Being a Teacher is Being a Student
I never had to struggle or make a tough decision when it came to my career path. I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. It wasn’t a choice, but rather an understanding from an early age. I was a babysitter, a day care worker, and a camp counselor. All of my positions growing up have brought me closer to becoming a caring, supportive, and guiding teacher. However, it is not possible to become a teacher without being a student as well. I would not be where I am today without the caring, supportive guidance of exceptional educators.
I began my undergraduate work with the gift of a small MSU key chain. It has held the keys of campus housing, cars, apartments and my home today. The key chain is a constant reminder of college pride and educational success from Michigan State University. My undergraduate work began with the pursuit of a Bachelors Degree in the field of education. I sought a double major in Child Development and Language Arts. After my fifth year of student teaching and graduate work in Curriculum and Planning, I was off to my own classroom. I immediately moved to Arizona with the promise of a kindergarten position. My experiences in Arizona have given life to my teaching style, but Michigan will always be my home. I have taught in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and now Birmingham, Michigan with the persistent goal of continuing my own education. When considering my graduate studies the question was always what, but never where. Michigan State University is my second home.
I had to take a serious look at my past, present, and future before choosing a graduate program at Michigan State University. I also had to take my lifestyle into consideration since becoming a full time student was not possible. My teaching and learning was changing, and this realization prompted my investigation into a Masters of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET). This program not only focused around teaching with technology but it actually did so with the use of technology. Online learning was new to me, but it seemed appropriate if I had the same expectations of my students. I was also seeing the introduction of new and exciting products like iPads, Smart Boards, cameras, not to mention the broad expanse of social media. All of which were being thrust into the classroom without an explanation, but an expectation to weave them into a changing curriculum. I knew the MAET program would be a great fit for my future in education, but I worried about maximizing the usefulness of technology in my current classroom.
First graders in the beginning of the year are really still kindergarteners. They are small, loud, and learning how to do everything from reading to playing fairly. How could I expect them to use technology with integrity? I immediately tried to change grade levels and teach the third grade !gnite program the following year. My attempts were unsuccessful, so I rolled up my sleeves and decided to do everything I could to bring first grade into the 21st Century.
My first experience with the MAET program was completing the Certification Coursework online. I had never taken an online course, not even in my undergraduate work, so it was a lesson in itself. In all three of the certification courses (CEP 810, 811, and 812) I was immersed in the world of technology, discovered my professional learning network and set goals for my future career path. Despite my assumptions that I knew a lot about technology, I quickly found that there was much more out there than I expected. This was a turning point in my education. In the certification courses I was encouraged to explore on my own and rediscover what it really means to be “online.” The fact that everything out there is within reach to anyone who is willing to type in a search engine or look up a podcast. I realized that I was connected to a community of educators dedicated to knocking down classroom walls that were cracked with traditions and outdated methods of instruction. I welcomed change in my first grade classroom by developing my own Rich Site Summary (RSS Aggregator) to keep me current on the latest Web 2.0 news. It felt like I was a part of a hidden society of professionals who were working together to improve student teaching and learning with MERLOT, Pinterest, Diigo, Twitter, and Blogs galore. I also learned that open access brought on a responsibility to use the newfound information in meaningful ways. The outline of TPaCK (Technology, Pedagogy and Content Knowledge) gave me direction and purpose to the integration of new ideas into my teaching practice. The puzzle pieces of best practices were falling into place and it renewed my passion as an educator. Throughout my certification coursework I was engaged, committed and ready to dig deeper into educational technology for the benefit of my future students.
