Two “Snow” Days and The Joys of TA-ing a College Education Course

Today marks the second day of school that we’ve missed this week — the first due to a wild Maine blizzard that knocked the power out at the rural schools that make up my district and the second due to a power outage just at my school. If this is any indication of how the winter is going to go, I’m going to be in school until July!

This post seems like a good opportunity to write about something that I have been doing this fall — serving as an informal teaching assistant (TA) in a senior education seminar at my alma mater. Initially, I was quite anxious about this role, because I felt like I wouldn’t have much expertise to share with students who are just three years younger than me. I needn’t have worried, however, because it turns out that I do actually know quite a lot about being out in the world of American public schools. My role has sort of blossomed into that of a “real-world reality-check” provider. As someone who shares many of the lofty ideals about social justice that the students in the course hold, it is beneficial, I think, for them to hear about the ways in which their paths will not always be easy, the hard choices that they will have to make, the balance they will have to strike between mandates and their own desires. In other words, I’ve fashioned my role to position myself as the person that I would have benefitted from hearing from when I sat in their chairs, about to embark upon the world of teaching for the first time.

The whole experience has been so engaging and enriching. It’s much more effective than any other professional development experience in which I have participated. The students ask the hard, meaningful questions that often are not asked in my school or district, and it has really led me to re-examine the reasons why I am doing the things that I do in my own classroom. In contrast to other professional development experiences, which are usually not about overarching philosophy, but about the latest fad strategy, being a teaching assistant has forced me to really hold a mirror up to myself and check whether what I am doing in the classroom really aligns with what I believe and who I aspire to be as an educator. It has not been an easy process, but I know that I am going to come away with some things that I need to change to re-orient my classroom practices, and that making those changes will help me get closer to being the type of educator that I want to be.

Additionally, I always find it so rewarding to be in a situation where everyone is thinking critically and deeply at every turn. Those spaces often seem rare in our society, where quick-fix solutions and the stresses of daily life are huge barriers to that type of slow, methodical thought process. I hope that I can keep seeking out these types of settings, because they, more than any others, seem to lead to real growth and seem, to me at least, like the best arena for developing ideas that will be truly transformational.

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Keen on Reading in 2014!

I mentioned in a previous post that one of my goals for this year is to try to maintain a connection to the broader world of education beyond my school and my classroom. To that end, I’ve decided to finally tackle some of the books that I kept writing down in the margins of my notes during graduate school but never had the time to read when I had so much other reading to do.

So, here’s my list. I am including it here both to find out if any of you have read these books and to let you know what the subjects of some of my future posts are likely to be. I plan to write up my thoughts and reflections on these titles as I read my way through this list. My hope is that they will leave my more well-informed about many different facets of education, inspired and prepared to implement more “radical” practices in my own classroom, and endowed with a stronger critical lens through which to filter my teaching experiences.

I’ve broken the books down by category — it’s going to be a busy year for reading!

Gender and Sexuality:

  • The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
  • Real Boys – William Pollack
  • From the Dress-Up Closet to the Senior Prom – Jennifer Bryan

Language and Literacy:

  • Literature as Exploration – Louise Rosenblatt
  • The Experience of Reading – John Clifford
  • Mosiac of Thought – Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmerman
  • Readicide – Kelly Gallagher

Instruction:

  • Teach Like a Chamption – Doug Lemov
  • Make Just One Change: Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions – Dan Rothstein
  • Invent to Learn – Sylvia Martinez
  • Place-Based Education – David Sobel
  • Real Talk for Real Teachers – Rafe Esquith

The Broader World of Education:

  • Reign of Error – Diane Ravitch
  • The Smartest Kids in the World – Amanda Ripley
  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System – Diane Ravitch
  • The Flat World and Education – Linda Darling-Hammond

Inequality, Diversity, and Multiculturalism: 

  • Teaching Toward Freedom – Bill Ayers
  • Rethinking Multicultural Education – Wayne Au (Rethinking Schools)
  • Open Minds to Equality – Nancy Schniedewind and Ellen Davidson (Rethinking Schools) 
  • The Skin That We Speak – Lisa Delpitt
  • Multiplication is For White People – Lisa Delpitt
  • The Price of Inequality – Joseph Stiglitz
  • There Are No Children Here – Alex Kotlowitz

What titles are on your “to-read” lists?