More than you probably want to know...
In 2007, I was honored to be selected by my colleagues at Open Campus High School, as that year's Teacher of the Year (TOTY) for our School! It is not unusual to work for many years in this profession, quite happily in fact, and never receive such an honor, so I was extremely pleased and feel quite blessed to have been so honored so early in my career. However, to whom much is given, much is expected! Yes, yes, yes...along with this honor, came the requirement of writing seven, (yes seven!) essays all on my philosopy of teaching. Whew! That was an amazing undertaking...it took me all the way back to college when I had research papers due and I had waited until the last minute to complete them(yes I am cursed with being the world's greatest procrastinator!). These essays had a 30 day completion date...that is, I had to write all seven essays in one month...over the Christmas break! Imagine that! So, since I had to work so very hard to write these essays, and since I am very proud of the outcome, I decided to include them here for your reading pleasure. If nothing else, they will give you some deep insight into who I am as a teacher and how I feel about this profession....so sit back, get some popcorn and ENJOY!!
2007 DeKalb Teacher of the Year
Question # 1: Professional Biography
What factors influenced you to become a teacher? Describe what you consider to be your greatest contribution to education and cite any teaching related rewards or recognitions received.
Impossible! It is impossible to answer the above questions in one page—double-spaced. And to ask this of an English teacher! But I will try….
I have always been literary. I remember days when I was young becoming so engrossed in the pages of a book—some, much too mature for me—to the exclusion of all else and to the utter frustration of my mother. So it seemed only natural when the time came that I would seek a career in the literary field. Upon completing college, I had grand ideas to take on the world of publishing by storm.
I attended Upsala College in East Orange New Jersey, just 30 minutes or so from New York City. I definitely saw myself as a suit- wearing, tote- bag -wielding, sneakers-instead-of-pumps, mass transit traveler of the New York publishing world, so, after graduation, armed with the appropriate recommendations and a resume that would make my professor weep with joy, dressed in my brand new power suit and wielding that tote-bag, I headed to the interviews in the city. But alas, the only positions were in the technical writing arena and (yikes!) textbook development—definitely not my idea of literary! I returned to my hometown in South Jersey and took a job , like everyone else, in the casinos (at night) and substituted at my alma mater during the day—waiting patiently for my “ship to come in”. Finally one day I was asked to substitute for one of my former English teachers. The class, as it happens, was reading one of my all time favorite novels, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley—I dove right in! WOW! That’s when it all clicked—I got my “Aha! Moment”—I could do this! And I was good at it! So instead of subbing until I could start my real career, it became apparent that subbing was the first step to my real career—teaching. You can imagine that the class I subbed was not overly thrilled that the ‘sub’ had actually wanted to teach, but by the time I got finished with them, they were as excited about the book as I had always been.
I would therefore say that my biggest contribution to the teaching profession is my ability to make great works of literature relevant to students. If nothing else, they will get a kick out of my enthusiasm and maybe some of mine will rub off onto them. I have a passion both for literature and for teaching and communicating with young people. Indeed, no other profession puts it all together in one package better than teaching. I am approachable and available—mentally and physically—to all of my students and that too is one of my contributions to my profession. I make them feel as if the knowledge is attainable for them also; however, I do not believe, that I have yet experienced my greatest contribution to teaching. My tenure is still very young in comparison to others. I am drafting my way everyday, and I think that I have many more years ahead to offer even more significant contributions.
I have never been one to keep track of awards and, as I look at my walls, there are not many certificates touting my accomplishments, but that isn’t to say that I do not have any awards—far from it. They may just be different from the norm. I count as my awards and recognitions, every student who returns to my classroom after graduation, to tell me that some lesson I taught had miraculously appeared in his/her college classroom. Also, it is rewarding to me when a student I mentored calls me for advice on how to write a paper or asks f or some non-school related advice. When I get a phone call out of the blue or a note stuck in my mailbox, as I did just this week, from a former student who just wanted to call or stop by to say “hi”, in my opinion, that, is true recognition for any teacher!!
