Graduate School: A Rewarding Challenge

As posted on Teaching and Learning blog on November 1, 2014

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After three years of teaching at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs, IA, I decided to accept the challenge to further my education. Last spring, I began the online Professional Educator’s Graduate Program through Morningside College. I believe I made this decision rather lightly as I did not realize the monumental challenges and rewards that would come with participating in education as a genuine learner once again.

The Challenges:

TIME: I completely underestimated the amount of time that I would need to dedicate to my work as a graduate student. This became most stressful during the school year, particularly during the current fall semester. As I tried to manage both learning and teaching, I sometimes felt like I was not able to give my highest priority to either. Additionally, with the time commitment to both teaching and learning, I struggled to incorporate the necessary time to enjoy my friends, family, and enjoyment of life.

WORKING WITH OTHERS: Other times, I struggled with specific course requirements that frustrated me. I became irritated when I had to work in groups with educators I did not know (communicating usually only via technology) to complete specific projects and assignments. As I hold myself to very high expectations, I did not like that my performance evaluation would be impacted by the work of others.

ENTERING THE UNKNOWN: Particularly this semester, I really struggled with some of the academic reading about educational issues that I had never considered before. I have spent the majority of my teaching career only considering the problems and successes of my district, my school, and primarily my classroom because these are the only educational worlds I really knew and felt I could impact. I became frustrated having to read about topics like vouchers, private schools, mandated pre-school, state mandates, etc. I would often ask myself: How can this possibly help me to become a better educator in my 12th grade English class in Council Bluffs, IA?

working on school work

The Rewards: 

TIME: While some weeks the challenge of managing the piling up of 90 papers from my 12th-grade students and the 15-page paper that I need to write on the Common Core feels impossible, I have found that somehow it all works out. More importantly, I am able to remember that students are struggling with this same type of time managing with their schoolwork, part-time jobs, activities, friends, and families. I’ve discovered though, that not only am I able to discuss my own struggles with time managing to students, but I am able to offer real strategies that I use to juggle my life with those students that are approaching adulthood themselves. I find myself often tweeting out (to my many student followers) when I am finding time and strategies to study… followed by #ILearnToo.

WORKING WITH OTHERS: While initially my frustrations and emotions were high when having to work with other educators in the program, I’ve found that so many things evolve from these relationships that I am building. I have begun forming an extended world of educators who support my ideas and have ideas of their own. I’m networking with teachers in schools all across the Midwest and hearing about how things are different and similar to what is happening in my school. I’ve been able to offer my input and get advice on things like 1:1 initiatives, the Teacher Leadership Compensation Program, and the Common Core Standards. I will shamefully admit that I originally underestimated the brilliance and input of my fellow educators… I’m excited that I now get to really enjoy these challenging conversations and collaboration projects. (Although I’ll admit the conversations are more intriguing to me than the actual project completion now.)

ENTERING THE UNKNOWN: Specifically after the last two months, while enrolled in an Issues in Education Course in my graduate program, I am starting to see the big picture. I have never been a “big picture” person… quite the opposite of many of my friends and colleagues. However, I feel that I have made monumental progress in having to stretch my mind to address and discuss big questions like:

  • How can transformation in education create greater cohesion in our society and globally?
  • How do you define an exemplary teacher and how do we ensure all teachers are performing at the highest competency levels?
  • How “democratic” are student-centered classrooms? Can an inclusive classroom be democratic?
  • How do we leverage the immense power and potential of the Internet, digital tools and social media to enable learners and teachers to connect in purposeful ways across borders and boundaries to contribute to making the world a safer, saner and more just place?

Two months ago, just reading these question made my brain feel like it was going to explode. However, the more I read about education problems, policies, and theories, the more confident I feel synthesizing this information into having plans and ideas of my own that address these big pictures.

I have really come to a very basic conclusion: If it affects education then it affects me and I need to know about it. 

While the challenges of graduate school are great, so are the rewards. I feel in the last year of participating in learning and teaching, I’ve grown in so many ways. I value time and am able to better balance my duty to my students, my duty to myself as a learner, and my duty to my colleagues. I value interacting, communicating, and collaborating with educators from all across the profession. Most importantly, I am able to see how all of these things amount to a bigger picture… improving education for my students, my colleagues’ students, and all students.

Keep learning in teaching!

 

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