The four Saint Mary’s University student presenters admit it was a bit of a role reversal—the students became the teachers … to teachers.
Graduating elementary education majors Emily Blaser, Katie LeTourneau, Jessica Bjick, and Ally Warmka hadn’t yet gathered classroom experience, outside of student teaching, and they couldn’t imagine inspiring their audience at the ASCD annual conference in Atlanta, Ga.—comprised of experienced educational practitioners.
“We were rookies,” LeTournaeau said. “How could we be presenting? Shouldn’t we be listening and learning?”
But, following their presentation titled, “Are You the Teacher You Intended to Be?” one of those 30-year seasoned professionals in the audience told them she was moved. Their universal message—about the need for teachers to continually reflect on their experiences in order to become more effective educators—gave her hope for the future of the profession.
It all began, the foursome (all ASCD student chapter leaders) explained, when they listened to a presentation by 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year Tom Rademacher. He challenged the future educators to “be the teachers they intended to be when they first chose to become teachers.” These words resonated with them, and inspired their presentation proposal, accepted in August 2015 (as possibly the only student presenters at the national conference of 8,000 to 10,000 attendees).
While student teaching this past fall, the team spent 14 weeks extensively journaling as a way to reflect on their personal identities and contemplate their commitment to student learning. They determined the process of becoming lifelong learners was core to their identity development.
“We journaled after each day, reflecting on what went well and what didn’t go so well,” Blaser said.
At the end, they read each other’s journals, picked four representative journals, and highlighted entries, eventually categorizing them into four pillars.
- Teacher effectiveness
- Thoughts about the future
For “effectiveness,” LeTourneau said there were good days, when they were engaged, and their students were engaged. They learned to get to know their students and acknowledged that reflection was the key to making them better teachers.
For “attitude,” Bjick said, they examined what situations made them react positively or negatively depending on the day (or sometimes even hour). “No matter what, we discovered that how we felt about our students was always positive,” she said. “But how we felt about things that were out of our control—like the pressures of standardized testing and the limitations of being a guest in a classroom—affected our attitudes, and in turn affected our days and our students’ days.”
For “failure,” Warmka said they examined common themes centered around times they thought they had failed, when lessons hadn’t gone well, and when things were out of their control. Time constraints was a big theme. “We learned not to dwell on the failures,” she said. “Instead we reflected to see where we could grow and learn.”
When examining the “future,” Blaser said they asked themselves, “Are we able to be the change the educational world needs right now?”
“We realized that there is always growth to be made,” she said. “We always need to reflect and think about what we can do better the next day.”
As far as their futures, Bjick, LeTourneau, and Blaser all hope to begin teaching at the elementary level in the Twin Cities area. Warmka realized through this experience that although she loves teaching, classroom teaching isn’t her true calling. Following some time with AmeriCorps, she hopes to pursue a career working with youth with mental health issues.
The foursome hopes that their message did help to inspire educators who need to go back to their roots, and ask themselves if they are the teachers they intended to be.
“So many teachers get wrapped up in the pressures and don’t have time to reflect,” Blaser said. “It becomes too routine. Students aren’t going to stay the same. We have to think about how to improve for our students. We didn’t decide to become teachers because of the pay. We wanted to make a difference in children’s lives.”