Home: Context

Overview: Education and Experience
I have been teaching English since I completed my undergraduate degree in English and American Literature at Brandeis University in 2002; I have taught four years of high school English and four years of eighth grade Writing and Literature.  I am currently the Instructional Team Leader for the English Department at Catalina Foothills High School, where I have the opportunity to coordinate professional development for the department and to provide instructional feedback for my colleagues.  I also collaborate with the district's instructional coaches to deliver professional development for teachers who are new to the profession and/or our district. 

In May 2010, I earned my MA in English at the University of Arizona.  I hope to continue to work in the field of English Language Arts curriculum and instruction.  I am particularly interested in preparing current and future educators to effectively engage students in the processes of reading, writing, and critical thinking. 

Professional Context
Catalina Foothills School District is a highly performing district in Tucson, Arizona, which serves a fairly affluent population that values life-long learning.  A vast majority of our students go on to four-year colleges or universities, and many of these students advance to honors programs or Ivy League schools.  The parents in our district are highly involved in their students' education, and they are supportive of our efforts in the classroom.

Our professional community is one that values collaboration and professional growth.  We meet weekly in subject-specific, grade-level teams to share instructional strategies, assessments, and ideas.  It is a supportive and creative environment where we are encouraged to conduct teacher research and communicate our findings to our colleagues. 

For years, my colleagues and I were privileged to be able to expect a certain level of student in our classrooms -- one who advanced through our elementary and middle schools having learned to be a critical thinker and a motivated learner.  Now that our schools include a greater percentage of open-enrollment students, we can no longer depend on our students' having received the same foundations in skills, processes, or content.  This adds an interesting element of diversity into our classrooms, and it requires greater attention to pre-assessment data and differentiated instruction. 

I began my tenure at CFSD teaching 8th grade Writing and Literature at Esperero Canyon Middle School.  I recently completed my third year of teaching 10th grade Honors English at Catalina Foothills High School, which is a course that follows themes in Western literature and philosophy.  Our official policy in the English Department is that any student may elect to take an honors level course regardless of past performance or teacher recommendation.  I support this policy because I think it’s inappropriate (and perhaps even malpractice) to deny students access to higher-level courses if they wish to enroll. 

Unfortunately, not every student selects the honors-level courses because he/she loves reading, writing, and working hard.  Frequently, parents will encourage students to enroll in honors courses because they look better on transcripts, or students will take the courses because their friends are taking them.  This leads to a greater number of unmotivated students. I always tell my students that everyone can be successful in the class, but that they must be willing to put forth the necessary effort.  Most are not willing to do so, yet they are disappointed when they do not earn the grade they want.  There seems to be some disconnect between the desire for a certain grade and the performance that is necessary in order to achieve it. 

And even for students who are high achieving and highly motivated, it seems that it is difficult to try new things and to take risks in their education.  They want to do what is safest – easiest – in order to get an A.  The grade seems more important than the learning process.  Students have become accustomed to being told what to do in order to earn an A, and they are disappointed when they are expected to go above and beyond or to try something new. 

I would like to see my students exhibit more of the following self-directed behaviors:
  • Inquiry: The desire to seek answers to questions that interest them.  Even when I provide students with the opportunity to do this, I find that they shy away from it, requesting more guidance – asking me to provide the questions and sometimes the answers.
  • Intrinsic Motivation: The desire to learn for learning’s sake – to make it interesting for themselves and not to rely on others to push them. 
  • Academic Risk-Taking: The desire to try new things and not to fear failure.  This, of course, requires that I allow them to make mistakes and explore as they learn.
  • Accurate Self-Evaluation: The ability to examine given or self-developed criteria (rubrics, etc.) and to measure their work products against the criteria accurately.  Students tend to evaluate their work either higher or lower than its true placement in the criteria, despite their ability to accurately evaluate their peers’ work.
  • Genuine Goal-Setting: The ability to examine their work and to select the most critical aspects to improve (which are often the most challenging), rather than choosing what is the most simple, such as conventions errors.  I would like to see my students revise their goals as they work, identifying what is successful and what is unsuccessful as they go through the process.
  • Effective Revision of Work Products: The ability and desire to take their work to the next level by using their resources and goals to improve.  The ability to restructure an entire piece if necessary in order to achieve desired results.
I think these skills and habits of mind would truly help my students find success beyond the high school classroom.  I would like them to rely less on me and to take greater responsibility for their own learning.  I would like them to have the kind of classroom experience I did not have in high school - the kind in which they feel supported in exploring their own interests in the field of literature and literacy and in applying their knowledge to areas outside of the classroom assessment.  What good is a piece of writing if it is only for the purpose of fulfilling the requirements of a classroom assignment? 

Philosophy of Teaching Writing
I became a teacher because of my deep interest in ideas, and my love of language, literature, and learning has compelled me to share my passion with others.  After eight years of teaching English at both the middle and high school levels, I continue to be fascinated by the complex thoughts that my students generate, and I feel privileged to have the daily opportunity and responsibility to nurture them.  Teaching also requires that I, myself, consistently engage in learning, which authenticates my work in the classroom.  Our students must understand that we cannot be teachers if we are not learners, and that the learning process does not end when we are the ones who stand in front of the classroom.

The classroom itself is a shared space, one in which students deserve the opportunity to apply their individual talents, interests, and knowledge to their daily work; students’ lives abound with examples and experience that can enrich their own learning and the learning of their peers.  Building upon these experiences is critical to the student-centered classroom.  My role as a teacher is to serve not as a purveyor of knowledge, but as a guide who provides opportunities for students to explore concepts and create their own meaning. 
In short, the classroom does not belong to the teacher, but to the community of learners.  I craft instructional strategies and assessment opportunities to engage all students in writing, reading, and communicative tasks that appropriately challenge and motivate them.  I carefully analyze the outcomes of each assessment in order to determine appropriate and effective future learning experiences.  I want my students to feel inspired by their work in the classroom, and this can only happen when they become agents in their own learning.  In creating inquiry-based, authentic assignments with application beyond the classroom, in offering choice, and in having the flexibility to allow my students to engage in their individual interests, I can ensure that learning is a personalized process with genuine purpose and application.

Writing, too, is an individual experience that does not manifest itself in the same manner for any two people.  As such, it is critical for me to provide differentiated learning experiences to accommodate the various stages and needs of my students.  Teaching writing is about engaging in the process of writing.  I encourage my students to set specific goals, to reflect on their work throughout phases of the process, and to revise consistently for improvement, soliciting and incorporating peer and teacher feedback.  These experiences can empower students to take agency in their own education.  In this way, to teach writing is to teach self-advocacy, pride, and independence.