Category Archives: Professional Development

Nine Week Reflection

Nine weeks have passed since the beginning of this year. If you have been around since the beginning, you might recall that I am using Jim Burke’s The Teacher’s Daybook for planning, organization, and reflection this year. After nine weekly plan pages, Burke included two purple reflection pages. This is what I wrote on the Professional Reflections page.

Good teachers bring us to life. Literally. It’s as if they take us by the hand when we are unsure of just what life is, and they lead us to the fullness and beauty of what it means to be alive. I think the Latin educare means to bring out into the light. ~ Alice Walker

I read Alice Walker’s quote for inspiration. I guess I never thought about where the word “educate” originated. If true, this etymology is interesting.

I don’t feel good about how I’ve done with my goal of organization. I’ve not used this planner to greatest effect over the last six weeks especially. I started out so well! Then, I gradually stopped using the daily planner. I had lessons planned each day, but I didn’t pause to reflect over them as I should have [which the daily planner template in the Daybook allows for]. I’m not sure whether my students felt the lack, but I did.

I also allowed myself to get ridiculously far behind in grading. The paper jungle! Will I ever learn to stay on top of it?

I feel good about my lessons and what my students have been learning. I feel overwhelmed by our disjointed October calendar [Jewish holidays off left us with nine days of instruction over four weeks]. I feel relieved NHS inductions are over [I am advisor of National Honor Society].

I am glad I’ve figured out a way to assess my students in light of the standards of my school.

What I’ve managed to “bring out into the light” is that I need to start — tomorrow — with the daily reflection again. I also need to stay on top of grading. Ironically, I think the regular schedule, i.e. lack of holidays, will help me in that regard, because I get nothing done at home.

Ah educator — educate thyself.

Grad School

I have a genuine dilemma on my hands — one I’ve been wrestling with for a few years, actually. What am I going to do about grad school? I have been teaching for seven years with a bachelor’s. Beginning a master’s within three years was sort of a condition of my being hired. I don’t have the first clue what I want to actually study in grad school. Do I want to get a degree in Education? I’m already certified, so I wouldn’t have to go that route. English? If so, what area? I don’t even know my options. I am limited in that I will need to go nights (but not Wednesdays, because my husband is lead tenor in church choir), weekends, or summers only. I will not leave my teaching position to further my education, even though it would be cool if my school options were a bit more wide. I need to look at schools in the Atlanta area. I graduated from UGA, but I don’t think I want to commute that far to school. I may not even be able to do it.

Surfing college websites hasn’t helped me much. I need to find a good, reputable school that has an online master’s program so I am not limited to what’s in my area. Any ideas?

Teacher Education

Reforming teacher education or preparation programs is critical to the future success of education. I have heard inducting new teachers into the profession compared to dropping them into the gladiator arena and stepping back to watch until the carnage is over. Those that survive the first several years will probably make it as educators. One-third of teachers quit within the first three years of teaching, and almost half quit within five years. I almost quit after my fourth year, but I came back. I don’t think I would have if I had not had excellent teacher preparation. There was something inside me that was different as a result of my teacher education program, and it saved me from becoming a statistic.

I wonder if teachers who happen by this site could comment and tell me how they were prepared for teaching and whether they would consider themselves well prepared (I started to write “adequately prepared,” but then I thought to myself that “adequate” isn’t enough).

I feel extremely fortunate to have gone through what I have come to believe was an excellent, innovative teacher education program at the University of Georgia called UGA-NETS, the University of Georgia Network of English Teachers and Students (the website has been under construction for a very long time, which is something that makes me nervous). This teacher education program was pioneered by Dr. Sally Hudson-Ross and Dr. Peg Graham.

UGA-NETS is a year-long teacher education program for BSEd and MEd candidates seeking certification in secondary school English. Teacher candidates (TC’s) in the program are paired with mentor teachers (MT’s) in UGA’s surrounding counties’ public schools. I student taught at Winder-Barrow High School. I did not actually participate in pre-planning, because I was not yet enrolled in the program. Perhaps one of the most serendipitous moments of my life, a TC dropped out of the program, already having decided teaching was not for him, and a vacancy opened up just as I moved to Georgia and applied to continue my interrupted education. Sally called me the day before the quarter was set to start to tell me about this vacancy. I didn’t know what to think — start now? But… was I ready? She said it was now or next September, because I couldn’t enroll in the program mid-year. So I took a deep breath and jumped in the pool.

It was an incredible experience. I kept a fantastic dialogue journal with my MT and Sally about experiences and observations I had in the classroom. I observed long before I began teaching in the classroom, which is something that TC’s don’t really get to do enough. We wrote weekly “think pieces” about issues that concerned us and used those think pieces to generate discussion. We conducted research, participated in collaborative inquiry, and developed true camaraderie. I really felt much more prepared for my teaching experiences, and I look back on my preparation with fondness — and not a trace of resentment.

As I entered the program, Sally and Peg were in the final stages of writing a book about UGA-NETS: Teacher/Mentor: A Dialogue for Collaborative Learning (also available from NCTE). My first year of teaching, I participated in a discussion forum: ETEACH-L: Dean’s Forum Discussion for High-School and College Teachers of English (you can still read my contributions under my former name, Dana Cooke — it has been entertaining to review my thoughts as a first-year teacher seven years later).

I think perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I learned in my teacher education program was the importance of participating (through conferences, professional development, professional organizations, and reading) in my profession. I am always amazed at the number of teachers who do not participate in their profession. Conferences, to me, are energizing. I love to discuss ideas with my peers. Another critical lesson I learned at UGA-NETS was the value of honest reflection. Constant evaluation of my practices has been critical in my improvement as a teacher. Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Sally retired in June 2004, and Peg went on sabbatical. To mark the occasion, UGA-NETS had a gathering of participants — MT’s, TC’s, and professors. It was a celebration of the work Peg and Sally have done in English Education. I will never forget one of the participants fighting tears as he expressed fears that the program might not continue, now that Sally and Peg were not going to be able to run it. “And that can’t happen, because it just has to continue,” he said.

I would love to hear from any past or current participants of the program who want to share their thoughts.

Of course, preparation is key, but another critical element is implementing a mentoring program in schools for new teachers. I cannot say I ever had a really solid mentoring experience in school, despite participating at one school where I taught in a mentoring program that looked good on paper, but didn’t really accomplish its goals.

You can read more about UGA-NETS at these sites:

The Teacher’s Daybook

While perusing the most recent issue of English Journal, I saw an ad for The Teacher’s Daybook (purchase from Amazon). I went to the publisher’s website only to discover that it was not for sale. As soon as it became available, I ordered it. The year has not yet started, so I’ll have to update my relative happiness with it periodically on this blog; however, so far, I am extremely happy with it.One of its strongest features is its insistence, if used as the author intended, to make the user more reflective about his/her teaching. I am fairly reflective already, but I realized this will really make me think about my lessons and my efficacy as a teacher. Another strong feature is it aids the user in maintaining balance between all the roles in his/her life.

Nice bonuses include reproducible handouts, which are also available on the website that accompanies the daybook. It is also spiral bound, so it lies flat, and it has three holes punched in it so that it may be kept in a notebook. There is much more space for weekly plans than in any school or district-purchased planning books I have owned. It is simply packed with tips for organization.

Perhaps the strongest recommendation I can give it is that the daybook’s author, Jim Burke, uses it himself. He has a great website with lots of handouts; his collection of handouts on note-taking techniques is especially valuable.