Tag Archives: NYCTF

No Apples Here

This post draws from my first journal entry as a brand-new New York City Teaching Fellow about ten years ago. I’d spent plenty of time working with children as a teenager, and a year as a photography teacher at a school in Yonkers, but I was not prepared for what was to come. [Our summer school assignments were intended to be an observational period — an opportunity to watch and learn from a veteran teacher, and as time went on, to try our hand at teaching a lesson here and there before jumping headfirst into our own classrooms, come September.]

“It’s the first day of summer school, and we arrive promptly at 8am to find that there are no classes for us to observe. Correction: there are classes to observe, but not enough (certified) teachers have shown up, and we are asked to act as substitutes instead. We are paired up.

My partner and I are escorted to a 5th grade class, and the day is mostly chaotic. Before we get started, I notice a girl standing off to the edge of the room, and when asked to take a seat, she says she’s too big for the furniture. It’s true, so I give her the chair from the teacher’s desk to sit on, which initiates a waterfall of complaints from other students who want to sit in a big chair, too. It turns out the room is built for 3rd graders, and more than a few students are crammed into chairs and desks that are too small.”

Looking back on this entry, I can see the emergence of what I would soon learn to call ‘the policy-practice gap.’ Here are my observations as a graduate student:

  • Having an uncertified, rookie teacher cover a class on the very first day of summer school seems to go against policy, no? The Transitional B certificate, which I and all other alternative certification teachers were given in order to bypass New York State regulations requiring the acquisition of a Masters degree prior to certification, likely contributed to this grey area. While I wouldn’t have been able to teach full time without the certificate, I was not prepared to take on a class on my first day.
  • Mismatched bodies and furniture would happen on a recurring basis throughout my years of teaching that would follow. How can students be expected to learn and ‘behave’ if they can’t fit into the seat(s) assigned to them?
  • Any brand-new teacher can attest to hearing things like ‘don’t smile till Christmas,’ referring to how important some educators feel it is to appear strong to students. While I have a number of issues with this tacit new-teacher ‘policy’ (and a general inability to not smile at times), there is some truth in making an effort to keep your composure when standing in front of a group of students. And while pairing us up made sense from the perspective of the administration, since few of us had ever stood in front of a classroom before, it sent the message to the class (just like smiling broadly might) that we were nervous/unprepared/new.

More on the ‘policy-practice gap’ to come in future posts.

Digital Humanities in the Classroom

As I get my feet wet with this public-blogging thing (intentionally public, anyway–this isn’t the first time I’ve blogged publicly, but it’s the first time I’ve done so while trying to capture the attention of a specific audience and string a common thread through my posts), there is a growing pile (digital and otherwise) of things to think and write about. I find that I am accumulating post topics at a much higher frequency than I have time to write about them! This forces me to be judicious with words and space (believe it or not), to critically think through how I might thread several disparate concepts together, and to consider how I’ll use various media to convey the heart of my message.  As informal as blogging can be, the project of maintaining a blog for a specific professional purpose becomes a formalized act that follows a distinct process, much like that of writing a research paper or article manuscript. Which brings me to what inspired this post: last night’s CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative talk with Shannon Mattern and Mark Sample.

Shannon’s presentation in particular, “Beyond the Seminar Paper: Setting New Standards for New Forms of Student Work,” gave me things to think about when it comes to my research.  While I (and many other K-12 public school teachers in NYC) have a knee-jerk reaction against the word “standards,” it was refreshing to hear someone discuss evaluation and assessment in the context of why.  It’s not that I haven’t heard other academics speak about assessment in productive, logical ways; it’s just that so much of my time as a 5th grade teacher was spent producing pretty, neatly formatted assessments because I was forced to, not because it made sense.  One year, using an informal system of notes on a post-it was the accepted form of evaluation; another year, the focus was on rubrics; our heads spun with the rapid changes that seemed episodic and disconnected to the goals of our lessons, and in the interim, the whole purpose of evaluating was lost on many of us. While Shannon has developed a series of evaluative tools along with each project she has developed with her students, it was clear from her presentation that her evaluations were not seemingly random rubrics or checklists like the ones I once compulsorily produced–her evaluations have a specific purpose, and are connected to the larger learning goals of her students’ projects.  I appreciated being a part of this conversation at the higher-ed level–particularly the part that took up questions around support for practitioners.  (And I’d like to see more spaces for conversations like this at the K-12 level.)