(Note: See, I knew there was no way to answer this question in one page.)
Question # 2: Professional Learning Activities
Briefly discuss professional learning experiences outside of degree preparation programs and endorsements in which you have participated. Include professional association memberships and offices held, if applicable.
From the beginning of my teaching career in Pleasantville, New Jersey, I have been involved in numerous programs, and I have joined several professional associations. My membership in some of these organizations has been mostly on paper; however, others have afforded me many hours of meaningful, professional development.
While in New Jersey, I was a member of one of the first Leadership Pleasantville classes. Similar to Leadership DeKalb, this was a group of professionals both in and out of the teaching profession who were given an opportunity to learn different techniques so that the educational success of the city was assured. I was honored to have been selected. While on the team, I learned a great deal about education vis-à-vis city government. In addition to that opportunity, I was involved in numerous social organizations, and since Pleasantville is the city in which I grew up, attended high school and began my teaching career, one can well imagine that I have participated in organizations there for many years.
Since relocating to Georgia in 1998 and restarting my teaching career in 2001, I have also been fortunate to be a part of several worthwhile organizations here. I will highlight a few that have been particularly worthwhile to me. One of my first opportunities involved L.I.F.T., a literacy initiative which was designed to explore the areas of literacy, fluency and numeracy. As a participant in this program, I was required to return to my home school and re-deliver the techniques, gathered at monthly meetings to my own faculty. I particularly enjoyed this opportunity and felt as if I had a special talent for re-delivery. Had the opportunity arisen, I would have gladly pursued it further. Following LIFT, I involved wit h the formation of the Literacy Cadre, a group of educators who were to be further instructed on how to train incoming members of LIFT. Unfortunately, the need for the Cadre did not materialize, but, still, I was honored to have been selected for this initiative.
Through the recommendation of a colleague, I also sought a membership in the National Council for Teachers of English. As a result of this membership, I have enjoyed numerous hours of craft building and professional development. The seminars, conferences, and weekly journal articles have been extremely informative, and I have enjoyed passing them on to my colleagues. Finally, on the home front, in addition to the above opportunities, I am one of the Writing Coaches for my school, Open Campus High School, as well as being involved in Read 180, yet another literacy initiative.
Indeed, reading, writing, and literacy have special meaning for me not only because of my own private inclination in this direction but also probably due to my own previous exposure through the aforementioned professional programs and organizations. Even though I have never been a “joiner” or a person interested in the “political” side of clubs and organizations, “one thing I have learned for sure” is that, whenever I participate in a group of any sort, for any reason, my level of participation will be 110%.
Question # 3: Community Involvement
Describe your commitment to your community through service-oriented activities including volunteer work, civic, and other group activities.
In my opinion, my “community” includes not just the place where I live, but also where I work and worship. As such, I have three distinct and different “communities” in which I play active roles and participate wholly.
In the community where I live, Lithonia, my participation includes community service, volunteerism, and recreation. Unfortunately, my involvement in this community is relegated to the weekends and summers since, during the week and school year, I spend anywhere from nine to twelve hours between work and commuting to work. Each year, I participate through Hands on Atlanta in a day of community service by volunteering at the Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort (AWARE) located at the Arabia Mountain Wild Animal Reserve in Lithonia. On this day, many residents and non-residents alike, participate in hours of meaningful service which may include anything from cleaning animal cages to clearing out a wetlands pond. Volunteering with Hands on Atlanta, however, is not just a once a year thing. Volunteers are encouraged to come as often as they like, and I do. This past year I was excited about clearing land and helping to re-locate building materials which will be used later to enhance the facility. I was also fortunate to see some of the wild animals that are fostered at the center as they were being fed. In addition to my community service, I have also been a tennis player for over twenty years and within my community, I have played on several teams. I am a member of two leagues—the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA) and the USTA. Our tennis team has four, year-round seasons in women’s doubles and mixed doubles. At times, tennis is my only outlet for on the job stress; therefore, I relish each opportunity I get to play.
