Mrs. Houk was my first grade teacher. I remember her warm embrace each morning, laughing while learning, and always feeling apart of the classroom. Every day was exciting, we read a lot of books, got our hands dirty in craft projects, and learned how to share. Mrs. Houk always made the effort to be on our level, both mentally and physically. I never forgot Mrs. Houk, as I have her to thank for everyday inspiring me to be a teacher. Here I am, 12 years later, making my dream come true. I am currently coming to the end of my third year teaching and can I just say wow, time flies.
I did my student teaching in the Milwaukee Public School systems, and I graduated with honors in December 2006 with a degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Like the rest of my classmates, the day after graduation we rushed to get our applications in to sub where ever we could. From Mukwonago to Big Bend, to East Troy to Whitefish Bay I just knew I had to get my foot in the door. Whitefish Bay was the first school to call me for a subbing position and I spent the most of the spring subbing for their school district. I had several interviews with different school districts but was not hired due to “lack of experience”. I knew a teacher who taught at Poplar Creek Elementary and she passed my name along to the principal and the next day I had an interview! I was hired the next day and started teaching 2nd grade the fall of 2007. After my first year teaching, I moved up to 3rd grade and couldn’t be happier. I have a supportive team that guides me in the right direction and gives me ambition to do more.
I wanted to further my education, I wanted to be challenged and pushed professionally and personally and that is the idea of Graduate school came into the picture. I never anticipated that a master’s program would help me grow so much, professionally and personally. As I continue to do some needed deep self reflection, I have decided to leave my options open and look for other districts to become a part of.
As the school year ended, in my school district, I did not feel that I was being held accountable for anything. I felt that the only important factor was the numbers and how they looked on paper. For a while, before grad school, I was feeling unmotivated and questioning myself if this was the right career choice for me. I was losing the passion and love for what I was doing. As I continue to reflect on my working environment, I am not sure if my school fosters best practices, and I feel as if at times it lacks leadership. We keep getting books and articles on PLCs but unfortunately at this point we are very far from a true PLC. The negativity in the building from my co-workers and unfortunately it is beginning to consume me and interfere with my passion and reason for becoming a teacher! I love the kids, I love to see them learn, grow, interact, and be creative. I love scaffolding children and helping them become lifelong learners. So, in the last month of the school year I closed my doors to all that is negative and opened a positive environment for my students and me to learn from.
In doing this, I was really able to connect with my student’s one on one. I was not comparing myself or my students to others around me. I wanted to find and provide what each of my students needed to achieve at the highest level. I was reflecting personally and professionally on a daily basis. I was using my observations to improve my areas of weakness, identify my strengths, and target areas where I needed to continue to focus on. If I came to a point where I needed additional resources, advice, or some input I would seek it out from those who I looked up to and considered leaders and professionals. Some of these leaders were in my building, but most of them were part of my Learning Community. The wealth of knowledge and high level of professionalism that is evident in our Learning Community is overwhelming and I feel so fortunate to have a group of people at that high of a caliber surrounding me.
As I continue into my second year of grad school I feel a change in myself personally and professionally. I feel myself growing as an educator and wanting to expose myself to new literature and research based teaching strategies. As I continue to interact with other professionals, I find myself finding the creative inspiration and drive I have been looking for. I am connecting on the same level and beginning to collaborate new ideas to implement innovative teaching techniques in the classroom. The more I read professional texts and reflect with others in my profession, the more I find myself having “A-Ha” moments. My small successes now will be big accomplishments later when the school year starts.
As I continue to explore literature and experts in my area of focus for my action research, I am beginning to establish my concrete philosophy for teaching. My “question” has helped me to define my beliefs about teaching and help me reflect personally and professionally. As Debbie Miller said, “When teachers have a set of beliefs that guides our work, we know where we’re going”. I know where I am going next year, and it is such a great feeling. All the commotion seems to be calming down, as I continue to put each puzzle piece its place.
For example, I know what I want my classroom to look, feel, and sound like. My action research is focused on building a community. For the past 3 years, my classroom was always decorated perfectly for open house. Name tags on desks, reading posters up, and rules were written. By doing this, I sent a very strong message to the students that this is “MY” classroom, and I am in charge. I now know that I want my classroom to be our classroom. I want the children to “own” the classroom and be in charge of it just as much as I am. Therefore, the first week of school will be dedicated to all of the children building the classroom. They will decide where the reading section will be, they will vote on rules, and they will put things in their place because this is their learning environment. In addition to this, I also replaced all desks with tables. Children will not have assigned seating but choose what work space is best for them. I am aligning more and more of my teaching practices with the constructivist approach, and loving the new ideas and creative thinking that comes out of it!
In preparation for the 2010-2011 school year, I am also creating goals and targets that are based off of the state standards. I want the students to know what they will be learning and be able to know when they have mastered the material. I want them to be prepared for what’s up ahead, and be part of the process. I may have all of the teacher guides and tests, but I want my students to play an active role in their teaching and learning. This year the students will be actively involved in creating rubrics to grade and reflect on projects and papers. I also want the students to assess unit tests and have discussions on how we, or I, can improve the material to better fit their learning styles.
Grading, for me and my students, will also be very different in the years to come. As I mentioned before, I want my students to play an active role in their learning. I want them to be part of the academic process and go “behind the scenes” so they truly understand their achievements, areas of strengths, and their areas of weaknesses. After reading, How to Grade for Learning, I really started to reflect on the meaning of grades and asked myself the following questions; Do my students know what grades are? Do my students know what grades mean or represent? Do I know what the grades mean or represent? Do the parents know what the grades mean or represent? Should grades be a surprise at the end of each quarter? Why am I grading this? What am I grading? Should I be grading this? Am I communicating the grades to the parents so they understand? These are just a few of the questions, and I anticipate there will be a lot more as the year goes on. I hope that I can answer these questions, well some of them at least, so I can provide my students with the most meaningful feedback for their learning and know that what I am doing is having a direct affect on my student’s education. Over the past few years, I have honestly found myself putting grades on papers “just because”. Just because they had to have a grade, or just because the parents wanted a grade, or just because it was report card time and it had to have a grade on it. Well goodbye to those “just because” days! My goal is to use feedback as a form of formative feedback in hope that it will help my students enrich their learning and help them determine areas of strength or weaknesses. The grades will be given as a summative assessment, at the end of a unit, project, or final paper as way to record what they have learned over time.
At this very moment in my teaching career, going into my second year of grad school and third year of teaching, I am feeling refreshed, refueled, and prepared to take on the school year. The books I have read, the articles I have researched, and the relationships I have built with others in my professional community over that last year have given me the confidence and boost of energy I needed! At this point in my professional career, I feel like I am in the right place at the right time and I am excited for what the 2010-2011 school year brings. I feel much supported by those around me in my learning community and look forward to another year of challenges, successes, and lots of smiles