Editor’s Note: The questions throughout this post are from the Rising Educators in Jennifer Wolfe’s course. We invite you to click on the questions to respond to them directly.
As a 20-year veteran high school social studies teacher, I don’t get nervous anymore when the first day of school draws near — I get excited. I wonder who my students are, what they’ll talk about, how they’ll take to the content, what challenges and celebrations we’ll have this year, and of course, if they’ll like and respect me.
I only just realized that I’m more excited in September these days than nervous, when I was hired to teach my first graduate-level education class, Foundations in Education 602, this past summer. I felt the butterflies in my stomach almost immediately after I was asked to send in copies of my degrees and was assigned a university faculty email address. Amazing, me, an adjunct professor. Awesome! Now what in the hell was I going to teach them? The university gave me some basic guidelines, but the course was mine to create. I could design a foundations course of my own.
Now that made me pretty nervous. What did I want them to know? What did I want them to be able to do at the end of the course? Luckily, Educators Rising, an organization that aims to identify and cultivate effective teachers beginning with high school students, and following them through college and university to their first jobs, had just developed their Educators Rising Standards. These standards lay out what “high school students exploring teaching need to know and be able to do to take their first steps on the path to accomplished teaching. The standards represent a new, shared vision from the field; the teaching profession is mapping the front end of a coherent continuum, from the initial exploratory phase to entry into the profession to becoming an accomplished practitioner” (from Educators Rising, What We Offer).
The seven standards are:
- Standard I: Understanding the Profession
- Standard II: Learning About Students
- Standard III: Building Content Knowledge
- Standard IV: Engaging in Responsive Planning
- Standard V: Implementing Instruction
- Standard VI: Using Assessment and Data
- Standard VII: Engaging in Reflective Practice
I had a starting point. These standards are rooted in the Accomplished Teaching Body of Knowledge, and were scaffolded for beginning educators, making them accessible and understandable, and most importantly, achievable by pre-service teachers. They helped me to think about why I wanted to teach the course, and why it mattered that the course was taught to these students, at this time, in this setting. As I planned the 37½ hours of content, I started thinking about my own beginnings as a teacher. I decided it was important that at the end of the course, my students should have a deep understanding of three things: their “why,” or the reason they chose teaching as a profession, what effective teaching looked like, and finally, that a teacher’s job is based on getting to know their students, so the courses they design and the lessons they plan are responsive to the students in the room. These pre-service teachers needed to know what questions they should be asking themselves about their future students, like, What do they need and in what order do they need it? and Where should I begin? These are some of the most powerful questions effective educators should be regularly asking themselves.
On the 1st day of class, I asked my students to create a name tent, and on the inside of the tent to write the answers to the following questions: What is your why? Why do you want to teach? What is one effective take away from high school that you would repeat in your own classroom? What would you change? Why? I then asked them to sum up their educational philosophy in seven words. I received many answers around wanting to make a difference, getting kids to love and find joy in math, creating a safe space for kids to learn and find acceptance, and wanting to help kids to grow socially, personally, and academically. Their responses were a pleasure to read.
I asked them to revisit their whys and their educational philosophies two more times in that course. What I received were responses that showed growth and understanding around the need to create safe spaces for kids to try on different identities, the importance of providing a place where acceptance and tolerance were learned, and creating an environment in the school and the classroom where equity and access were not denied, but insisted upon. I knew I had a crop of rising educators who had a deep understanding of what it means to be an effective practitioner. To get them to interact with the Educators Rising Standards and the Accomplished Teaching Body of Knowledge, I embedded each day in one of the Five Core Propositions from NBPTS, and their at-home reading and online discussions in the Educators Rising Standards. Now, the question in my mind was, did I teach them anything? Are they thinking about teaching and their future students in a way that’s sure to help them develop into effective practitioners?
To find this out, I designed a culminating project with help from Teaching Channel that asked my students to write an 800-word blog. Tch graciously agreed to host their best questions and thoughts, so that veteran teachers could respond to their queries. The focus of their blog was to describe their philosophy of education through the lens of an Educator’s Rising Standard. The standard they chose should be that which best exemplifies the crux of their educational philosophy. Reflecting on their standard and educational philosophy, they must create a puzzle or problem of practice for a pre-service teacher that Teaching Channel’s audience might be willing to help them solve.
In the end, although I was nervous teaching my first graduate class, I learned that students of any age and at any stage require the same skills in a teacher — a professional who can create a safe space for learning and risk taking, and who is willing to build a classroom that’s responsive to the needs of the students. I think after reading their blogs and answering their thoughtful questions, it will be clear that they’re on their way to understanding these principles, and more importantly, on their way to becoming effective practitioners.