So what do we do if we want to use a technological tool we don’t know how to use?  What are the resources available to professionally develop your own skills as instructors–at all educational levels?  And how can the growth of our society’s do-it-yourself (DIY) culture support those endeavors?

Shannon’s talk last night touched briefly on what I hear mentioned often in professional talks lately: getting an academic job is no longer a guarantee once you get your PhD.  I feel like I’ve witnessed the development of this phenomenon first-hand over the last decade, and have to wonder at how it has paralleled the development of technology.  At age 26 (eight years ago), with but two years of teaching 5th grade under my belt, I was hired as an adjunct to teach a course called “Assessment and Evaluation” at a local university.  Not only were the students in my course teaching in grades K-12 (I’d only taught elementary school at that point), the course text (which was dictated by the department) was unbelievably dry and disconnected from most of my students’ daily work, and my students were rightfully frustrated by the course content and my teaching of it.  I had not yet developed the wisdom (which would come several years later and is still evolving) to logically develop a purposeful assessment tool that was accessible to my students and made sense for the larger goals of the project or assignment.  At the time, there were few impressive lines on my CV that related to teaching at the Masters level, and other than being an ambitious, personable young woman with lots of energy and a brightly decorated classroom, I didn’t seem qualified.  So why was I hired?  Surely it couldn’t just be because I was cheap at $2,250 per class (or thereabouts), or that I was referred by an advisor through the New York City Teaching Fellows–I still went through an interview! Was something else happening at the time?  Was it the start of what we are witnessing now, with the disappearance of full-time, tenure-track positions? What does it all have to do with the advances of technology?  I realize I’m tangenting, and again, raising threads that I will want to return to, but all of these thoughts were descending upon my brain last night as I sat and listened to Shannon and Mark talk about their work at their respective institutions. (You can read more about my K-12 teaching experience in my previous post if you’re interested.)

Toward the end of the discussion, someone asked a question about the boundary between teaching tech and teaching content–for instance, at what point does teaching how to use a blog platform detract from the content-specific point of the activity?  I appreciated that both speakers had already intimated in their respective talks that the boundary is blurry and increasingly so–that as pedagogues, we will often be required to move our technological knowledge along independently, and make use of the advances available to us whether there is a PD session to support it or not.  I admit I’m out of the loop when it comes to debating the identifiers of “digital humanities.”  It seems that technology and teaching are so inextricably linked at this point that you cannot teach without bumping into technology somewhere along the way, and vice versa.

If I had more hours in the day, I would spend time looking at how developments in letter-writing and the postal service, television, telephones, automobiles, radio, and other technologies have impacted policies and practices around teaching and learning–this tension surely existed before computers, right?  I can’t imagine the development of automobiles having had the same impact on classroom learning as computers and the internet, but I’m curious about how the education system catches up to advances that move quickly around it.

I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion with you and other friends and colleagues involved in the project of education.

From Journal to Blog

So much has been going on, it’s hard to figure out what to write about!  I was back down at Occupy Wall Street this morning, and I am impressed that it’s still going strong.  It makes me hopeful about what is possible.  In the meantime, I got some helpful feedback about digital organization systems for data from my last post, and will report back about my experience soon. Speaking of experience, my dissertation research stems from my experience in the classroom.  While I have been preparing to start my research in earnest, I have been looking back at my journals, from which I initially constructed blog posts when I was a rookie teacher.  My blog authorship as a teacher was not long-lived, because back then, I still didn’t fully understand the internet and was worried about being found out.  But I still have those journals.  This post might feel incomplete, but I’m going to circle back to it eventually.  In the meantime, here’s a look back:

July 24, 2001.  I don’t know my classroom assignment yet, but it’ll either be 3rd or 4th grade.  I might be in an inconclusion class, which means I’d be one of two co-teachers.  The other teacher would be a special education teacher, and I would fulfill the general education portion of the partnership.  I’m equal parts nervous and excited.  My mentor teacher was late this morning, and the class I’ve been student teaching in all summer went wild.  A game of Simon Says erupted into a fight, and once again, I looked like I had no control over a group of students.  And there are only half as many students as I’ll have in September.  No, I’m probably more nervous than excited.

