First Week of Summer Cohort

The first week of classes was so busy I didn’t have much time to reflect on everything, or keep up with all of the reading, in order to write a decent post. But I have to post something so that this doesn’t fall into oblivion. Where to start? Well, thinking about my previous post with all of those questions, they are not really the focus at all of this program or particularly relevant. Instead, a new realm of questioning and thinking has been ushered in with a windfall of texts and theories and practical applications and redundancies.

On Mondays and Wednesdays we have a course on literacy in the content areas and a course on middle schools in a diverse society. In the first, we are so far reading about different activities and techniques for leading meaningful reading sessions with students so that they become better readers. A big focus is on how little students are equipped to understand just because of their young age and limited life experiences. So we as teachers have to facilitate the growth to become better readers, instead of just skimmers of text. For the second half of each class we each meet with a group of 3 to 5 students from Kind Middle School and conduct some sort of reading workshop. I think that I will go into greater depth about my experiences in the workshops in a separate post (there is so much to tell you about!), but I will say that it is both exciting and terrifying to have this responsibility twice a week to take charge of a group. I think that at the end of the term this class will have given me the beginnings of hands-on experience in how to come up with and implement activities with students, while successfully engaging, directing, and interacting with them.

The next class is heavy on the reading. For this week we had over 200 pages from various books just for this class. I didn’t finish it all, though I busted my ass trying, but I do know already that I will return to these books and keep them on my shelf. So far they go into great depth about the specialized role of middle schools and how they are structured to address the unique needs of adolescents. I never realized how much thought was put into breaking with the junior high school model (that basically mimics high school for students who are not emotionally or developmentally ready for that structure) and creating an environment that allows this age group to explore all the different factors that create a human being. Students at this age are at the beginnings of autonomy and individuality and so middle schools serve a major function in giving them a safe place to nurture everything that comes with that. As middle school teachers, we have to know what our students are going through in all aspects of their lives and be prepared to cater to their needs instead of expecting them to conform to rigid standards and slave to academics. I will share more about my ideas that I take from this class as they ruminate and develop into coherent philosophies and beliefs.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays we are focused specifically on math. First we have a course that covers the content of middle school mathematics. Certainly, we need to be proficient in the different topics that are covered as part of the curriculum. It is a fun way to start the day because we work as groups to solve math problems. And we usually have to get in front of the class and share something about ourselves, which is great for me because I am still in need of learning how to speak in front of groups, even though just about every single course in my English major involved a presentation. I still get so nervous, even after thinking of all these awesome things I want to say and share with everybody. It’s so frustrating! But I look forward to getting to practice and feel more comfortable and confident in my own skin. Another bonus is the reading is super light and consists so far of reading young adult novels about mathematics. I love having these materials to come back to later and bring into the classroom.

Finally, we have a class on pedagogy—how to teach mathematics. There is one book for the class and I think it was very well chosen because it presents the psychological reasoning behind the methods as well as concrete examples of how to incorporate them into the classroom activities. We initially covered our philosophies of mathematics and why we want to teach math. Maybe I will share that with you once I’ve honed mine toward the end of the semester, but my perspective toward this class is more of a “wait and see.” I know that I will get a lot, but it’s too early to really speculate on where it’s going and what I think. For now, though, I do know that I am completely overwhelmed by the dual demands of this content-saturated semester and my teething toddler, but I am still so excited about teaching middle school. There is so much information being presented that I can’t keep up with all of it, but I still feel hungry for more and look forward to the evenings after Rosalie is in bed when I can sit down with my books and sift through the text. If I didn’t love it at this point, I am certain I wouldn’t love doing it once I actually start teaching. Not since loading up on literature classes with my favorite professors have I felt so inspired by the possibilities of a field of study.

Published in: on June 13, 2011 at 4:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Questions that need some answering

Summer classes don’t start for a few more weeks, so I’ve had some extra idle time to think and come up with questions about what teaching will be like. I wonder if some of us who are going into this are like innocent, starry-eyed children, believing in ideals and goodness and changing the world through education. (I recently wrote an essay for a scholarship competition that had that perspective, I admit.) For myself, I’ll tell you I think I’ve always been that way—idealistic about humanity and life’s possibilities—but I’ve balanced it often with heavy doses of cynicism and pessimism about the ubiquitous dismal state of things that seems to pervade societal politics and operations. I digress.

I bring it up because I think that those of us who are excited about having a positive impact in our communities and on our nation’s youth are somewhere in our minds expecting to be rudely awakened by the less-than-ideal reality that faces all teachers. Teacher burnout was a topic brought up in the few interviews I’ve had so far for mentorship positions (which I don’t think I got, sadly). So maybe we, or I at least, need a bit of knowledge about what to expect when we actually start teaching. Maybe this will help soften the blow when we step into the classroom for the first day on our own and the stars fall out of our eyes.

