My friend, allow me to encourage you by relating my own story. The questions you asked were the same ones I asked of myself at your age. In middle school, I endured daily ridicule, exclusion, taunting, pranks, and physical abuse at the hands of my peers. Continue reading “Dear Keaton Jones,”
For me, one of the most fascinating realms of research is cognition and the physiology of the brain; what is happening in the brain during certain thinking activities. As such, I often find myself in journals which many would probably use as sleep aids: Clinical Neurospychology, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, and Brain and Cognition. The studies published in these journals often rely upon brain scans, but not just your run-of-the-mill black and white MRI of yesteryear. Continue reading “DTIs and fMRIs, Oh My!”
Professionalism weighs heavy upon me in the midst of anything I do. This attitude was instilled in me by my father who has been a top-notch salesman for over 20 years; often standing within the top 5 sales persons in his company from year to year. Further, professionalism has been in my recent deliberations concerning my career due to a recent survey I embarked upon regarding the doctrine of vocation (perhaps summed up best by Martin Luther when he said: God does not need your works, your neighbor does). Since I have been placed in the field of educational therapy, I am to glorify God in every aspect; one of those aspects involves professionalism and integrity.
It is important for Christians to practice with integrity and professionalism in the midst of a world, especially in special education, that looks down on Christians. However, if Christians are to practice with integrity there must be goals and plans in place for it to occur; professionalism does not occur overnight. Further, I believe that in order to maintain a professional practice, you must always be learning from colleagues and adapting your practice to ensure best practice methods. Professional practice requires ardent work, self-sacrifice, and faithful application of conviction and practice. Accordingly, when reflecting upon my own practice, there are two areas I wish to work on in the coming year in an effort to improve my professional practice.
First, I must be empathetic. I am not naturally empathetic when it comes to educational expectations. I frequently battle the temptation to chalk up a student’s shortcomings to conscious and willful laziness or a failure to apply one’s self adequately (though this does happen from time to time). When reading the chapter entitled “Empathic Intelligence” from The Clinical Practice of Educational Therapy, I was convicted of the role empathy is to play in our educational practice. Though there was much I learned this year regarding empathy and the practice thereof, there is still much I could do: daily practice patience when frustration is evident, continue to provide a safe, encouraging, and personable environment for therapy, and go out of my way to provide positive feedback and encouragement in progress throughout the year.
Second, I resolve to zealously learn my students. My students are made in the image of God and inhabit more than figures on a page; it is imperative that this never leave the forefront of my mind in my practice. As I learned this past year, interaction with my students extends beyond the therapy walls. Moving forward, it is my earnest goal to learn the academic desires, wishes, passions, ambitions, temperaments, study practices, and family dynamics of my students in order to fully accommodates their needs in a manner that involves them and is not merely about them.
What about you? Do you have thoughts regarding professionalism in your vocation? Share them in the comments below and let us begin a dialogue!
From the Desk,
Well my first year of teaching and working in Special Education has come to an end and I want to summarize my experience in the ring. Currently, I am writing a mere 100 yards from the ocean in Salvo, NC as my vacation comes to an end; I cannot image a better way to conclude a great first year. As I have been away and relaxing, I have been mulling over my experience in an effort to elucidate the lessons I am to learn and apply to make next year even better.
The last month of the school year was hectic and full of uncertainty for where I would be in 3 months time. The end of the year is always marked by a mad dash to summarize reports, grade final projects, finish course material, and complete the necessary in-service days before the end of the school year. This makes for a rapid end that flies by in such a manner that one could easily overlook all the lessons one is to take from the year. When one is glad that the race has ended and a time of repose has begun, the last thing on the summer list is to learn from the success and failures of the previous year.
Here are the top six things I can gather from my experiences and put forth for you and I to learn from.
- The power of saying NO and the power of saying YES. There were many things I should have said NO to this year. However, in my desire to be the best coworker I could be, there were a lot of things I said YES to and the result was a schedule gorged with work and starving for leisure. I should have listened earlier in the year to my former 5th & 6th grade teacher (now coworker) when she explained why I needed to be careful what I took on to prevent burnout. Though I did not burn out, there were times I was very close. (As the year progressed, I did learn to be comfortable saying NO) That being said, there is also great value in saying YES. There were times when I would fill in during a spare hour to fill the gap for a teacher with an emergency or a sub who was running late. Being flexible and being able to fill in the gap aids in creating a mutual environment of support and care; I will always help my coworkers to the best of my capabilities and opportunities.
