for the complete uncertainty of a program that does not exist, in a completely different environment, and a radically different culture.

great achievements involve great risk

So, do I step up and leave everything I was comfortable with behind and bet it all on a new, untested, untried program to create and build new, more and better math and science teachers? Clearly the answer I chose was yes, but it was a tough decision. I miss the teachers I interacted with daily, but I know that I am doing something that will benefit more students in the future than I could just as a high school teacher.

As far as the massive culture shock, I have overcome it. Mostly. I have had a couple of “Am I on candid camera” moments. Being told “good job” for submitting $20,000 technology requests that were detailed and approved. Being told “ask for it, we don’t short change instruction, if you need it to teach, ask” by directors of the program. Coming from K-12 where we were starved for resources and now have the resources is odd.

Having to navigate the minefield of tenured professors walled gardens has been a shock. As a high school teacher, I just did things. I always could justify it because it was in the best interest of my learners, so there was never any blowback, just an “okay, that works, thank you.” Now, however, that is not always the case. And, what is in the best interest of my students is NOT the best interest of the departments students, the colleges’ students, or the University’s students. That is absolutely true. So having to think bigger picture and take a step back is new for me. Not hard. Just new.

The last thing that really is different for me is that I always sought out teachers to inspire me, to motivate me. As a high school teacher I lived by this quote daily.

Teachers inspire other teachers

My list was easy. Go on Twitter. Search for #MTBoS. Follow them. All of them. I have found so many teachers who pushed me to be better through their ideas, motivation, and inspiration that I never felt alone the last 4 years.

I am feeling alone now. I have a beautiful office. (seriously, it is the best office on campus, look at the view from my office window).

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I have a fellow Master Teacher, Megan, who is amazing. I have directors in my program who are supportive, helpful and all around great people. The faculty and staff here are supportive and helpful.

And yet, I feel alone. The college culture is different than K-12. There are no faculty plays. No “Friday happy hours.” No fabulous twitter chats of supportive higher ed professors. At this level it is about what you produce, not how you feel. K12 is different. I am working over that, around that, and through that, but it is true. I think this is the largest culture shock to deal with now. I can still drop into the Friday happy hour, but I am not part of that group. Will they still have me? And what am I producing now for my new position?

🙂

Yes, I just smiled. I realized what I have to make sure I produce.

Teachers inspire other teachers I need to be that teacher who uplifts, inspires, and drives others.

More so now than ever.