When I get any answers to these questions, I’ll post them. Also, I’m always coming up with questions, so this list will grow with time and extended periods of idleness.

  • How much can I really expect to make teaching in Georgia with a Master’s? (It’s also all about the money.)
  • Is it worth it financially to get special ed, gifted, and/or ESOL endorsements?
  • What will my hours be on a typical day? Is it realistic to expect to leave soon after the end of the school day?
  • How secure will my position be when and if I attain one?
  • Is it ridiculous to think I could make it long term in the Atlanta Public Schools system?
  • Will I be able to coordinate and work with other teachers on such things as coteaching or coplanning?
  • How secure is the mandatory teacher’s retirement plan and pension? Really.
  • Is it at all reasonable to think that I could get a job teaching high school one day without returning to school for another degree?
  • Is this work going to be able to support me and my daughter like I’m hoping?
  • What possibilities are there for me to earn additional income (as a teacher, not a waiter) during summers?
  • Am I delusional in hoping I’ll be able to save, support, and do a little traveling every year (hello, Paris) on this salary?
  • How good and how expensive are the benefits? Dental? Acupuncture?
Published in: on May 10, 2011 at 11:35 am  Comments (4)  
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Spring 2011: A recap of my first graduate semester

Last week I wrapped up my first semester in the MAT program at GSU. In all, it was a successful term during which I learned more about the program and what to expect throughout my time as a graduate student here. Something unique for students seeking this degree is that we’re admitted as part of a cohort and will work through the core classes as a unit. The cohorts officially begin in the summer, comprising Spring and Summer applicants/admissions, so those of us who started in Spring had an extra semester to get some requisites out of the way.

I mentioned in my first post that I was in part interested in teaching math and science because I was excited about the opportunity to study higher level mathematics and science content. I stressed a bit over GRE scores because I was concerned the admissions committee would think I couldn’t possibly be able to teach the subjects with an English background or able to keep up in the classes because I didn’t have a relevant undergraduate degree. My fears were unfounded and after this term I suspect that they were greatly so. It seems that those pursuing a teaching degree, at least up to the middle school level, are not expected to demonstrate interest or comprehension in upper level subject matter. My first disappointment I’ll share here was in the lack of challenging content classes the program will offer me. The main goal, I see now, is to make sure teachers are proficient up to the level of the middle school subjects, at the grade level, but not really beyond that point. And the program is only four semesters long, so there isn’t much time to work in any extra classes that would be more challenging.

I don’t think it’s a huge deal or something that would have completely deterred me from the program had I been privy to it in advance, but I do wish I was able to fulfill my intrinsic desire to achieve a higher level proficiency. And I think that this program will probably not be something that will enable me to pursue teaching mathematics or science in a high school one day, should I want to do so. The reason I say this is because a degree that would cover secondary teaching requires an undergraduate degree in the field and more extensive upper-level coursework, both of which are absent here for me at least. But I will say I can appreciate the necessity of ensuring that each potential teacher will have mastered these different content levels so they are prepared to teach the subjects in schools. The program certainly achieves that and so anyone who is worried they’ll be lost in a master’s program without a strong history in math should not be deterred or discouraged; take the master’s-level prerequisites and you’ll get the foundation you need. Truly, my interests are only secondary and altogether irrelevant to the end-goal of teaching and earning a living. They were just a trifling interest I had hoped would be fulfilled while I am a student.

My experience in the science class was less “dramatic,” you might say. I took the Earth science portion for middle school teachers. While in practice it was a little disorganized, bouncing back between the two professors teaching it, it was ultimately full of content and provided a broad introduction to the field. We have to show that we’ve taken courses in Life, Physical, and Earth sciences to become certified. I think this half of the content areas have more depth than the math, but that may just be a matter of the difference in the subjects. Middle school level math is relatively easy for me, whereas these general science subjects cover much more ground. There was also consideration worked into the syllabus for planning a lesson to students, which was helpful for someone who has never taught anything or prepared anything for students.

In addition to my math and science classes, I took two classes online, which was a new experience for me. Most departments don’t seem to offer online classes at GSU, but the necessity in the College of Education is readily apparent once you consider that many of these students are already professional teachers or are at least working adults. I appreciate it was less time I’d have to get covered by a sitter. These classes can be a little tricky, however. One class I took was on teaching the diverse array of students with disabilities. It was fascinating, overwhelming, and wonderfully planned out by the professor. She clearly has taught the class for a while and is comfortable in the online environment. In addition to the text, she supplied notes and links for information on the internet for each chapter, and she broke up any monotony with alternative assignments like a movie review or even a video lecture. I discovered it is important for these instructors to make the content engaging. After all, the students in some ways do require more self-discipline of doing the reading because we don’t get to go to a lecture to get exposure to the material. My experience in this course was excellent and I feel like I got what I would expect to get out of any course.