My second community is in the town where I worship, Stone Mountain. In this community, my church community, I have been a member of the Greeters Ministry at Victory Baptist Church for approximately four years. I remember when I first moved to Georgia and lived in Stone Mountain that I initially began walking to the church because of its proximity. Even though I knew no one there, I was soon made welcomed. Since those first days nine years ago, I have also participated in the Athletic Ministry at the church and each year I take part in AIDS Walk Atlanta as a part of the church’s walk team. I have since moved away from Stone Mountain so of course, I now drive to church!
Finally, the “community” in which I have the most time invested, is my work community. Open Campus High School and its location are quite unique in the sense that very few of the students, teachers or staff members actually live in the area where the school is located. Our campus—“The Camp”, as it is affectionately called—is our community. Unless we are patronizing some food or retail establishment in the area, there is very little opportunity for us to interact with local businesses and business professionals. Quite frankly, I think that this is an area in which we can improve. Nevertheless, I do spend a great deal of time, at least ten hours a day, at The Camp. In addition to teaching, I participate in a plethora of activities. I am one of two writing coaches and an ESOL tutor. I co-chair the Black History Month Committee and have had some part in Black History Month activities for the past six years. I am the co-coordinator for the Community Service initiative, and along with my colleague, have taken students to volunteer at a local shelter for women and children. Additionally, I mentor several students each year, and I am an AIDS Walk participant. As if those activities were not enough, I still manage to give a pint of blood twice a year at our regular blood drives—whew! For many years, I was convinced that the word “yes” was stamped to my forehead. It seemed that I was either volunteering for most things or was being volunteered or ‘suggested’ for many others. However, all efforts were being done willingly and cheerfully, really, the only way I know how to do any task, great or small.
I know that I am not a superwoman (my body reminds me of this yearly), but there are days I do wonder how I am able to split myself threefold. I believe in balance, and with balance comes responsibility for myself, and for my health, as well as for my civic and professional duties. Through my involvement within these three communities, I firmly believe that I am able to create this balance.
Question # 4: Philosophy of Teaching
Describe your personal beliefs about teaching and include what attributes make you an outstanding teacher.
My personal philosophy on teaching is not something that I think about on a daily basis—if at all. Now that I have taken a moment to do so, however, I find that I can sum it up in two tried and true maxims.
First, I teach with an iron fist in a velvet glove—meaning, that I am very firm in my practices, but I am also fair and fun. I was raised in a school system in which a student had very few choices, you either went to school and you respected the teacher because he/she was the teacher, or you would have to answer to your parents. I realize that today, unlike then, teachers can no longer command respect simply by virtue of being the teacher, and, similarly, students are not taught to automatically respect an authority figure simply because he/she is the authority figure. Now, while that disturbs me to some degree, I realize that this attitudinal change is a sign of the times. Therefore, I have adjusted to this new wave of student behavior and I have reordered my thinking accordingly. I have absolutely no problem with offering all of my students their due respect first, so that I can gain their trust, instead of the other way around. You can not teach some one who does not trust you. So, if I have to let go of some of my old fashioned ideas about who respects whom first, then so be it. .Students need to know that the classroom is a safe place and that I will do my best to see that no harm comes to them there. They are free to express themselves on the subject at hand without being ridiculed by anyone.
Once I have gained a student’s trust, then the work can begin.
Next, I always start the way I desire to finish. As I tell my students “Hit the ground running and finish strong!” If students are able to perform consistently, then a minor setback in the middle will not throw them entirely off track. I try to model this behavior for my students by maintaining the same level of intensity all day/year. If ever I have an “off” day, the first people to know it are my students and sometimes no one else. They almost always are worried because it is not something they see regularly. Probably this exuberance explains why I feel so exhausted at the end of most days/years, but somehow, I don’t think that I would have it any other way. Once before I tried to leave teaching, the sabbatical lasted for all of three years—but here I am again. Teaching is simply w hat I do.
Question # 5: Educational Issues and Trends
Identify and discuss a major public education issue of today. Address this issue in depth; outlining possible causes, effects, and resolutions.
