Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Top Story of the Year

The most popular blog entry of 2007 was the “Conduct Unbecoming?” entry from a few weeks ago. Most of the teachers who commented indicate that they use social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to keep in touch with current and former students. As a result, many objected to limiting teachers’ communication and advocated that teachers should continue to use such spaces. Teri Lesesne (blog, school page) explains in her comment:

I do think telling teachers to forego blogs and social networks crosses over the line, though. Our presence within communities where our students are comfortable connects us in new and fresh ways. Our willingness to embrace new technologies is also essential.
Another teacher who posted anonymously shared an analogy: “The world has changed. Saying educators should not be involved in online communities today is the same as saying 5 years ago we should not talk on our cell phone in public. Who knows what random students could overhear?”

Naturally, teachers agreed that online postings should maintain a level of professionalism. Teacher-commentator Matt Skillen (blog) states, “I believe it is important for teachers to have an identity online, however professionalism should be maintained. If one posts pictures online that could lead the viewer to believe the teacher was acting inappropriately, he or she should be prepared to answer the questions from students, parents and administrators.”

The topic is certainly controversial—and the issue is not limited to students. One of the commentors shared the Dayton Daily News story “Online profiles a factor in college admissions” and BoingBoing posted the contradictory findings that “Adults warn kids off social network sites, use them themselves—Pew Internet report on search and identity.” On the positive side, the New York Times reported this week “On Facebook, Scholars Link Up With Data.”

The only thing I think we can all agree on is that as new 21st century literacies develop and composing possibilities evolve, the controversies will continue. When people first started publishing novels, women authors often had to pen their stories under male pseudonyms to be published.

My hope for 2008 is that teachers aren’t driven underground in the same way by the school systems where they teach. Communicating is the life’s blood of the English teacher. Our lives are devoted to such vital tasks as helping others tell stories. It would be a sad world if we were forbidden to share our own stories with the world.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dear Younger Me

Like many teachers, I’ve carried my share of student work off for grading during breaks. During both Spring Breaks and Thanksgiving Breaks, I spent hours slogging through student work and beginning to resent the fact that I was working while the rest of the world seemed to be off at play.

Since I’m not in the classroom right now, I hadn’t thought much about grading during breaks until I read Kate Kellen’s Secondary Section entry Dear Younger Teacher Self: Keep the Holidays Grading Free! In the entry, present-day Kate explains to her younger self “your students will wait another week for papers in exchange for your genuine delight at seeing them again after the break.”

From my perspective now, I’m thinking that perhaps I should write a similar message to my future self—the one who will be loading the car with a dozen computer books for projects to complete while on vacation. But more importantly, Kate’s entry got me to wondering what I would tell my own younger teacher self. Spend more time writing and less time talking about writing? Stand by your pedagogical beliefs? A deluge of handouts and tip sheets isn’t ever enough? Learn as much as you can about computers and use them in the classroom as soon as possible?

So many lessons I’ve learned, but the one that I think would make the most difference is to get involved in conversations with other teachers sooner rather than later. So here goes:

Dear Younger Me,
I’m writing to you from the future, and you may not believe how much your teaching has changed. You use computers all the time, having students compose projects and communicate with each other in and out of class. What’s really important about that isn’t the technology, but the way that everyone uses it to communicate. And it’s not just students. It’s teachers too.

Sitting down in the basement of Williams Hall, you’re not even in contact with the other teachers in the building—let alone teachers at other schools and universities. But you need to be. I know. I know. You’re shy, and you always feel awkward when you’re talking to people. But listen: It will pass. The more you communicate with other teachers, the more natural those conversations will become.

Email and online chatting are going to change your life once you begin reaching out to other teachers and entering professional conversations. You’ll begin explaining and defining your pedagogy. You’ll share teaching tips and stories with other teachers. You’ll find a supportive group of mentors and co-conspirators, all at your fingertips. And once you get used to talking with teachers online, you’ll find it easier and easier to do when you’re face-to-face.

So get moving. Right now. Climb up to the second floor and logon to the terminal in Room 211. I know you’ve only used it to work on your papers and thesis in SGML, but there are communications tools in there too. Find them. Use them. Look for MBU and Purtopoi. Watch the conversations for a few days and then jump in.

I know it will be hard at first, but trust me. Within a year, you won’t want to go a day without connecting with other teachers. It will make all the difference in who you are and what you can do as a teacher. Now get moving—and get talking.

Traci of 2007

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Identifying Teaching Metaphors

Today, I've been looking at the NCTE/LEA Research Series book Teacher Identity Discourses: Negotiating Personal and Professional Spaces by Janet Alsup, because I learned this morning that the book won MLA’s twenty-seventh annual Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize.

In the book, Alsup reports and theorizes a multi-layered study of teacher identity development and includes specific suggestions for methods courses that teacher educators can use as is or adapt to their own contexts. In truth, though, the questions and issues are ones that every teacher should consider.

I skimmed through the sample assignments included in the book and found deep, probing activities that asked teachers to contemplate what it means to be a teacher, how teachers teach, and how our experiences shape the ways we think of ourselves as teachers.

I decided to try my hand at a variation on the “Visual Metaphor Assignment—Photographic Philosophies” activity (202), which asks pre-service teachers to take three to five photos that visually represent themselves as teachers. For me, that's a question that I’d need to spend a few days (if not weeks) on, so I tried a variation and focused on the question: “Why Do I Teach?” Here’s my answer (Click the image for a larger version): Why I Teach Alsup’s questions made me do some thinking about what I really value as a teacher as I tried to identify what teaching means to me. It was a useful process—one that I could see teachers everywhere benefiting from. I hope to spend some time looking more closely at all the questions Teacher Identity Discourses. If I can truly learn more about my identity as a teacher, I think I might actually become a better teacher.