“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
Sitting in a session about the effect of teacher education on teacher attrition and retention, I heard this quote from John Dewey, and it struck me deeply. I have been sadly lacking in this reflection since I completed my masters this past August. Of course, I knew this would happen. Many of my reflections in this blog centered around my masters coursework; in fact, the original creation of this blog was an assignment. However, having earned my degree certainly does not mean I am done learning or done reflecting.
I am, of course, proud of having completed my degree and of my several subsequent accomplishments. I’ve started drafts of posts about those accomplishments, but without a deadline or a requirement, I haven’t completed them. Even this post is coming a solid month after I attended the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention and heard this quote.
To be completely honest, despite all I’ve accomplished in the past year, I’ve been really struggling these past few weeks. I think most teachers struggle in December as winter break looms closer and closer and our precious kiddos are jumping out of their skins waiting for freedom. From the sugar highs at Halloween to Thanksgiving break to Christmas break, this time of year is always such a difficult time that one of my favorite educational bloggers Love, Teach has come up with her own term for it: DEVOLSON – The Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October and November.
However, it’s felt different to me this year. My struggles are not just from bouncy students. Perhaps having completed my M.Ed has left me in a state of existential crisis where I’m both loving what I am doing this year and longing to move into a position that more directly uses my degree and allows me to work more with helping other teachers.
This week is the last week before the end of the first semester of the 2018-2019 school year. This year has been radically different from my previous years teaching and yet at the same time frustratingly similar. In an attempt to learn from my experiences in the same way I’ve done before, the rest of this post will be a reflection of the semester.
Over the summer, I was given the opportunity and responsibility of English Department Chair, putting me in charge of keeping the department well-informed and spending my principal’s budget, which I’m sure she will agree I have done admirably (at least the budget spending part). Having this responsibility has been an interesting challenge this year. It’s mostly been difficult when I don’t agree with those with whom I work, at all levels, but let’s be real – that’s not new. As teachers, as people, we have disagreements. We are all attempting to look confident as we balance the tightrope that is trying to do what is best for students at the same time as doing what is best for testing, and we all have different ideas and strategies for accomplishing that tightrope walk. This is a struggle I have documented on this page many times over. I think I’m feeling even less balanced than usual as I not have not only my own students on my shoulders, but a dozen other English teachers and their 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students as well.
I have managed to accomplish a few things as department chair though. I already mentioned spending my principal’s budget: I fought tooth and nail, working directly with representatives from both Pear Deck and vocabulary.com, to make these tools fully available to our entire campus, not even just the English department. I’ve posted before about the amazing wonders of Pear Deck (and it’s gotten even better since then!), and there will be a post coming (I promise!) about the amazing gamified vocabulary instruction offered by vocab.com. Until then, I recommend checking it out, even to improve your own vocabulary knowledge.
To help teachers utilize and implement these tools, I’ve started doing Technology Tutorials for Teachers on Tuesday mornings before school. I’ve created various how-to sheets and simplified instructions in an attempt to make integrating technology easy for even teachers who don’t use technology on a regular basis. Technology in the classroom can be scary, but I try to make it accessible to all teachers in all content areas as much as I can. I absolutely love helping other teachers explore new possibilities in their classrooms as much as I love exploring new possibilities in my own classroom.
Which actually leads me right to the second major change this semester. In addition to my added responsibilities in my day job, I’ve picked up a second gig. Before my degree was even in the mail, I was offered the incredibly exciting opportunity to adjunct teach an educational technology class for undergraduate students seeking middle grades teaching certification. I originally thought that this would be my first semester without UH classes, but instead I got to simply switch sides, shifting from learner to instructor.
Teaching this class has been an absolute dream. As much as I’ve discovered my love for teaching middle school, I now know that I adore teaching adult learners. Being a hybrid online and face-to-face class, I’ve been able to practice a lot of the distance-learning skills I learned in my masters program as well as model instructional technology in person in a computer lab on campus.
I want to write a more in-depth reflection of my experiences teaching that class and what I’ve learned for the second semester when I get to teach it again, but I think that seems like a good project for sitting on the couch during Christmas break.
It seems odd, and I’m not sure if this post will really help anyone else reading it, but I actually feel quite a bit better having written it. If nothing else, I hope that anyone who reads this, educator or not, will be reminded of the importance of reflection… which brings me back to that original NCTE session where I first began drafting this a month ago. The session participants (one of whom actually teaches the intro to teaching class paired with my edtech class) spoke about the value of reflection in teacher education courses. “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” I think it’s all too easy to forget that simply having gone through something isn’t enough to learn from it. We have to take the time to sit down and sift through the experiences to find the lesson.
Hey, that sounds like a good presentation topic for next year’s NCTE Spirited Inquiry theme…