My whole life I was a student who wanted to be a teacher. When I was 7, my cousins and I would play “school” in my grandmother’s basement. I would be the art teacher or reading teacher, and make up silly assignments for my other cousins to complete. I just always loved schools, learning, and helping people.
When I looked at colleges, I was only interested in schools that offered elementary education programs. I ranked teaching programs, and picked the University of Maryland primarily because they were ranked in the top 10 teaching schools in the nation. Maryland was the perfect place for me to learn about the most up-to-date teaching philosophies, curriculum systems, and testing data. During my student teaching, the established teachers were amazed with how well-prepared all the interns were. I worked with a teacher dubbed “the Queen of Classroom Management” who taught me about the practicalities of working with children. When I finally graduated, I felt ready to take on the stress of standardized testing, building a nurturing classroom, and planning lessons that would engage my students’ creativity. So when I took a job working in a new grade level, school, and subject area from what I had experienced in student teaching, I was only mildly nervous.
I taught 6th grade math in Prince George’s County in Maryland for 2 years, and I loved it. I loved the independence the students had. I loved how much they could teach me about pop culture and listening to their take on current events. I even loved making their eyes roll with a tough quiz, and hearing them groan about fractions. I would excitedly plan lessons based on what interested my students. When I realized my 11 year old boys were obsessed with football players, I had them create a presentation about how their sports heroes use math in their profession. When I overheard students talking about “Back to the Future Day” on October 25, 2015, I created an absolute value activity where students got to predict their own futures. I always tried to tie our activities into what mattered to my students outside of school.
The more I worked with older students the more I realized how important technology was to their daily lives– and my own lack of knowledge on educational technologies. I did my best. I wheeled carts of iPads, laptops, and ChromeBooks into my class regularly. I used YouTube rap videos to explain mathematical concepts. I had students explore European cities using Google Earth and Street View. I even created an online classroom, and some of my lessons were entirely computerized. But everything I used was something I discovered on my own. At college I had never taken a single course on classroom technology, and most of my coworkers used their whiteboards as projectors or came to me when they wanted to try something new. I would attend workshops and be disappointed that there were three lectures on Google Classroom, but nothing on other online classroom environments or subject-based resources. After two years struggling to meet the technology needs of my students, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them without help.
So I began my own adventure. I started looking for master programs in Educational Technology. I asked my colleagues in similar programs about their experiences. While most of my colleagues admitted what they were learning was fascinating, and something they could see themselves using with their classes of the future, most felt they did not have time to try new strategies while school was in full swing.
I could relate. My first year of teaching I had tried lots of new strategies, and experimented with what worked in the classroom. But not all my assignments were successful, and anything that I tried but couldn’t make work would get left behind. By the next year I had a handful of assignments from the previous year that I was excited to use again, as well as some stressful memories of my failures. The more I found strategies and resources that worked, the less adventuresome I became. I began shying away from websites I hadn’t tried before, and just stuck to the few I knew well. I lost that intrepid spark.
Then I began thinking about what I wanted out of my third year of teaching. My third year would mean getting tenure, effectively keeping me in Maryland, in my same school, and teaching the same lessons that were growing increasingly standard to me. I decided that what I wanted was to avoid complacency. I looked back over two years, and found them more similar than I would have liked. My students from one year to the next were vastly different, so why had I become comfortable using the same lessons for such discrete groups?
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Through the Graduate’s Eyes!
Allison Pawlowski is currently a graduate presentation intern at the University of Delaware Career Services Center. She graduated with a degree in Elementary Education at the University of Maryland in 2014 and has spent the past two years teaching in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Allison is currently pursuing a Masters in Educational Technology at the University of Delaware, planning to graduate in May 2017.