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An Education Problem

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My name is Emmet and I’m an eduholic.

I hit rock bottom last night between the hours of 1:30 and 2:45 am when I found myself sitting up in bed scribbling about education policy in a little black notebook by penlight next to my soundly sleeping son.

I thought that once the portfolio was signed, sealed and delivered that these middle of the night sessions would be over, but I can see now that I was deceiving myself. If it’s not National Board that’s got me spinning, it’s that kid from second period who didn’t submit his research paper, or ideas for an upcoming lesson. Or rehearsing the first few lines of a blog post. Can you hear a cast iron skillet clanging violently on my keyboard? That's my brain on education.

The particular reason I fell off the wagon last night was a productive midweek meeting with Don Gallehr, the director of the Northern Virginia Writing Project and a GMU professor, and Gail Ritchie, an FCPS guru on teacher development. We were brainstorming ways to promote and structure a course I’ll be teaching this summer that will help teacher-researchers write about and publish their findings.

Our excitement is at the new direction such a course might provide for an established form of professional development, little known outside the teaching world. “Voices from the Classroom,” as I see it, might provide a vehicle for the hard-won knowledge of frontline teachers to come to the attention of the public. Who knows, maybe one day research that’s done by real teachers in the classroom will compete with the “education research” done by wonks in cubicles that seems to currently inform policy making.

Our excitement at these new frontiers occurs in the shadow cast by the recent passing of one of the “founding mothers,” as Gail calls them, of teacher-research, Marian Mohr. Her recent death sent strong waves through both the writing project and T/R communities. Don wrote a touching remembrance. Marion MacLean, Marian’s collaborator on several books that more or less started teacher-research nearly two decades ago, is a current colleague of mine at TJ and has had a heavy heart in the lunch room lately.

More on this to come as the course and the ideas develop. For now, it’s time to do some serious end of quarter grading before spring break is sprung. Don’t want to have sleepless nights next week thinking about those never-diminished stacks.

Who am I trying to kid? Even if I get through the grading, I’ll probably be up a night or two, thinking about kids and learning. At least I’ve accomplished the first step: admitting I have a problem.


6 Comments

I'm sorry. There's no twelve-step program for you Emmet.

Congratulations and Happy Spring Break.

I congratulate you on filling out all that rigamarole. How I wish it were easier. It is something I must do one day but am scared to death by all the added work on top of my regular workload!

I applaud your efforts toward encouraging teacher-researchers. As a fairly new teacher in 1990 I participated in a teacher-researcher project through the UCLA Writing Project. My project was then published in California English, a publication of the California Teachers of English organization. That experience influenced the way I saw myself as a teacher, constantly reflecting on my practice and formulating my own questions about teaching and learning.

I do think that this research by teachers should hold a more prominent place in the academic community, but I also think it doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. After completing their credentials, most teachers don't read much traditional research (who has the time?). I would personally appreciate reading and discussing an academic article for professional development than sit through some of the "professional development" offered at my school. Other professionals are required to read the current research in their fields, why shouldn't teachers?

You might say that the research done by "wonks in cubicles" should include voices from the classroom, and I completely agree with that. Much more attention should be paid to the experiences of real practictioners with real students. Teachers, like students, should be encouraged to question. What a great model it is for students when they see their teachers still learning. I just think we should use all the resources available to us in becoming better teachers, including traditional research.

I applaud your efforts toward encouraging teacher-researchers. As a fairly new teacher in 1990 I participated in a teacher-researcher project through the UCLA Writing Project. My project was then published in California English, a publication of the California Teachers of English organization. That experience influenced the way I saw myself as a teacher, constantly reflecting on my practice and formulating my own questions about teaching and learning.

I do think that this research by teachers should hold a more prominent place in the academic community, but I also think it doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. After completing their credentials, most teachers don't read much traditional research (who has the time?). I would personally appreciate reading and discussing an academic article for professional development than sit through some of the "professional development" offered at my school. Other professionals are required to read the current research in their fields, why shouldn't teachers?

You might say that the research done by "wonks in cubicles" should include voices from the classroom, and I completely agree with that. Much more attention should be paid to the experiences of real practictioners with real students. Teachers, like students, should be encouraged to question. What a great model it is for students when they see their teachers still learning. I just think we should use all the resources available to us in becoming better teachers, including traditional research.

Hi Emmet,
I envy you for being part of such a program. I had been teaching for 26 years and felt a bit burnt out when I discovered alternative assessments and rubrics. From that point on, I started developing WebQuests, teaching using collaborative online learning environments for my students, such as Moodle, taking distance learning (MA and action research projects) and engaging in lifelong learning. Today I am a doctoral student at the UOP online and loving the researching and writing opportunities the program offers. My passion for learning and teaching has been rekindled by online courses that require researching and writing.

Enjoy!

R.M. Ballantyne was born into Edinburgh’s great 19th century publishing elite. His family firm published both Walter Scott and Thomas Chalmers.

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