Children ought to have the benefit of an education. An education, in my opinion, is one of our basic human rights, and one that each government ought to provide for the children who live within its borders. No matter the race, nationality, cultural differences, socio-economic background or legal status of their parents or guardians, children ought to have the benefit of an education. Children of illegal immigrants in this country, find themselves caught in the middle of a political mine field, when all that most of them want is the normalcy of attending school with others their own age. More than likely, their being in this country was not a decision they made; it was one made for them by their parent(s) or guardian(s). Should they be held accountable for the legal or illegal activities and/or decisions made by the adults whom they trust, or, since they are already here, should we not afford them an opportunity to step off the mine field for at least six hours a day?
It is not as if the children of illegal immigrants are difficult to identify. Many are enrolled in school without the appropriate paperwork and can easily be earmarked. If no immediate action is being taken to remove these children from the country, then why shouldn’t we teach them? Should we instead close the doors of the schools in their faces? Do we not then risk creating yet another group of children loitering all over the streets and neighborhoods, idle and truant? Shouldn't we, as educators, allow politics to remain outside the classroom and do our jobs--the very thing that many of us find most passionate—teaching children? In my opinion, we should teach all children who find their way into our classrooms because we all know the old adage of what happens to a mind left idle.
The arguments to the contrary are many, varied and powerful. In 1996, the California governor’s office provided an estimate which indicated that the state spent approximately $2 billion a year to school 380, 000 illegal immigrant children; the same would probably be true of Florida and Georgia—two states which also have large immigrant populations. Another study states that America can not afford to educate the world’s children. According to lawmakers, they are not so much opposed to the children of illegal immigrants receiving an education, they just don’t think that the taxpayers should have to foot the bill. Still another argument that it is just not fair to American legal residents when an illegal resident gets a break, is a particular favorite o f mine. Finally, there is the argument that surely allowing illegal immigrants to have the benefit of an education will invite more immigrants to head for the U.S.?
Seriously, is it just me or can most of the arguments against educating a group of blameless individuals, be reduced to money and childish petulance? Arguments such as, it’s not fair? What does fairness have to do with it when many American school age children choose to be truant and, police officers have to be hired in district after district to force them to attend school? More immigrants will want to rush to the U.S.? Where would America be right now if its borders had not been ‘rushed’ by immigrants seeking an opportunity?
During his first campaign, even President George W. Bush commented that he found Proposition 187, which sought to ban illegal, immigrant children from school, to be in poor taste. He stated, “I [feel] like every child ought to be educated regardless of the status of their parents.” I response to that by stating wholeheartedly, “Amen!" Granted, money is a serious matter; after all, it is not an infinite resource. So, what solutions are available to alleviate the idea that taxpayers will become financially bankrupt if the schooling of illegal immigrants is allowed to continue?
The solution that I find most viable is the Dream Act (Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors), a bill that was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators in 2003 and which was re-introduced in Congress in 2005 by another group of twelve bipartisan co-sponsors. The Dream Act proposes that, of the 1.1 million undocumented students currently enrolled in America’s schools (from kindergarten through college), those who graduate from high school and meet a few other criteria, would be eligible for a green card. Students would be required to graduate from high school and then attend two years of college, (for which they could receive financial assistance) or serve two years in the military. What an amazing extrinsic motivation for receiving an education! I, along with many sentient lawmakers, believe that this Act will become a law, and I eagerly await the completion of the process, because as I have previously stated, all children ought to have the benefit of an education.
Question # 6: The Teaching Profession
What can YOU do to strengthen and improve the teaching profession?
Truly this is a tantalizing question—one I will interpret as “If given free reign, what can you do….” Every teacher who has been in the classroom for more that one year has played with this thought a time or two. We have examined it and stored away our suggestions in our "what if?” bags—thinking that they will never again see the light of day. Well, let me open my bag and let in the light.
What can I do to strengthen the teaching profession? The teaching profession has never been a place for ‘lone ranger’s, Teaching has always processed an atmosphere of teamwork—even if all others around us are losing their heads, teachers always seem to stick it out and stick together. Therefore as an individual, there is not much that I can do without the support of my colleagues; however, together, there is much work to be done.
