Monday, May 22, 2017

My Student's Commencement Speech

Meghan Blackwood was a secondary English student in my student teaching seminar this semester at Mercy College's Manhattan campus. Our college finds that mixing secondary and elementary and early childhood teachers in these seminars makes for powerful cross-fertilization of ideas and perspectives. One week Meghan revealed in her weekly reflection that high school students will do work for food. A planned debate on Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in her creative writing class got her students going when she said there'd be donuts as a prize. Here below are the remarks she shared at commencement to an enthusiastic crowd of graduates and their families and friends. I just had to share it too.



Good afternoon graduates, family, friends, and faculty,
My name is Meghan Blackwood also known as “Missuhhhh” to my eleventh-grade English class. Did you notice the stressed ending sound? I have learned it is purposely stressed to show intended attitude or frustration usually in response to my outrageous requests to read and respond to specific pages from classic works of literature such as Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible,” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wall Paper.”
Ever since I was five years old, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. I would line up my stuffed animals in front of my mother’s wardrobe and put on her heels. I would walk back and forth with a book in my hands pretending it was a lesson of great importance. I liked the way the heels sounded against her hardwood floors. It sounded noisy to those downstairs, but to me those sharp sounds were everything, it was the sound of my dreams becoming my future reality.  I knew I wanted to be a teacher and I knew that I loved to read…. At spontaneous times during my “lesson” I would look up from my book into the large mirrors and smile at my reflection. I wish I could have told my five-year-old self that walking around in heels all day can be very painful, and often cause you to walk on your tip toes.
In 2012 I enrolled into the five-year program, where I majored in English and worked towards my master’s in education.  While I learned much in the classroom, it was also outside the classroom that I learned …mostly from my high school students…The first thing I learned is you have to know your students by being aware of their likes and dislikes.  You have to try to select texts that students can relate to and will be motivated to read.  This can help students to engage in in-depth discussions with their peers when responding to a text. 
I have also learned to be prepared at all times. I know this is a cliché, but it has proven to be true time and time again especially as an educator. I learned this lesson within the first few weeks of my student teaching experience. According to Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will.” This is proven true, especially when it comes to using technology within the classroom setting, specifically that beloved Smart Board. One must learn to be flexible and be able to adapt to any situation, because it will happen when the light bulb on the Smart Board may blow, your laptop charger is missing, all of your dry erase markers are dried up, or you may even have on the wrong shoes that day. Regardless of the situation, flexibility is essential.
Another important concept that I have learned is that you are so much more than a teacher to your students. The students need that enthusiastic voice acknowledging their achievements, that high five affirming their success, and that grin reflecting their accomplishments. They need that encouragement, no matter how old they are, because sometimes you have to cheer them through very unlikely situations. When I was student teaching, one of my eleventh-grade students was absent for a few weeks from class. When he finally returned to class, he told me he was in jail. I did not ask him anything else; I just went to the back of the classroom and cried. I then returned to his desk and reminded him of all his wonderful accomplishments within the class.  I told him he was important to this class and that he belonged within the classroom – and not in a jail cell.  His eyes brightened and I could see his spirits lifted.
The most important concept I have learned, and am still learning, is to never lose sight of my initial purpose in becoming an educator. I often reflect on my five- year-old self in those heels reading a book to my “students.”  I knew then that I wanted to share my love of literature with students, to encourage their questioning of texts, to inspire their challenging of ideas and to motivate them to pass on their love of literature to others. Sometimes it is easy to become discouraged when embarking on your journey but just remember your five-year-old self.  Remember that passion, that longing…. and that desire to make a difference.
To my fellow teachers in the audience – be the teacher you often wish you had.  To my classmates setting out on other journeys…best of luck to you.

And to all of us – Congratulations class of 2017! Thank you! 

Monday, April 24, 2017

When Anxiety Rules: Report from the edTPA front lines

I am pleased to host one of my current student teachers from the Manhattan campus of Mercy College, Melina Milanovic. She just passed the EdTPA with flying colors, but she has some important thoughts to share. Pass this along, it should go viral.


