Summer Reflection Paper This summer, not only was I introduced to fresh new ideas that I can bring back to my classroom and school environment, but most importantly, I learned to have the confidence in myself to carry out this new learning. I learned to take risks and have high expectations for our students, especially those who society and stereotypes deem as unteachable. I know that taking informed, thoughtful, decisions in education that go against the status quo is something strong teachers do, but I have never felt encouraged by my administration to do so. Usually, when I do take risks, I feel that I am being a rebel who is possibly hindering any positive relationship our administration may have with its network chief. You see, when working under CPS, we get suggestions from our networks on anything from the number of unit plans to turn in during the year to suggestions on the teaching strategies we should be using with our students. To me, sometimes this feels like a mandated checklist and not a genuine suggestion on how to make teaching relevant to the lives of our students. Sometimes, being a professional does not suffice. I feel that my voice is seldom heard and that our expertise is devalued by these imposed expectations. Knowing that some suggestions or mandates are not helpful or relevant to the students, causes a huge moral dilemma as a teacher. Do I oblige or do I question my administration when I feel they are not being supportive to my teaching capability? There is very little room for teachers to really learn about their students and the environment in which they live when we are continually having to meet certain standards. Finding the balance between being innovative and continuing the teaching of content all while being under the microscope of our network because we are no longer a level one school is not easy. According to Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe, & Terry (2013), in What Knowledge is of Most Worth: Teacher Knowledge for 21st Century Learning, As a result of the increased opportunity for interaction across countries and around the world, teachers need to know how to foster cultural competence, emotional awareness, and leadership skills to facilitate not just interactions, but meaningful interactions and relationships. Interestingly, this specific type of knowledge is largely absent of the “standards-based” movements in education and not always seen as worthy of prolonged instructional time and effort. I have never before felt the professional and expert support that I felt with MSUrban STEM. It matters. I feel like I have been given the power to use my expertise as an educator to teach the way I know teaching works and not the way policy makers with no education background tell us it works. For years, I have taught math by concentrating on conceptual understanding. I try not to stress about the use of high stakes standardized tests. While I have noticed that some teachers use a checklist to make sure that they cover all of the skills presented in the textbook, I like to dive deep into a math concept and connect it to some type of societal issue happening in their world. Checklists may also work here too, but in a different sense. At times, I have felt as if I was not rigorous enough or that I was falling behind the other teachers. The students would confirm that I was teaching in a meaningful manner. One student said to me, “Ms. Ibarra, last night I went home and talked to my parents about our math lesson because it is important and it means something in our lives.” The lesson was based on the hopefully expected increase of the minimum wage. During this time, increasing the minimum wage was extensively being covered in the media. I know that his parents were earning minimum wage. When he saw, during the math lesson, how difficult it was for his parents to make ends meet based on their income, something clicked and he began to see the importance in math. Later in the school year, this boy, who originally dreaded math, told me that he was going to name his first daughter Scalene. While standardized test results also confirmed his learning, to me, those test scores came second to my student embracing math and wanting to name his first daughter after a triangle. In the chapter, Misconceptions as Barriers to Understanding Science, the Committee on Undergraduate Science Education (1997), gives examples of how students are able to use algorithms to solve numerical problems but unfortunately fail to understand the underlying scientific concept. I constantly think about my students who do not learn in a traditional manner and try to find ways to reach them. I try to teach to the multiple intelligences as much as possible and have been a follower of Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences for some time. Diving into this program gave me many of the tools I need to continue to teach to the multiple intelligence in a way that addresses the conceptual understanding of what they are learning. Days before the course began, I was filled with anticipation but also to some extent, dread about what the program would be like. I was afraid that there would be too much moving around, too much group work. Being someone who I consider to be an introvert, I have a hard time in the type of workshops where there is a lot of movement and not enough time for reflection. I gain a lot from activities where I have time to reflect. I consider my students who love to work alone and are easily over stimulated by working with too many students. MSUrban STEM gave me the tools needed to address these types of students too, something that I was not expecting. Something particularly important that I noticed with MSUrban STEM is that the program cares extensively about diversity. As a teacher of color, one of the first things I notice when starting a program is how culturally diverse the teachers are. It is apparent that this is also important to the program. In the reading, “Why Aren’t Low Income Students Succeeding in School? Lack of Role Models” from the Huffington Post, it states that less than two percent of classroom teachers are Black men. In the book, Stuck in the Shallow End, it states, “If we think about school environments as an illustrated book in which students look to see themselves, we have to ask, what story is being told, and who is included in the illustrations?” (Margolis, p. 67). The fact that this is being addressed in the program is of significance importance. While many programs choose to ignore the demographics of teacher representation, I feel that MSUrban STEM has taken an exemplary role in bringing attention to it. I especially love how the program takes risks. Makers Space reminded me of my student who does not learn in the traditional way. This student loves building. He loves motors. He is also involved with a gang and was not attending school on a regular basis. I made a station for him in the classroom and he would work on building toy cars with motors. With the support of other colleagues and the counselor, his attendance began to improve and now he even asks to stay in for recess to work on his projects. He has been doing this since last year, first as a seventh grader and now as an eighth grader. Allowing him to explore motors has led him to become a participant in the school science fair. His project will involve electricity and types of motors. Another important aspect I took from the program is the importance of high expectations. We were presented with difficult but doable tasks and there was no doubting our ability to complete them. This was an important lesson in how we treat our own students. If we set high, attainable, expectations, they will strive to achieve them. In the article, “Culturally Responsive Differentiated Instructional Strategies”, the traits of a quality teacher are presented as such: The teacher believes all students can learn, has the desire and capacity to differentiate curriculum and instruction, understands diversity and thinks about students developmentally, is a risk taker, is open to change and well-versed in best practices, is comfortable challenging the status quo, knows what doesn’t work, is able to withstand staff dissension that may arise. This is the type of educator I want to be for my students. I truly feel that MSUrban STEM has given me so many resources to achieve this. Besides the immensity of teaching strategies, they have given me confidence needed to teach in these times. On a recent paper that one of my students wrote about her 20 Percent Time project, she stated that she picked learning about coding because she knows that this is something she is never going to learn in school, so she wanted to teach herself. This comment not only further opened my eyes to the fact that most students want to be challenged, but it also gave me the motivation to provide them with the challenges they deserve.
Bibliography Kereluik, K., Mishra, P., Fahnoe, C., Terry, L. (2013). What Knowledge is of most worth: Teacher knowledge for 21st Century Learning. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, (29) 4, 127 – 140. Margolis, Jane. Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Print. Carter, Carol J. "Why Aren't Low-Income Students Succeeding in School?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. Committee on Undergraduate Science Education (1997). Misconceptions as barriers to understanding science. National Academies Press. "Instructional Strategies and Activities for the Differentiated Writing Classroom." Differentiated Instructional Strategies: For Writing in the Content Areas (n.d.): 77-134. Web.