13. Translating Knowledge and Beliefs into Real Public-School Settings and Actions

Mary was fortunate to receive her preparation for teaching in a progressive university program.

Before we move Mary’s story into her professional life after graduation, let us review what she learned about teaching and learning on or near her university campus.

Admissions requirements to her teacher preparation program were high. Mary not only met standards but probably exceeded them. In the story, I gave her a stable background and strong principles associated with integrity. That made her a perfect candidate for acquiring professional discipline. She was devoted to a life of service and building on the youthful idealism of students. To Mary, learning should influence a student’s lifetime. And that learning happens in many settings, not just in school.

She eagerly accepted the idea that teaching is more than subjects and methods. It incorporates belief systems as well. Mary also absorbed the notion that teaching was more than conveying information gained from an outside source. Student growth depended on HER ongoing growth. Academically and personally.

Mary was intrigued with brain-based learning and all its ramifications. Two of those offshoots were professional discipline on her part, and the existence of something called the new learning infrastructure described by her professors. All that sounded vague until Mary was forced to define what “mastery” is in a human being.

She learned that mastery is not a one-time thing measured by pencil and paper tests. Mastery means a student is fundamentally changed as evidenced by differences in perspective and behavior. It is not achieved quickly but requires soak time and reflection. And can be discerned by teachers only through evidence and intuitive observations over time. Something called formative or ongoing assessment.

Mary realized she was taking a chance because many school districts are not structured to work the way she was taught at the university. She realized how important details are in aligning the academic program with mastery practices. “Design down and deliver up” is not just a cute phrase but needs to be executed carefully and precisely through well written curricula and focused instructional formats.

Words and wordsmithing in the new learning infrastructure are not merely flowery ways to impress. But are as important as any mathematical formula for ensuring precision and sought for learning outcomes. Every word and phrase must have meaning and be the impetus for everything that happens in the academic program.

Mary began to understand that accountability is more than how we are expected to do something. It is relevant to who and what we are as teachers. The word “quality” was also given deeper meaning in that its achievement requires hard work and the drive to constantly get better.

The challenges Mary faced in finding a school district compatible with ideas and practices she was taught in the university were huge. She needed to locate a district that could provide evidence it used a collaborative academic governance system. The district also needed to prove to her that it was committed to maintaining an enlightened managerial policy, a clearly articulated long-range plan, and a full understanding of the mastery learning concept.

Mary was also told to seek additional information about how the district creates, implements, maintains, and evaluates curriculum. It was suggested she examine ways teachers design planning documents. And how well they are aligned with curricular formats and content.  

In brief, criteria for allowing a school district to benefit from her expertise were to be stringent. While that sounds unreasonably pompous, and in some ways unrealistic, it is important.

Mary Chapman’s Story Part 11

A few months before graduating from the university I met a man on a blind date. It was a double date arranged by one of my friends, who was the girlfriend of a local serviceman.

My social life up to that point had been sporadic and limited mainly to brief relationships with men on campus. My date was a young army officer raised in another state. We really clicked and were married a few months later. He was not a career military guy and planned to teach after completing his army service. So, we had much in common.

But planning my search for a suitable school district became more complicated because we both needed to find employment in the same area. He then decided to work on a master’s degree full time the year after discharge from the army, so that helped a little.

There were several good universities in the metropolitan area in which he was interested, so that increased my options in the search for a teaching position.

People who specialize in job-finding often say we should interview the prospective employer, as much or more than a prospective employer interviews us. That may seem like a silly play on words, but it gives us a different mindset. Obtaining a teaching position is not simply an opportunity to make money and gain financial security. The school district, if it operates under good motives and aspirations, should strive to do everything possible to make our professional goals possible.

The difficulty for an applicant is finding the personal and professional strength to be properly assertive. Personnel officers who try to dominate the interview, thereby representing the district as a temple of correctness, can be written off immediately. They will try to entice applicants by describing certainty and strength, thereby expecting my compliance with that organizational culture.

They might even talk about higher salaries, better working conditions, and benefits offered by a particular community. Some even stress the importance of being a good “team” player, which can have both sinister and positive meanings.

As in a “team player complies with the rules” or conversely, “a team player helps the team become stronger and more effective.”

Interviewers who laud the magnificence of the institution are mostly peddling “window dressing.” How the personnel officer or administrator responds to MY questions is a key factor. My task is to be polite, attentive, and professionally correct. The interviewer’s job is to respond courteously and completely, interjecting questions of her own about my ability and willingness to work within the district’s culture.  It is that kind of dynamic interaction that leads to helpful conclusions on both sides of the table.

Is this district a good “fit” for me and am I a good “fit” for the district?

 ©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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