Having been trained by secondary English teaching gurus and having spent my first five years as a teacher at schools that value professional learning communities, I've made learning how to teach one of my primary hobbies. As far as English instruction goes, I dabble in professional ELA teaching authors Kelly Gallagher, Constance Weaver, and Jim Burke most often, but I also make Fisher and Frey's concepts of gradual release the backbone of my teaching and pull heavily from AVID methodologies. However, reading professional texts is not in and of itself the path to mastery of teaching; spending time with more seasoned professionals is a vital component of teacher growth. To that end, I have spent several hours with long-time teacher and professional teaching consultant Stevi Quate observing my practice and helping me to hone it. I have also spent more than a hundred hours in a variety of learning settings with her, receiving direct instruction on best practices and how to execute them effectively, as well as going through debriefing sessions with her subsequent to observing other master teachers demonstrate their methods in an authentic classroom setting.
I believe that Vygotzgy's zones of proximal development are probably as valid a theory as any and that in order to teach students effectively, both differentiation and collaboration are vital. In order for most students to experience optimal learning -- that is, in order for them to reach zones previously unattainable -- they need the help of their teachers and peers. Differentiation allows students to start in different places but all finish somewhere at or beyond the standard the class is trying to master. On the way, the students who need a little more scaffolding and practice will get the opportunity to emulate, apprentice under, and ultimately catch up with peers who initially caught on a little quicker.
At the time I came through my teaching program, the big fad was backwards design, and so I believe wholeheartedly in starting at the end, in selecting standards, pulling apart what students will need to know as well as what they will be able to do, and planning interesting and engaging lessons that will get them there. I believe in measuring students' growth -- so understanding their starting points through quick pre-assessments, checking for understanding regularly along the way, and giving a post-assessment to figure out whether the standard has been met by all students, and to what degree. As part of the process, I help students access their background knowledge and build upon it, including through effective vocabulary building exercises, through web quests, via gallery walks, and with the help of an array of one- or two-day activities constructed with the purpose of piquing student interest and filling in the blanks. And then it's time to add skills and deeper knowledge to the mix. At this point, modeling, collaboration, and ultimately guided and unguided practice to accomplish an authentic goal or task are in order.
Great English instruction only goes so far though. Sure, students will learn skills -- and learn them well -- with the high-level teaching outline above. My philosophy in the English classroom, however, also hinges on my wanting students to love reading and writing. To this end, I enlist reading and writing workshops as part of what I do. Most days, students will get an opportunity to practice one or the other at the beginning of class, as I model for them my thoughts and ideas and passions, and then set them loose to discover their own.
And for those of you considering hiring me as an elementary school, special education, or social studies teacher, I can assure you of three things. First, I will pick up one or two professional texts targeted for the given grade level and subject, and I will devour them long before I ever meet my students. By the time the school year starts, I will know the curriculum and relevant best practices, and I will have my instructional design all laid out. Second, I will weave both literacy and technology into my lessons on a daily basis. Third, I will let many of the concepts described above manifest in my classroom, only in a way that is suited to the grade level and subject matter.
I have a passion for students, for creating inquisitive and independent thinkers who will go off into life and thrive. Likewise, I have a passion for teaching. I look forward to again merging these two loves into a successful foray into the world of K-12 education.