After my two summer classes were over, our instructor made sure he emphasized how important it is to keep blogging about our experiences. Did I do it? No… Did I want to… Yes. I felt guilty for not jumping online and adding to my blog, however, the beginning of the new school year took over and now here I am. I am sharing my reflective comments from our reading for our critical literacy course. I’m excited about another course to deepen my understanding of linguistics and discourse. Thank you for allowing me to share.
Describe an occasion on which you felt entirely out of your depth, “other” “I do not fit in here” “everybody gets it but me”; what in you and the situation contributed to that feeling?
There have been many times in my life when I feel that I have not fit in, or have been completely out of my comfort zone. I have also put my foot in my mouth many times before realizing that being funny in front of certain professionals needed to be done with certain “care” and observation. I have on many occasions said things that I thought would be perceived as funny, however, were not taken with the sentiment that I had thought they would be. I would have to say that my “biker bar moment” came to me while taking my first class at the University of New Haven. In my district, my comfort zone, my “society”, I am well-versed, respected and admired for my working knowledge of technology. Well… sitting in a room of fifteen individuals on the same track as myself, I realized one thing. I know now that I did not know as much as I thought I knew.
Making the decision to go back to school was not a difficult one. My supervisor has been trying to sway me to take courses to get my administrative certification. I have always felt that it would not be the right path to follow. After investigating the program at UNH, it was undeniably the best program I found to fit where I wanted to head professionally. I walked in feeling confident that the program would be challenging, but something that I could handle. This was true until conversations started flowing and assignments started falling into place. The amount of different experiences that were planned gave the members of the class such a smattering of opportunities to develop a skill set. However, there was one assignment that put me over the edge.
We had to create a video tutorial to be shared with the community and posted publicly. Great, I did not have to star in the video, I just had to create it. I do have a lot of experience dabbling in productivity tools, however, I have never had to really be accountable for creating an assignment that held a grade and a critique. This was all new to me. I started to feel sweaty and annoyed as my family was trying to go about with their lives, and I was having a melt-down at the dining room table trying to figure out the tool. I was the tech queen, so how come I can’t figure this all out? I was in a bar (website) that I was using my “gotta match?” talk, when I should have been saying “excuse me, do you happen to have a light?”
I was so out of my element as a teacher/technology “guru”, that I could not even get myself calmed down to get the assignment done. Because I was having such difficulties, I was hoping I could get a little more time to let the program sink in and process what I had to do in order to make all this work. I emailed Ian O’Bryne to let him know I was stuck and to see if I could get an extension. He was great and responded with “Not a problem. Just get it done…and do the best job you can.” These words stung. Not because he was not understanding and flexible, but because I felt as if I was coming up short on my own expectations of what I can accomplish. To me, and in my context, the words “just get it done” were sharp and disappointing. I knew with certainty that they were not meant to increase my angst, but to lessen it. However, I did this to myself. My very own moment of “do I belong here?” Needless to say, those words of relinquishing my stress for the night caused me to work harder. I did not want my instructor getting the impression that I was a slacker or whiner, but that I had the perseverance to get the assignment done and handed in on time.
I felt a connection to the statement in James Gee’s book, Social Linguistics and Literacies, about students who are “summoned” or “hailed” on certain ways of behaving, or thinking or valuing the written work of my instructor. I needed to do something in a way that required me to be outside of my comfort zone, and I had to relate it back to my students. When creating assignments for the class, I have to make sure I am focused on what they need to meet the objective and what is required of them to get there. I also learned it was acceptable to work in different types of identities, as long as it was not something I had to do every day.
Gee, J. (2008). Social Linguistics and Literacies. London and New York: Routledge; Third Edition.
Consider your learners as they begin the new school year. How are they negotiating/establishing their own positions in the learning community? How are you seeing them? What “data” about them are you reading? How are they sending it?
