It was a very rewarding experience, and thankfully you never have to hear me discuss the Graduate Experience again. So in honor of this fact, I would like to share my final Grad Assignment for my last posting on Grad School. The assignment asked me to write a reflection on Grad School Experience and how it changed me. Enjoy!!
Well, it has finally come to an end. After 25 months, and about 198 assignments I have reached the conclusion of my Graduate School experience at Saint Xavier University. When I first began the program, I really did not know what to expect. Now that I am at the end of the program, I can safely say that my outlook and philosophy of education have been completely changed by my time in the program, the professors who taught me, and the students/peers I met. It was the very definition of peer-to-peer learning. This radical changed I experienced has been for the greater good; it has made me a more informed educator, a better listener, and an advocate for social justice. In this reflection paper, I will review some of the courses that changed my perspective, my overall experience, and where to go from here.
I began my graduate school journey in May of 2010. At that time it was safe to say that my views and philosophy of education were pretty mainstream. It had been about two years since my student teaching experience, and I had focused my attention away from the formal world of the classroom to the Student Media experience of running a college radio station and newspaper. At that time, I viewed the classroom in the same light in which I was taught for most of my educational life. The teacher was at the front of the classroom, lecturing, writing notes on the board, assigning reading assignments in the textbook, passing out worksheets, and occasionally showing a video in class. This was the way I was taught, that is how the students of today should be taught. I could not have been more wrong.
Two years does not seem to be a long time, but it really is. And in that time I forgot the most important rule my corporating teacher, Mr. Mike Doyle had taught me. Mr. Doyle always told me that: “A good teacher always relates the classroom learning experience to life outside of the classroom. This will then cause you to adapt to changes in society.” It was not through any purposeful action on my part; I was just focusing on something else, and had inadvertently fallen into the black hole of apathy that most Americans are in, regarding education. Thankfully, by participating in this program I awoke from my slumber and reignited my passion for teaching and helping young people.
The course that really started me on my path of self-discovery and change was the EDUG 509 course. It focused on Educational movements of the 20th Century and was taught by Dr. Wolf. If you approach any individual and ask them about their school experience, more than likely they will remember those few teachers that change their life forever. We all have them. They are those individuals who challenged us, guided us, and were always there to give life advice. For me, Dr. Wolf was one of those teachers. It was Dr. Wolf who introduced me to the writings of Mortimer Adler, the Paideia program, and the Great Books Foundation. It did not take me long after reading these texts to become an advocate for this style of education.
At its most fundamental level, Adler’s educational philosophy tried to return education to the style of the ancient Greeks. Where reading, writing, rhetoric, and physical activity were the centerpieces of education. In this methodology, the ultimate goal of education was not to help the students get a “good job”, but to become virtuous and engaged citizens with a desire for life-long learning. This meant that no matter what professional an individual chose, whether it was working for McDonalds or law professor at Harvard University, the individual would be a virtuous person and work towards the common good and social justice. These are actions that we desperately need in our society today.
For the first time in my educational life, I felt like I had found a philosophy that I could stand behind completely, something had finally made sense. Before I was introduced to Adler and the Paideia program, all of the formal education philosophies (Dewey), felt a little off to me. In Paideia I found an ideology that I was completely in line with. Paideia helps the students experience the world through literature, art, music, religion, and discussion. Science and math are no longer tied to worksheets, and boring textbooks, but the actually writings of the brilliant men and women of their respective fields. I truly believe that the Paideia program lays the foundation for life long learning. It shows the students how we are all interconnected, and makes the subject matter jump off the written page. At its very heart it is student centered which leads us into the second class that had a profound impact on my journey.
The class was EDUG 526, Literacy Issues in Curriculum, and Dr. Hilton taught the course. It was in this course that I learned the definition of a student centered learning environment and why it is so important. We had a long-standing question in the class, we never “formally” answered it, but it always guided our discussion, and assignments we worked on. The question was: “Why are we here”. What is the role of the teacher? Too often in today’s modern classroom, the teacher is the center of the class. The teacher decrees the activities for the day, and all of the students are forced to adapt to the desires of the teacher. This is not a successful learning environment, and this will not create the desire in students for life long learning. In fact it will probably put a terrible taste in their mouth, and the individual will come away hating school forever.
In this course we learned that to truly be a student centered learning environment, all activities need to revolve around the needs of the students. That meant that even if the teacher worked on a lesson plan for three weeks, if the students did not respond well to it, the lesson plan was thrown out. By making our classes’ student centered, we are tailoring everything to the current need of the students at that present time. By doing this, we would be in a greater position to better serve and engage their needs, and guide them through the wonderful process of learning. It also shows the students that they are apart of the process and that they are important. Too often students do not feel like they are important in the classroom. They will not feel that way in a student-centered classroom, because we teachers are always adapting to meet their needs.
This segue ways into my final class that had a profound impact on my learning, EDUG 529, Leadership, Collaboration, and Change. Dr. Knight taught the course. It was in this course where I learned the importance of teacher adaptability. We heard it all the time in our undergraduate classes that every student learns differently. When we student taught we saw a very small sample of this. But for me, I really did not appreciate this aspect of education until Graduate School. I think it was because I did not fully understand the concept.
Ever student learns differently, based on his or her own abilities. Some students can learn from listening to a lecture, others can learn from creating a diorama, while others need to be able to act out an idea. And this is the beautiful part; they are all equal, and all equally important to the educationally process. Too often we think that if a student cannot sit still and listen to a lecture and then automatically understand the material they are stupid. That is furthest from the case. Successful educators embrace all dynamics of education and incorporate it so that every student’s educational needs are met. This means that no two lesson plans should be that same, and diversity is embraced. Lessons need to be tailored to meet the needs of the students in each individual classroom. Now this does not necessarily mean tons of work for the teacher, it just means that the teacher needs to be observant and flexible with their units while instructing.
The Paideia program, student centered learning environments, and teacher adaptability. These three concepts have completely changed my educational philosophy for the better. It puts the needs of the students as the number one priority and gives them the tools they need in order to be engaged citizens in our democracy, life long learners, and most importantly virtuous individuals. But to implement these concepts, our current educational structure needs to be completely overhauled. The over importance of standardized tests as the sole form of student assessment needs to be dropped. If our politicians and members of the department of education truly understood adaptability, they would see that standardized tests are the least adaptable form of assessment because it does not embrace student-learning diversity. If you ask the average young person why they attend college, it is met with the response of: “I want to get a good job, so I make a lot of money”. If we properly incorporated the Paideia program and making virtuous individuals, the goal of education would be to make a better and more just society. If we truly wanted to have student centered learning, the economic gaps between poor and rich schools would begin to close.
So where does this leave us? There certainly is a lot of work to be done, and at times it can feel a little hopeless. But there are educators out there, who give teaching 110% everyday, who try and incorporate the above concepts into their everyday classroom. Hope should not be lost; in fact this should be a time of great hope. But in order to accomplish this great change, teachers need to stand up for what we believe to be right. I have met some incredible teachers in this program, that are terrified to speak up for fear of losing their jobs. This cannot be allowed to stand. As a doctor is an expert in medicine and the health of the human body, so are teachers are experts in education. If we stand together and say there is a better way to do this, and demand the respect that is owed to us, then we can change education for the better.
This program has shown me the excellent teachers we have in the world, and it has given me the tools to be a student-centered teacher. It has challenged me in every imaginable way, and has made me a stronger and better-informed educator. The man that began this program 25 months ago is not the same man who is leaving it. I am better informed and ready to jump into the front lines.