Friday, November 7, 2014

From College to Classroom>>>What's Missing?

Hey everyone! It's Meredith from Creativity to the Core. I'm excited to be back today to share some thoughts from the ALER Conference I attended last week. I hope you enjoy it!
But first, a little background knowledge.
Last Friday, I attended the ALER Conference in Delray Beach, Florida. This is the yearly conference for the Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers. My professors, who presented their RtI research at the conference, had a friend who was in the teacher educator sector of ALER. This friend requested a few novice teachers from my master's program to speak at the conference. So...since it's my second year teaching, I volunteered (or was I volun-told by my professor????).
Me (far left), two other masters students, and one of our professors
The topic: What is the missing link between student teaching and "real world" teaching? The three of us sat on a panel, and teacher educator researchers asked us questions. The session was very enlightening. The researchers were so personable and asked us questions that actually applied to our lives as teachers. They allowed us to be candid and truthful. It was kind of a "spill the beans" type session. I was sitting in the session talking and thinking, "We should be recording this!" and "Other teachers need to hear this!" and "This would enlighten soooo many administrators!" 

So, I've decided to share some major points of the talk with you! Expect discussions, not answers. Share your thoughts in the comments! I'd love to hear about your experiences. The following topics are the ones that were repeated many times throughout the teacher educator session.
We've all been there. Looking young and feeling excited to take on the challenge of our very first class of students who are ready to learn. However, I've found that there is a very large disconnect from your student teaching experience, to your first real 'I'm alone in the classroom' job. Don't get me wrong---I LOVE teaching. I live and breathe teaching. I can't imagine myself in any other profession.  Still, things can be improved so that teachers are more prepared. More prepared teachers>>>better educated littles.
Your student teaching opportunities GREATLY impact your knowledge of "the real world" of teaching. I am grateful to have had a clinical educator who noticed my potential, and made me rise to it the very first week! However, not everyone is so lucky. I have had far too many friends who were not allowed to take over 100% for their specified amount of time. This stunts your growth as a student teacher. You NEED that experience. Having many different practicum experiences was also discussed. It betters you as a teacher to have experiences in many different environments. I learned more in the practicum experiences than I did sitting in class (I bet it was the same for many of you!). Researchers agreed that more practicums and/or longer practicums would benefit students teachers.
Did you graduate with the ability to skillfully teach reading? I'm not sure anyone can answer "Yes" to that question. As teachers, we are growing each and every day. Our craft develops as we interact with students and other teachers. However, the researchers had serious concerns about this. How well are teachers prepared to teach reading? That is the question of the day! Who knows?!?! Each program is different and requires different assignments and readings. It seems that skilled reading instruction would be at the forefront because of the push for close readings of complex text and thematic units that integrate literacy. However, it is least not in all districts. I was lucky enough to start my master's degree in Reading during my very first year teaching. Although it was hectic at times, it definitely laid a strong foundation for my first year. I personally do not think I would feel as comfortable teaching reading if I did not go through this masters program. 
Can I be real with you? The very first time I gave an Oral Reading Fluency to my first graders, I didn't time them. (WHAT?!?!) I know, right! You are probably thinking, "Geeezzz this girl has no clue what she is doing!" Here's my theory. We are never actually taught how to administer assessments. (At least not in my neck of the woods!) Luckily, I was a go getter and decided to figure it out on my own. But a silly mistake like not timing student ORFs could have easily been avoided if I had been taught HOW to give an ORF. It's like expecting me to know how to change my oil. I have absolutely no clue because I have never been taught. When sharing this story with the researchers at ALER, I was glad to hear that I was not alone. Many districts and schools have their own assessments on top of state/district assessments. How can a new teacher possibly know how to administer or grade them all? I personally believe that all new teachers should receive professional development on tests...
Think back to your first year. Did you have a coach/mentor/NESS person? Do you still have one? Was one assigned to you? Did you simply gravitate toward one experienced coworker? I was BLESSED to be assigned a coach from our county for my first two years because of grant money. They were trying to find out if student scores would increase when new teachers were given a trained coach. (This idea seems silly to me. Of course my kids are going to perform better when I am given tailored help each week and other teachers aren't!) I absolutely adored my coach. We had a wonderful relationship. She visited once a week, and could observe me, make suggestions, model lessons, help me grade, or just chat. Usually we ended up talking, which was so relieving. As a new teacher, it is such a blessing to have someone to vent to. I'm not sure what I would have done without her wisdom and guidance.

This relationship is seriously lacking in the school systems. Usually because of funding, teachers are left without a support system. The researchers indicated that mentors and coaches from OUTSIDE of the school were a great help to beginning teachers. I completely agree. Far too many teachers leave the profession after the first year or two because they do not feel like they get the support they need. Coaching is expensive, but it works! It is in the best interest of our teachers and students!!!
I never received one professional development session before I began my first year teaching. Not one. TRUTH. Common Core implementation was all over the district, but no professional development. Daily 5 was being introduced to our specific school, but no professional development. My school wanted math centers every day in the classroom, but no professional development. Let me just take a moment and say THANK YOU teacher blogs and TeachersPayTeachers! What would I have done without them??? The researchers were shocked when I explained this truth. It is sad really. Some districts provide wonderful professional development, so if you are there, consider yourself blessed. Professional development is an important part of growing as an educator. We are constantly bettering ourselves and learning new techniques to develop our craft. How in the world is a new teacher to do this with no professional development?
That being said...
There are just some things that college can't prepare you for. You know, those "That parent called the administrator on me over WHAT?" and "Relax, it's just throw up!" moments. My only hope is that teachers know that they are not alone, and that the teacher educator professors will take our comments to heart and help to change their programs appropriately. 
At the end of the day, we do our job well because of the little loves that spend 7+ hours inside our four walls. Thank you for stepping into this profession that I too love so dearly. Thank you for doing what you have a passion for. Thank you for having big hearts, and thank you for teaching little minds.

(Fonts by KG Fonts & Hello Literacy)

Until next month...happy teaching!


  1. What a great post, Meredith! You make some great points. This is an awesome post for all teachers and educators to read. Thanks!

  2. Great post, Meredith! I agree with you that you are never prepapred for the "real world" of teaching from your time as a student teacher...I know from experience. I honestly don't know how more prepared you could become...nothing really compares to starting the year off with your own class and having to set routines, expectations, begin assessments, planning, etc. I'm in my 10th year of teaching and I'm still learning...actually I'm happy to say I will be a life-long learner!
    Elyse :)
    Proud to be Primary