As my role as a reading consultant, I do not have a traditional classroom with students who file in and out. I coach teachers, supervise reading assistants who services for struggling readers and work with small groups for intense interventions. I am also the facilitator of data-sharing with universal screeners and standardized testing. I can see a student and know where he/she is on my chart of “at goal/above”, “proficient”, and “remedial” categories. I know which student should be evaluated for special education and which student bombed the universal screener because his girlfriend broke up with him that morning. There are so many facets to what I do during the day, but having a classroom hasn’t happened for a long time.
This year, I have the opportunity to teach a reading/writing workshop for struggling readers. These are students that I have developed a relationship with and am able to start off the year a few steps ahead with the “getting to know you” phase of each new year. In Sherry Turkle’s Ted Talk clip (www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html), she discusses how society has developed an “I share therefore I am” protocol of socialization. The shift from how students deal with each other, as well as adults, has definitely been a part of my teaching career. I began teaching 17 years ago, and there were no cell phones, texting or social networking to compete with. Sherry Turkle’s explanation of how all of the connecting that goes on leads to isolation was profound. One can see how the changes in linguistics, along with the isolation of society by going within ourselves with technology has stifled the learners of today. The changing acceptance of reading, writing, speaking and listening is evident with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards.
One of the greatest challenges in my job is working with teachers who have not embraced or accepted this shift. Teachers are uncomfortable with the technology of today and have difficulties separating the philosophical issues that Turkle discusses with the demands of engagement and relevancy in the secondary classroom. The students of today (and especially the ones in my classroom) need to feel that they are active participants in their learning. If they are not, then in my experience, there is no buy-in as to why they are even there. They can not be talked-at, but talked-to. They know where their weaknesses lie, however, they know they have strengths that can be built upon if given the opportunities to do so. My students have already declared which classes they hate, which ones are ok, and which ones they can deal with. Luckily, I have them first period and they have not expressed any dissatisfaction with the plan so far.
The assistant principal (who also teaches a class every day) and I have been collaborating on what we feel the students need to build on their foundational skills. We are using a variety of media, as well as writing daily to focus the students on what will help them become stronger students in their other classes. These students need care and understanding, just like any classroom full of adolescents. Our students know that we care about them, we are invested in their successes and will challenge them, regardless of the fact that it’s an elective class.
I see these students as successful because I give them a variety of ways to express their understanding. I realize there are assessments and goals that are to be accomplished. The standards are not easy. But, what I do find easy is that fact that the students need to bring what interests them from the outside and be able to meld their skills learned in class with the relevancy of what truly matters to them in life. The students are ninth graders, so in that respect, they are considered bottom feeders of the learning community right now. Not only is getting acclimated to the school a challenge, the coursework and rigor are a tremendous change. I agree with Turkle on how society needs to develop more self-aware relationships. I believe reflection is important and a necessary part of the growth mindset.
When Turkle discusses how people use texting as a way of saying “I want to have a feeling, I need to send a text”, it struck me deeply. Students need to feel validated and cared for, but have so many different ways of “communicating” without talking. I believe in the use of technology, however, there is nothing in my opinion that replaces relevant and constructive discourse within the classroom. Allowing students to develop his/her thoughts and connect them to the concepts (not right or wrong) is a tiring effort that good teachers put into their daily teachings. There are some teachers who believe that there are right and wrong answers and that if the student is not in agreement with the teacher’s thought process, than the student can not be correct. Yes, there are still teachers like that teaching! It’s my job to work with teachers and develop an understanding of how literacies change and therefore, teaching styles need to change in order to be successful at what we do.
Besides using traditional data (scores, rubrics and common assessment information), students will provide teachers with countless amounts of information about how they are learning in class. You can create a spreadsheet if you need to on who is sleeping, who is texting, who is doing their makeup, who is doodling, who is answering questions, who is participating in conversations, etc. This will give you the “data” on whether you need to change up your teaching or not. Students are very good at evaluating your teaching on a daily basis. As a teacher, you need to be aware of what your students are reporting back to you.
Gee, J. (2008). Social Linguistics and Literacies. London and New York: Routledge; Third Edition.