- When dealing with students who are more literal than normal (i.e. does not understand metaphors, colloquialisms, etc.), choose your words very carefully. If you do not, you will be misinterpreted, parents will be upset, meetings will follow, and you get the picture.
- Avoid the temptation of taking work home with you. I did this way too much at the beginning of the year. While I am single and do not have pets and taking work home is not as much of an issue now, it is certainly not a habit I want to establish before I am married and have a family of my own. I learned that I would be most productive with certain tasks at the beginning of the day as opposed to putting them off to the end of the day. Accordingly, it was easier for me to arrive early to work (6-6:30 range) rather than to stay after school; after a day of intense individual Discovery Therapy, one does not have much energy left.
- Relationship enforces discipline. I found that it was futile to issue discipline if I did not have a relationship or rapport with the student. Without the common ground, discipline is viewed as capricious and as though the teacher has it out for the student, instead of being an instance where the teacher can help form students and aid them in understanding correct conduct. This manifest itself most evidently in my duty as cafeteria monitor for the high school. Since only 1% of the high school actually had me as a teacher, the only context the other 99% of the students knew me was in the cafeteria as the guy who made them clean up. Accordingly, meaningful discipline was near impossible. I am still trying to determine how that scenario can be remedied.
- Keeping track of communication is key in education. A log of when parents are emailed and why is a life saver sometimes. It also allows you to determine if you are communicating too much or not enough.
- Something that worked well this year was to include my boss on every important email; I learned this trick from my father. Though not every email would require any action on her part, it allowed her to keep a pulse on what was going on in the department and how parents/students were being handled. Further, if a situation were to come up, she already knew about the previous track of communication and was not blindsided. This is one practice that will stay in my quiver.
From the desk,
Why do people respond differently to various situations? Whether explicitly stated or not, people possess a series of categorized beliefs about God, reality, knowledge, ethics and man (Nash, 1992, 26), known as a philosophy of life or a worldview. “A worldview, then, is a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality” (Nash, 1992, 16). Though many people may not be able to articulate their worldview, they no doubt have one. One’s worldview is either explicitly learned through dialogue, literature and diligent instruction, or it is implicitly learned through culture, role models, and literature. Finally, worldviews are always evident by the manner in which a person conducts himself or herself; though it may be in direct opposition to their articulated worldview.
When a worldview is based upon something outside of the self, something impervious to the whims and changing desires of the individual, solidity is found. However, when a worldview is based upon the self and subject to the ever-changing sea of human desires, the worldview produces confusion, inconsistency and contradiction. With such a fluid worldview, succinct and adequate answers to the questions of morality, ethics, law, and mankind cannot be given; rather, answers are subjective and subservient to preference.
The impact of a worldview upon education can be clearly seen in a cursory observation since it is the function of a worldview that allows an individual to interpret data and events and to assign them significance. Thus, teaching occurs through the filter of an individual’s worldview. Accordingly, to error in one’s worldview creates a foundation for teaching destined for catastrophe.
Philosophy of Life
I have found that there are two aspects of a worldview that are crucial in the arena of education: our view of God and our view of man. Our view of man, ultimately deriving from our view of God, necessarily forms how we teach. To have an errant view of God and man is to implement an educational philosophy full of holes and inadequate for the task. It is not enough to have a convenient answer when the task of educating successive generations is at hand; it is imperative that the right view be ascertained in order that right answers may be given to students’ questions.
Due to the fact that I believe God to be the sovereign, transcendent yet immanent, creator and upholder of the universe, his word has final authority. The laws he has set forth and the redemption he has provided govern how I live, and how I live influences how I teach. Further, my view of God necessarily informs my view of man. Man was created as the pinnacle of creation, yet due to Adam and Eve’s sin, the image of God has been distorted in every way. It is only through the redemption of Christ, given by God not earned by man, that man is made whole again through the process of sanctification.