EDTPA! Where should I begin? How about the handbook? The handbook is a great place to begin because the handbook is where the anxiety starts. A teacher candidate might have heard about the edTPA in passing, I know I have. However, the reality of what is being asked of a teacher candidate only becomes real once the handbook is read, and though you feel like student teaching is the completion of this long journey, it is only the beginning. The first time I read the handbook I remember feeling overwhelmed. I thought how would I be able to complete this much work in a seven-week placement? Will my cooperating teachers understand? How will I get to know these kids in a short amount of time in order to plan, teach, and assess during this learning segment? To be honest, if you are dedicated enough it is possible. It is possible to finish the edTPA in about two months. I would say on average I spent three hours a day on edTPA for 60 days. That is only the amount of time I spent working on the edTPA, but not the amount of time I spent thinking about the edTPA. I even had people around me such as co-workers, and family members that are not teachers, being informed about edTPA because of my constant talking about it. They kept asking, "Why do you want to be a teacher again?" It is important to not let edTPA take that away from you, the reason why you are becoming a teacher! Always keep the end goal in mind. 
Spending this much time on edTPA comes with sacrifices. First, you can forget about taking your time to plan lessons that you will teach outside of edTPA in your first placement. It is nearly impossible to plan, teach, and assess lessons outside of edTPA. Of course it needs to be done because your cooperating teacher and your college program expect you to take the role of the teacher. However, you will definitely not be as prepared as you could have been because of the edTPA. Also, you must be quick to learn about your students, the community of the school, and the culture of the school. Luckily, I am student teaching in my own neighborhood, and I know the diversity and culture of my students. However, I can imagine the difficulty of trying to figure this out without any prior knowledge. Also, you must take full control of the classroom and not treat yourself as a guest. Thus, there is really no time to transition into the role of a lead teacher; you need to act quickly in order to become the lead teacher!  
Next, you can forget about focusing on your student teaching experience as a whole. I am currently in my second placement and I am burned out. I am not even excited to be here, which is saddening because this is the experience I have looked forward to since the start of my first education class. The edTPA literally drains your energy. That is the best way to describe it! By the time you reach the second placement you are mentally done. Many people might still even be working on edTPA during their second placement. Fortunately, I am not worrying about it during this placement, and can focus on the students I am teaching. 
I mentioned reading the handbook, but I did not mention reading it over twenty times?! Is that necessary? Well, for me it was. As a result, I can now sit down and discuss any page of the handbook with anyone that would ask me a question about it. I can tell you about the elementary edTPA as well as I can spell my last name. How does this benefit me as a teacher? In short, it doesn't. The edTPA is only a repetition of what I have learned in college, but with more rigorous requirements, different fancy language, and of course an expensive fee of $300.00 (yes, American). 
In the end I earned a 61 out of 90 points on my portfolio. The portfolio I did my very best on, and worked on without any help from anyone. When I say I did my best I am not exaggerating. I spent long days, long nights, weekends, free time, and time that I did not even know I had to spare on this portfolio. I did the maximum for this portfolio. If nine pages were required, I wrote nine. If six were required, I wrote six. Thus, the commentary total across my four sections came out to about 32 single spaced pages, excluding my 12-page lesson plans, my context for learning forms, my student work, my videos, my instructional materials, and my assessments. So, I guess I am a teacher that is classified as a "61" even though I worked as a teacher that left no room for error. Thanks Pearson for the mastery score! I can only imagine how one can reach a 90 out of 90, if I poured everything I had to receive this 61. Do they take into consideration that we are practicing to teach? They sure do not grade like they have taken this into consideration. 
Student teaching is not figuring out the kind of teacher you want to be, it is about figuring out the kind of teacher edTPA wants you to be. Remember everyone, plan and plan until you cannot plan anymore. Then teach under edTPA's exact requirements until you cannot teach anymore.  Then assess and continue to assess until you cannot assess anymore!

Try to use your built-in teacher compass and not lose sight of who you want to be as a teacher. Do not let edTPA discourage you, instead embrace and learn from it. I decided not to do that, and I spent the semester frustrated. If I could go back, I would try to be more optimistic, which is easier said than done, because this experience almost leaves no room for optimism. You are like a robot that is programmed to only one way of teaching, the edTPA way. I would suggest using any resources that are available to you in order to help you during this process, and take it seriously! Be as explicit as that handbook tells you to be because it seems like that is what they are looking for. Also, remember that teachers are creative. There is always room for creativity, which can be beneficial for both your students and you. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ding Dong! The ALST at LAST is Dead!


That’s right, be happy/sad that you have likely wasted more money on a certification test that made you feel frustration, rage, and righteous indignation. At least the Regents have been listening to the chorus of protests from all corners of the state, and it seems there is likely to be some more wiggle room coming our way on the edTPA

Meanwhile, lost in all the crazy news coming from Washington DC, is the move by Congress to undo much of the ESSA (see New York Times story here). The teacher preparation regulations are gone, and AACTE seems pretty happy about that. Once the new law is signed by you-know-who, it’s likely to create confusion at the state level because, in Chris Minnich’s words quoted in the Times, “the states are planning and doing stuff.” Disruption, chaos, all against a backdrop of the depressing testing season, declining enrollments in teacher preparation programs, rising class sizes, you name it.


But I have to leave you on a happy note. Listen to this magnificent rendition  of You Raise Me Up with the amazing PS22 Chorus and Celtic Woman and have a happy Saint Patrick’s Day.