First, teachers need to feel more empowered—more in control of what happens in their classrooms. Teachers need to teach what they enjoy and not be forced to teach subjects for which they have no passion. They should also (at least to some degree) be encouraged to teach tin the best way they know how. Many teachers today, no longer have fun in their classrooms, they have lost their passion for the craft and they have forgotten why they started teaching in the first place. I believe that this is a recent phenomenon because it seemed that a greater percentage of teachers LOVED their work, to the exclusion of all else. When did that change? I believe it changed with the influx of rules, regulations and mandates which n ow dictate our profession. We no longer feel in control of what goes on in our classrooms whether the door is opened or closed. If the teacher is not enjoying what she does then it will be twice as difficult to get the students to enjoy what they do also.
Second, we need to improve the image of the profession. What do all companies do when their images begin to tarnish? They do damage control—either they do it themselves or they hire professionals to do it for them. Teaching is an industry, a company, and our image is tarnished. No one goes to college any more all fired up to become a teacher—most use the degree as a fall back plan, a Plan B, if you will. Teachers need good public relations. No longer are we the well respected professionals that we used to engender and we need to fix that—even if we have to do it ourselves. Maybe we need to begin tooting our own horns. ;Maybe we need to remind people that this profession is the basis for all other professions. No one becomes a lawyer, a doctor, or an administrator, without the help of a teacher! Teaching needs to be made attractive again to college students and even those individuals looking for a second career. We need to sell ourselves because no one is going to do it for us. Maybe one solution would be to hire a public relations team and begin a massive advertising campaign—who knows. More money has been and is continuously being spent on far less noble achievements.
So how can I make the profession better? I alone can do very little, but our renewed philosophy should be to let teachers teach, so we can once again have a reason to feel passionate and proud of what we do for children and for the future, every day.
Question # 7: Assessment and Instruction
How would you utilize standardized testing results to modify your curriculum pacing and instructional approach?
By definition, a standardized test is one which is given to a group of students in a similar setting under similar conditions in order to determine and evaluate them against what is considered to be the norm. Just about every school in America utilizes some form of standardized testing with the expectation that it will improve student performance, across the board accountability and educational skills.
There are many advantages to using standardized tests for the aforementioned reasons, some of which are the following: the ease with which the tests can be administered, the reliability of documentation, and the ability of test results to produce usable and measurable data. Along with those advantages, however, also come a few viable disadvantages, some of which are the following: potentially teaching to the test and thus, narrowing the curriculum, the expectation that higher-order abilities will arise from questions that emphasize lower-order thinking skills, and perhaps the most unfair disadvantage to students occurs when the test does not address the content of the course. My particular dissatisfaction with standardized testing is the timing for these tests. For example, students are usually tested at the culmination of their courses, but by the time data can be gathered to indicate areas of weakness or strength, the student has matriculated to another class, another teacher, or to another school. At that point, the benefits of the standardized test become null and void because no corrective measures can be taken unless the data can expeditiously follow the student from class to class, teacher to teacher and school to school. Unfortunately, this is the time when many students, and their data, fall between the cracks.
Rather than testing students after the content has been taught, perhaps each course could begin with a standardized test to assess which strategies should be used in the instructional approach for each child. It would be difficult to cover every area of weakness or concern indicated by each child’s testing data. Therefore, instead of trying to go farther by covering more content, time would be better spent going deeper into skills that would help a student in any future content area they may encounter. Then, and only then, will a skills-based standardized test be more effective.
In my classroom, I try to focus upon depth rather than upon breadth. This way, by the time my students take a standardized test, any standardized test, they have become well versed in the skills necessary to be successful not only on standardized tests but also in whatever educational arena they may find themselves—in any class, with any teacher, within in any school.
That's all folks! Did you learn anything new about me? There WILL be a test so make sure you have read it all!
But seriously, I hope that these essays illuminated my professional side just a bit more for you!