September 18, 2010

This is why I teach, then and now

People are constantly interested in why teachers get into teaching, so here is my story:

When I was in high school I began to teach technical theatre to underclassmen when I became a junior. It was always a rewarding experience for me to see them begin to understand things the way that I did. In addition, when I was in high school, one of my friends who ended up in my English classes, both as students, was constantly in need of help to stay afloat. Sometimes I wonder if he would have graduated from high school without me. These times always felt like early tests. Could I be patient and interested enough to become a teacher? What would this really mean for my future? Is there anything else that I could do that would make me more money (it turned out there was nothing I was willing to do, other than teaching)?

HOWEVER, it took me 5 years of college, and one very miserable year of student teaching, to realize that I didn't know the first thing about being a teacher. I wanted to go out and change the world like every other inspired teacher, but I had no idea how to do that. College doesn't prepare you for teaching, it just prepares you to pass tests, get grades, get a degree (mine was in English in preparation for the Single Subject Teaching Credential), but it does not prepare you for teaching. My credential program itself was fraught with ups and downs and really turned into a roller coaster ride (one in which I almost fell out of). But, I didn't let any of that stop me.

The end of the student teaching was much more successful than the beginning, after some changes. Then came the scary part, job hunting. I ended up only being called by two schools in the district. One turned out to be a dead end, someone had been given the position because they were an excessed employee (no place to teach, but still had a contract). The other was my school. I had NEVER taught middle school before, and was moving into a school that was literally just built, so my room had nothing in it but desks, chairs, and way less technology than I have now, but more than most schools (ceiling mounted LCD projector, document camera, new MacBook, ceiling mounted speakers, microphones). However, this was no replacement for curriculum, a classroom library, and the like. So, another struggle ensued, and once again I was victorious. But, not feeling great, just satisfied. There lies the next leg of the journey.

I am now in the beginning of my forth year as a teacher at my school, still teaching 6th grade English (it's not as bad as it sounds), and realizing that I still have a lot to learn, a lot that I want to improve and change. These changes are not just about my teaching and preparation, but I want to start guiding other teachers towards truths that I have begun to find along the way. My reason for teaching has evolved, so much that it has almost completely changed. Now, instead of merely teaching because I want others to understand, I also teach because I want to understand as well.

Every time I get in front of my class and teach them something, I find a new way to look at it that I didn't see before. AND, if I don't see something, they inevitably will. It is an amazing experience. But, not only do I want to shift my paradigm from teacher to learner, I want to shift the scope of my audience. I want to start teaching teachers at my school to embrace the technology that they have been gifted. So far my district has begun to roll out technology at a rate that seems unprecedented (and costly to tax payers - don't worry though, they voted for it). They call it the i21 Interactive Classroom.However, there has not been a great response from teachers to the technology. Therein lies the problem.

Teachers, including myself, are never willing to do something new if it makes their lives more difficult. Why change if it is going to make your work all that much harder? My goal this year is to begin introducing to teachers ways of using their technology that will not only benefit their students, but will benefit them as well. They will see technology as a way to change learning into something engaging and relevant to students. It will help them to stay more organized, as I hope it will do for me, and it will help them to save the planet, by decreasing the amount of trees we cut down for the endless amounts of paper we use.

Technology is a gift, for so many reasons, and education should treat it no differently. This year, my plan is to help my colleagues understand that technology is going to change the face of education for good, and not evil. It will be an uphill battle, considering some of my students couldn't figure out how to turn on their computers last week, but we will come out of it stronger in the end.

Information you may be wondering:
Who am I? - Jeff Russell, Husband, Teacher
Where do I teach? - Marshall Middle School in the San Diego Unified School District
What do I teach? - 6th Grade English and 6th Grade Drama
What technology is available? - 34 netbook PC's in my classroom, a 96 inch Promethean Board, a document camera, and 1 tablet PC for myself (All 6th grade classrooms have this technology, 7th grade is currently getting it, 8th grade will be next year)
Why am I writing this blog? - To catalog my pursuit of improving my school's 21st century literacy. I plan on posting here once a week as a reflection on my week's exploits.

Update: I will be publishing my edits as they happen in order to prove that I, like my students, do not always publish things perfectly the first time.

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