Our view of man determines how we teach our students, to the end that we either teach solely to their mind, or we teach to the heart while teaching the mind. When I was in college, my theology professor instilled in his students the idea that you could have a perfect and sound argument for Christianity, but in the end the heart of the individual would trump the mind. Therefore, we must teach to the heart as well as the mind if we are to be effective. If we merely teach to the mind, all we have done is create a knowledgeable sinner whose driving force is still in need of transformation.
Philosophy of Education
The development of my philosophy of education occurred primarily in college, though there were some grade school influences. It was during my time in college that I became profoundly aware of the fallen nature of man and the fact that only God has the power to change people. Unless God is directing our methods, our efforts are frivolous.
Further, two teachers were instrumental in my growth. First, my fifth and sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Green, who handled her class with such sincere care while remaining steadfast in her standards. From her example, I seek to model the same tender sternness. Second, my college theology professor, Mr. Smith, taught me to ask deep questions and to evaluate everything including my own beliefs. From his example, I seek to encourage my students to learn the reasons behind the answers they hold, not simply to know the answer. It is only through the exercise of rigorous questioning that our beliefs are honed and solidified as iron sharpens iron.
In recent decades, the purpose of education seems to have shift from aiding individuals to use their created potential and glorify God through the gifts man has been endowed with, to creating individuals in manners that society deems appropriate or necessary, thereby molding society in their image and dreams. Here are the days of using education to shape society and gone are the days of God honoring education in the public sector.
Man was created with certain faculties that set him apart from the animals. It is through the faculties of intellect and will that man is to rule and subdue the earth. Education therefore, is to give mankind the necessary information and strategies that enable him or her to reach their God-given potential as the pinnacle of creation. It is through the proper acquisition of the faculties man has been given, that he most glorifies God’s handiwork.
With this view in mind, what then is the role of teacher in the classroom? Today, the teacher in many instances seems to replace the parents as the developer of children. There are many reasons as to why this should never be, no matter the situation, but perhaps the most necessary reason is that God has given a role to parents that no teacher can fulfill. Rather, the teacher is to partner with the parents in order to bring about the best educational decisions and results. It is through the unity of the parents and teacher that a school can aim to inspire students to reach their God-given potential.
In 1840, William Ellery Channing said, “Easy, pleasant work does not make robust minds, does not give men a consciousness of their powers, does not train them to endurance, to perseverance, to steady force of will, that force without which all other acquisitions avail nothing (Bennett, 2011 ).” This quote has had a deep impact on how I develop my instructional methods and curriculum. I believe that we should ever lead our students to high goals and quality. It would be easy to simply cater to the student, but without the consistent stretching of their minds, students may fail to realize exactly what they are capable of. Too much of curriculum today is soft, seeking to foster the students’ creativity. Yet, there are ways to foster that creativity without creating a lax curriculum. Because I know that each student has been created by God and endowed for certain tasks on earth, I assume that each student has the ability within them to master any subject. Therefore, curriculum should be robust in an age appropriate manner, ever aiming to grow them in maturity and critical thinking.
How then should we assess such a curriculum? Should assessment be based solely upon exams? I postulate that exams, though helpful, should not be the only means to assess a student’s mastery of a subject. I realize that exams are beneficial and to do away with exams all together is foolhardy, but other creative means should be sought, such as projects, class presentations, and dialogue. Creating diverse evaluating methods allows students who may not excel at test taking to prove that they do genuinely know the material.
Finally, I believe that classroom management should be conducted in such a manner that students realize the teacher’s goal is not a mere acquiescence to rules. Through our classroom management, the grace and love of Christ should be evident. This does not discount the times when proper discipline is to be enacted, but under such circumstances, we are to foster proper understanding in the students by working with them through their discipline. Further, in these times, perhaps the best option is not a cut and dry consequence but working with the student to bring about maturity and responsibility. It is not for our benefit that we desire students to follow standards, but for their benefit and safety. It is through submission to the leaders God has placed over us, regardless of whether we agree with them or not, that we honor God.
In conclusion, our teaching practice is informed by our beliefs about God and man. If these areas are not held in accordance with Scripture, we hold to a philosophy that does not sufficiently instruct the individual or foster their God-given potential. It is absolutely imperative that the foundation of our teaching practice be securely rooted in Scripture. Only then can we properly inspire students to achieve their God-given potential through excellent academics and a Christian environment.
Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the Divine. – Beethoven
I have entered what will be my last week of ‘summer vacation’. Orientation for new teachers begins next Monday and I am in the throes of lesson planning, Powerpoint creation, and quiz/test preparation. I have had to think about things I have not yet had to; class attitude expectations, the particulars of assignments, grade weighting, etc. I find this most invigorating.
I must admit though that with this new look behind the curtain of what teachers actually do, I have been pondering many aspects of the teaching craft. Though there is much work to teaching, it is nonetheless a craft. A craft with which you may put immense concentration into the details or go about it listlessly and shoddily. (Just as not every painter or artist is a true craftsman.) Besides consistently growing in their field, I believe that teachers must always evaluate their methods of teaching. We must not believe that once we have reached a teaching position or have had a few years experience in the field that we have mastered teaching.
If we as teachers, truly love teaching as we say we do, why would we cease to grow in our field, ever-growing to be the best from year to year?
Don’t get me wrong, I am a spring chicken in the field of teaching, and there is so much I know that I do not understand. Perhaps some of you are saying, “just wait until you get in the field”. I couldn’t agree with you more. I sit here a mere week from orientation and I shake in my boots about how my I don’t know how to do. But we must start somewhere, and I pray that I was right in believing that a year of substitute teaching would greatly reduce my upcoming mistakes.
Well in the mean time, if you have any ‘first year’ tips, I would love to hear them. Shoot me a comment or email and let’s talk about teaching craft.
Shivering in Starbucks (Why must they keep it so cold?)
The last few weeks have been jam-packed with reading, classes, studying, evaluating theses, writing papers, a lot of coffee/tea and some great music to keep me going. I am settling back into the groove of student life (i.e., long hours of study, few hours of sleep) and it is all bringing back to mind the reasons I love studying. There is great joy in applying oneself to the pursuit of knowledge.
Over the course of three solid weeks, I have completed 9 credit hours of class (requiring classes that met everyday of the week for 8 hours). Now I am in the process of completing all of the papers for those classes. Through those weeks I learned about the historical and philosophical foundations of education, how to conduct successful educational research and how to write a masters thesis. Though I am three years (or so) from adding a graduate degree to my roster, the expectation of excellence in my course work is preparing me as if my thesis were due next month. (I love it!)
Well, enough about what I have been doing. I still have many hours ahead of paper writing and research. However, I wanted to pass along what I consider my bare necessities for a good study session. The presupposition is of course that you are prepared to dedicate earnest time to study and to put forth the hard work required to adequately comprehend and retain information. Here are some resources which have enhanced and increased my study sessions:
- Evernote – this instrument has revolutionized my life since I first starting using it 2 years ago. With its combination of the desktop version, mobile version, and internet version, you can take your notes wherever you go. Evernote has allowed me to collect all of my online research notes into folders pertaining to subject. Further, the tagging feature makes it easy to find subjects you have lost track of. It is my go to source for cataloguing research and ideas.
- StudyBlue – an incredible note taking system I have used in many classes. One of the fantastic features of this site is that it allows you to change your notes into flash cards with which you can quiz yourself in a distraction free setting. At the end of your rotation of cards, it calculates the percentage you would most likely get if you were to take the test at that moment (certainly aids in tracking progress). Oh, and the added bonus? It syncs with Evernote!
- Songza – My go to music concierge. Find the playlist to match your activity at any time of day. (It is also advertisement free, so forget Pandora.)
- French Press Coffee, Arabic Coffee or Tea – These are the three beverages of choice which I consume (probably in copious amounts) during my studies. There is just something about a warm, flavorful beverage that keeps me alert and on task.
- A wide range of music – My music library has been dubbed ‘schizophrenic’ since I have such a wide range of music genres. I listen to just about anything worth listening to. This prevents me from getting in a rut and allows me to tailor my environment to the need of my study session. I highly suggest developing a broad taste in music, not only so you can provide music for any event occasion, but also that you may enhance your study time.
These are a few of the things that help me study best. I hope that it helps you whether you are in your bachelors degree, masters degree, or studying for personal enrichment.
It is time for me to return to my research. Have a great Fourth of July!
From the Desk,