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.