This contrasts sharply with my other class, which was on the psychology of learning. The instructor was rude, unavailable, unprepared, and in general uninterested. I would assume students would think an online class might be an easy A, but until I took this class it never occurred to me an online course might be “easy money” for an instructor. She was truly terrible. I’ll refrain from digressing my personal gripes and coming off as a whiny student. But I now ask other students for their experiences with specific online courses and instructors before blindly signing up for them. It’s not worth risking another situation where I’m stuck in a class that I’m not getting any more out of than if I’d just read the text book and with an instructor who I quite frankly lost sleep over despising and resenting. Though I will go through this journey largely with a group of peers entering the program when I did, the content classes are mixes of students at different places in the program and so many have lots to say about the different courses. (For example, I learned that the IT course, which can be taken as the elective, is basically a busy work course on learning how to make word documents and power points. I dropped that one before it starts this summer and will probably take an on-campus math class instead to assuage my malcontent vented earlier.)

Though some of my expectations for the program have been adjusted, one that will not be is my high level of esteem for the GSU professors, who are awesome. They are, collectively, the best reason to go here. Perhaps this is part of why my disappointment in the one instructor was so frustrating and disconcerting. In a few weeks we start the cohort, classes from 8 am to 3 pm Monday through Thursday for seven weeks. Right now I’m enjoy the break while looking forward to a summer that will prepare me for student teaching in the fall and get me excited about my future as an educator.

Published in: on May 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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First steps from back there to here

I can’t remember the exact moment when I decided that I wanted to go back to school to become a middle school math and science teacher, but I’m certain that it happened quickly and resolutely. My daughter must have been around seven months old and I had given up hope for and interest in finding work as a nanny in my home so that I could support Rosalie and myself without having to put her in full-time daycare, work a job I didn’t love or get any fulfillment from, and then get stuck in a career I didn’t want to just get by and pay the bills.

My undergraduate degree is in English, so I of course considered going for an MA and eventually a PhD to become a professor at a university. But those positions can be notoriously hard to get and further secure with tenure. And you have to go to where the jobs are, which will most likely mean uprooting and relocating to a new city in a new state. And, most importantly, I came to this decision to return to school during late summer of last year, long after the Fall application deadline, and Georgia State University’s Department of English only accepts Fall admissions. I never considered applying to or attending any other school than GSU because I didn’t want to leave Atlanta and risk destabilizing my home financially, emotionally, and mentally. I loved my experiences at GSU as an undergrad and feel like it offers me everything I need and want from a university.

This is about the extent and depth of thought and concern I worked through a few times before settling on pursuing the MAT for Middle Level Education: both simple in logic and heavy in personal factors.

Finally, although I majored in literature and I tend to hoard novels like some people hoard garbage or shoes or antique furniture, I always missed taking math and science classes as an undergraduate and often considered (before I had Rosalie) going back for a degree in Mathematics, Chemistry, or Psychology. Really, I want to be a professional college student and accrue degrees in exchange for a salary. That’s my dream job. So I decided that it would be a refreshing and exciting change to go back and study these subjects, and now I had a strong purpose for doing so. The program for Middle Level Education does not require any subject-specific undergraduate degree—just a degree and a few other requirements like GRE scores and recommendations. I imagined that I would have the opportunity to do higher level mathematics and study different fields of science in the program, satisfying my intrinsic interest in the subjects.

Soon after I found my direction I went to the bookstore to buy GRE study guides and emailed professors for my letters of recommendation. Without a background in the subjects, I thought I’d have to study more for a strong test score, secure letters from respected professors, as well as apply for the language arts/social studies program just in case. Because Rosalie was still so little I found the prep books to be a welcome diversion when I had time to myself while she slept. After two months of preparing I took the exam and submitted my application. I felt confident of acceptance and didn’t consider too much being rejected. Nonetheless, the waiting for getting into college can be stressful and worrisome because there can always be a reason you won’t get in and, as I learned, sometimes the people working in the admissions offices truly do not do their jobs effectively (they lost my applications and failed to submit one of them!).

I was accepted and have just wrapped up my first semester in GSU’s MAT Middle Level Education–Mathematics and Science. I want to provide you, aspiring teacher, working parent, or otherwise-interested blog reader, with an account of my pursuit of a master’s degree as well as entry into the field of education. I expect it to be a process largely comprised of trial and error, minor frustrations, and overall high expectations, while I hope it ends fruitfully and provides the fulfillment I spoke of earlier.

Published in: on April 27, 2011 at 2:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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