Enrolling in the Summer Hybrid coursework was initially just another step towards getting an endorsement in the program. I was excited to return to the Michigan State University campus, live in the dorms again, and visit all of the old hangouts. My excitement quickly faded with the loss of air conditioning, a private bathroom, and my car. For two weeks I had to sweat it out on campus, but it didn’t take long to realize that it was worth it in the end. My time on campus as a part of the summer hybrid coursework (CEP 800, 815 and 822) was the perfect stimulation to using technology in meaningful ways. It all began with a bag of dum-dum suckers. A sucker is not a piece of advanced equipment or an expensive work of art, but it brought awe into the classroom each day. The suckers were turned into super heroes, comedic figures, and creative displays that made us all think about the possibilities of everyday materials. I learned that it wasn’t just about iPads and Smart Boards, but using what is available in new ways. This revolution hit home as I watched a collection of videos that highlights the reuse of common themes in popular culture, Everything is a Remix. During my summer hybrid experience I joined a group of fellow educators who I worked with closely to foster our own remixes. We developed videos, wikis, websites, and more as a means of enriching our teaching and learning. My group and I brought out creativity, innovation and insight in one another led by our instructors, Punya, Laura and David. We were all encouraged to challenge our perspectives and think outside the box while having fun. Pictures turned into words, words turned into art, and art was created with open access. The summer hybrid coursework was refreshing and left me excited to remix my classroom.
The search for creativity was on my mind after such positive experiences with the summer hybrid coursework. It only seemed natural to follow Dr. Punya Mishra into the depths of the Elective course, Creativity in Teaching and Learning (CEP 818). My first task was to look at something I see everyday in a new way. I chose the coils of an electric burner that curved beyond recognition up close. This led to choosing a topic relevant to my grade level that I could warp, twist and stretch in order to share an enlightened understanding. I targeted something simple, current and constant…the notorious plus symbol. The book, Sparks of Genius by Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein was the guiding force behind the thirteen thinking tools of the most creative people. “People in every creative endeavor use a common set of general-purpose thinking tools in an almost infinite variety of ways. These tools reveal the nature of creative thinking itself; they make surprising connections among the sciences, arts, humanities, and technologies…” (Preface, Root-Bernstein). I took the common plus symbol and viewed it with a variety of lenses in order to bring it to life in my own classroom. Creative tools such as perceiving, patterning, abstracting, embodied thinking, modeling, playing and synthesizing were used to build a broader understanding that established connections between students and content. When teaching addition to my own students I used household items, artwork and music. There were limitless opportunities to showcase not just addition, but the entire curriculum in creative ways. This course (CEP 818) along with continued guidance from Dr. Punya Mishra, were the highlights of my educational technology program. My learning was not specific to a grade, subject or theme. The material did not preach or corner me into one approach to education. In contrast, it allowed me the freedom to better my personal and professional experiences by awakening a passion and desire to do so.
The icing on the cake of the MAET program has been the completion of the Capstone Portfolio course (CEP 807). The development of my online portfolio has forced me to collect my learning experiences and tie everything together with a pretty bow. In doing so, I can see all that I have accomplished in two years. My beginning certification courses, summer hybrid learning and final electives are displayed for public viewing and I am proud of each image, site and link. I have also had the pleasure of expanding my personal and professional learning network by partnering with fellow graduates to support one another as the coursework comes to an end. I have gained just as much throughout the reflection of my work as I have creating each piece. This has been an amazing journey and I would highly recommend this program to any and all educators looking to evolve.
My classroom has changed for the better with the help of my Masters of Arts in Educational Technology. I am open to new learning, ready to take risks, and willing to make mistakes along the way. At one point in my career, I doubted the abilities of my first grade students. I did not believe that they could handle or manipulate technology with integrity. I couldn’t have been more wrong. All it took was minimal guidance and trust in my students to maximum learning opportunities. I have given my students access to technology just as I have been given access throughout the MAET program. They are more creative and innovative than I will ever be as the classroom walls break away. Together we are integrating technology into each lesson to build higher understandings. Now it is easier for me to release control to my students and learn together in our shared experiences each year. I am eager to continue my education with the knowledge that the end of my coursework does not define the end of my learning. It is impossible to be a teacher without being a student as well.