 July 30, 2001.  We had a guest speaker today in class, who said some of the following things:

  • Never show your emotions.
  • You are not a counselor.  We are here to triage.
  • Do not raise your voice—it’s entertainment to your students.
  • Feel your adultness.
  • If you structure your days with love, your students pick up on that.
  • The contract says you don’t have to break up a fight.
  • After you admonish a child for behavior, call on them next to build them back up.

September 16, 2001.  We still haven’t had a full week of school, and the country is still reeling from September 11th.  I’m not sure I’ve processed what happened.  I’m exhausted, and everything hurts.  I have to write more later.

October 5, 2001.  One 3rd-grade class was split, because the class sizes on the grade were too small.  My 3rd-grade class has only 16 students, and I wonder what will happen.  And why are the classes so small?  I thought overcrowding was a problem in New York City.   When I was in the main office today, I overheard that they are splitting another class.  I just keep thinking that it’s going to be mid-October, and a whole class of students has no idea who their teacher will be for the year.  How are they supposed to feel comfortable in their classrooms? It doesn’t seem fair.

This was all happening almost exactly ten years ago. I can’t believe that someone said, in a class, that “we are here to triage.” What does that even mean?  There was so much talk of not smiling or showing emotions, and it was literally impossible for me to abide by those guidelines.  And what about “feel your adultness”? Thinking back, we were a group of people who spanned twenty-something to fifty-something, but I guess there was a majority of young people—I had just turned 24 at the start of the school year. And why were we talking about breaking up fights when we hadn’t yet learned the fundamentals of teaching children to read?

I have lots more to say on this, and want to tie it back to something I read recently regarding technology in classrooms today, but I think I’ll wait to continue until my next post.

To be continued…

Pednology, or Maybe Techagogy

Yesterday’s post marked the start of me trying to work out, in writing, some of the questions I have about pedagogy and technology.  I’ve been spending more time with my computer than any other object in my life for at least the last ten years, and there are (many) things that have developed or changed over time that I’ve often discovered by mistake, and I wonder how other teachers have handled it.  Educators aren’t generally trained in new technologies unless we seek out the training on our own or it’s for some profit-driven company that will benefit when the school buys 500 of whatever’s being offered (at least that’s been my experience).  And yet we are required to stay up-to-date in the name of pedagogy, a requirement that is understandable and at times, impossible.  For example, how are teachers expected to use SmartBoards if they are taught a crash course in an afternoon PD session when they’re already exhausted, have about 8 million other things to do to prepare for tomorrow, there will likely be no follow up, and they don’t have regular access to the SmartBoard itself?

This is one of the things I’m talking about when I mention “the gap between policy and practice” in my work.

But I’m talking about less-technologically-advanced things than SmartBoards, too.  If you haven’t ever had a Facebook account as a teacher, you’re missing a huge understanding of how young people communicate; if you do have an account, you have to be careful about what you post (and gets posted) on your wall.  And what about learning less big-concept things like the fact that you don’t have to type “www” anymore when you enter a URL?  Or what about fair-use and copyright laws?  I admit that the first time I taught an online course (back in 2004!?), I simply scanned in and uploaded portions of texts that I wanted to use.  I had a hunch that that wasn’t exactly what I was supposed to do, but as a part-time instructor at a university that had little means to train a rookie teacher who’d been hired as a teacher educator (a problem in its own right, but one that initiated my career as a teacher educator), I did what I could with the technology available to me at the time.

So what of these changes — both subtle and far-reaching — that are happening at mach speed on a daily basis now? When and how are teachers trained, if they don’t take the initiative on their own?  Some people might argue that everyone, no matter the industry, has to figure out how to use new technologies, but my counterargument to that is that education is different.

On the day I received my acceptance letter to the New York City Teaching Fellows — a little more than ten years ago — one of my best friends said, “teaching is the most important job.”  Granted, he’s a professor now so might be biased, but that statement really impacted me — education is a requirement in this country, and thus something we all universally experience in some form; it is also something our society values a great deal, despite the fact that a degree does not guarantee being able to find a job.  Teachers need to be taught, too, and we’re starting to figure out ways to do that at the post-secondary level, but what about K-12?  Where are the in-depth, across-the-board trainings for teachers that don’t 1) take time away from everything else they have to do, 2) are free of charge, and 3) address, in a zone-of-proximal-development type of way, the pednology, or maybe techagogy, needs of teachers?  Pedagogy and technology are no longer disparate concepts, and K-12 educators who don’t feel completely comfortable with what’s happening need the supports to catch up, too.