Emerging Leaders

I started my teaching career in January 2001. Since I started my position as a high school ELA teacher mid-year, I already faced challenges: first, the students I inherited expected me to be like their former teacher. Clearly I was not, and this did not sit well with some students, which led to behavioral problems that I was not fully equipped to handle as a first-year teacher working hard to hammer down classroom management. Next, since I did not have the opportunity to start the school year with the students, I often times felt like the odd-person out. Couple all this with being new to the profession – I felt alone and isolated for that first semester. Other incidents during that one semester made me question my purpose and myself: Am I supposed to be here? Am I meant to be a teacher? Do I have what it takes to be an effective teacher?

As an Emerging Leader, how do you hope to have a greater effect on education for your community and beyond?

The greatest effect I can have for my community is through continuous advocacy for education. As educators, we must raise our voices, be knowledgeable and fully aware of the impacts of legislative policies that either further support or work to destroy the foundations of public education. To me, advocacy means being proactive in a political climate that, too often, ignores the voices of educators. However, the educator is the voice of EVERY student and EVERY community. Through life-long learning and seeking out my own unofficial mentors, I continue to learn about the political process and as an educator, how I can be an integral part of the conversation that directly affects our students.

Intentional Questioning, Productive Learning

What would happen if we stopped focusing on our students’ weaknesses and starting looking at what students are doing best? Nancy Frey suggests this is where we should focus our energy, turning our schools into “the best place to work, the best place to teach, and the best place to learn!”

Using a Framework for Intentional Teaching (FIT), teachers begin planning with a purpose. This established purpose directs our attention to our students, rather than the activity, assignment, or task. As teachers, we need to change our question of student learning from “What are you doing?” to “What and why are you learning this?” It is important for educators to help students understand what and why they are learning material by providing them with a purpose that is visible. If someone walked into your classroom and asked your students, “What are you learning today?” “Why are you learning this?” and “How will you know when you have learned it?” how many of them would be able to correctly respond? Studies show students will gain up to three years of progress if they are taught to reflect and critique their learning. At Oakland Elementary (Spartanburg 2), we encourage teachers to utilize Standards Walls, which helps students to visually connect their learning and understand their purpose for learning specific material. (See more information on Standards Walls, here.)

What's the craziest thing a student ever said to you?

The craziest thing a student ever said to me happened in my first year of teaching. Let me set the scene for you all. I was teaching in a self contained classroom that had students’ with multiple disabilities and needs. One of those needs was to work on filtering, which meant not saying everything that came to mind.

On an October afternoon, I was teaching a science lesson that was going great. The kids were engaged and I was feeling pretty good. But that was about to change very quickly. Since it was my first year of teaching, my principal had to do scheduled and unscheduled observations on my teaching.