07 March 2015

My Journey into a Career in Education

I didn't set out to be a teacher.

As a high school junior, new to yet another school (my tenth in 13 years), a high school counselor told me I would never make it to college. Maybe he said this because my parents did not graduate from college. Maybe he said this because my family worked hard but received assistance. Maybe it was because I had moved so many times and barely had the right credits to graduate in a new state. Most likely he said this because I took the most basic courses, not college preparatory courses. 

Determined, driven, and intent on being the first college graduate in our family, I set out for college and majored in political science/international relations because of a long time interest in worldwide Human Rights. I didn't stay at the first college I attended. No. I continued the familiar pattern of moving. It was only when I finally landed at Piedmont that I began to settle and make peace with my former transient life style. At Piedmont I selected psychology as my major with hopes of working with disadvantaged youth. During an internship where I taught relationship courses at a learning center for teens, I discovered my true interest in not just working with teens but in teaching. After graduation, I got married and began a two year Masters program which also led to a Georgia teaching certificate.

Foxfire & Rabun County High School, Rabun County, GA.
My experiences in the classroom began during my year-long internship at the rural Rabun County High School in Tiger, Georgia. Two full semesters of teaching and observations under Foxfire facilitator, Angela Cheek, provided me a solid foundation for establishing my own classroom in 1998.  If you don’t know much about the Foxfire approach to teaching and learning, you should check it out. The heart of Foxfire’s success is student choice.  The approach to teaching and learning is experiential based and student-centered. 

Following my student teaching experience in Georgia and the completion of my Master’s degree, my husband and I moved to Sylva, North Carolina so he could work on a Master’s degree. I certainly was not prepared for the shift to a small community of public schools interested only in hiring local folks. I spent that first semester in the fall of 1998 teaching English and science at a small private school and teaching adjunct English courses at a local community college.

Cherokee Indian Reservation, Cherokee, NC.
An outsider like me was welcome though at Cherokee High School on the Indian Reservation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. When they offered me a position teaching high school English in January of 1999 I jumped at the chance and launched head first into an amazing experience for my first five years of teaching. Grounded in the idea that students should have choice in learning, I ran my classroom as a facilitator of learning and became a master at differentiation. 99% of my students were Cherokee, and they all had different learning needs. Again, I equate any success experienced at Cherokee to student choice in learning. They appreciated it, and I fine-tuned how to provide student choice and meet the state required objectives and curriculum through Project-Based Learning experiences.

The highlight of our project-based learning experiences together was no doubt the Renaissance Festival the students selected to create as a way to learn the required British literature curriculum.  Student centered and community involved, we even had the Asheville television station run a segment on our event as part of their Never Stop Learning series in October of 2002. Leaving Cherokee after five years of teaching was tough for me because I felt successful as a teacher and had even earned an award for 2002-2003 Cherokee High School Teacher of the Year.

Fayette County Public Schools,   Lexington, KY.
Alas, we had to move again because it was time for my husband to pursue a PhD at the University of Kentucky. So, two weeks after giving birth to my second child, we moved to Kentucky where I obtained a teaching position at the county’s most inner city school. 

This brought new challenges in part because I thought I had figured out how to teach and was comfortable in the profession. Maybe a shake up was exactly what I needed to become an even stronger teacher. In Lexington, the school where I taught had a very diverse student population. The experience of dealing with diversity brought new challenges and caused me to question what I thought I knew about being a teacher. But I was determined to meet my students' needs. New state. New school. New colleagues. New parents. New community. New students. New standards which were skill based. New content area, too, because in addition to teaching English, I taught arts and humanities. It was at this new school when I decided to pursue National Board certification. Earning my NBCT status was a highlight in my career because the process brought professional learning. Analyzing student work, writing and reflecting on my teaching practices, and producing evidence of my practice and my students' work were fantastic ways to help me improve as a teacher which ultimately led to me being recognized in the district teacher spotlight segment in 2008-2009.

The NBCT process also taught me more about being a leader because it required me to show evidence of how I was a teacher leader, not something I had given much thought previously. When you take the time to think intentionally about what you are doing, it improves your outcome. The year after earning NBCT status, I became department chair for our 13 member English department of young teachers. My leadership experience and demonstration of effective teaching were important and relevant factors for my position, which still required me to teach a full 6 courses. I taught everything from arts and humanities to AP Language, AP Literature to elective courses such as Shakespeare and Women's Studies to general 10th grade English. There was no release time for building capacity of other teachers. We really caught our groove though and created a cross disciplinary literacy team and started on a literacy plan based on meeting the needs of students in our school. Two years after achieving NBCT status, I decided I needed a change of pace.  Leaving the classroom was not an easy decision as you might have noticed if you've been following my blog. If you haven't been following, you can read more about that decision here, here, and here

State Department of Education In the winter of 2009, I accepted a position as literacy consultant at our state's education agency. Three months into this new position, a key piece of legislation (commonly known as Senate Bill 1) was passed into law. This sent our entire state into an era of new reform. I went to this position very naive about politics in education. I paid close attention and spent time learning, reading, researching, and listening.  Needless to say, it was a very interesting experience

It's About Kids Support Services (District Office). After weeks of soul searching and even conversations about returning to the classroom full time, I accepted a position in late August 2012 in my home district in Lexington, Kentucky. Returning to Fayette County Public Schools was a rewarding learning experience. I served as Secondary English Language Arts Specialist for the district and spent my time working with teachers. I visited classrooms, facilitated professional development sessions, provided Literacy Design Collaborative Training to English, Social Studies, and Science teachers in collaboration with teachers in those disciplines, planned for Response to Intervention work in the district, planned for literacy teams and writing program reviews, started a new blog, and contributed to the district Innovation Team. 

A Nonprofit Organization.  In the spring of 2013 I was recruited for a new position with a brand new organization designed to promote change and innovation in Kentucky's schools.  After more soul searching and a realization that I should walk the talk about taking leaps, I accepted a position leading an initiative for a curriculum project and research study with schools in Kentucky and Colorado collaborating to create units of study to meet the needs of their students and the demands of the Common Core State Standards.  Because we are a brand new organization with only a few employees, I also contribute the blog and initially helped run some of the social media accounts.  (I love this!)  I remain steadfastly committed to raising the voice of teachers and students in public education in my new position.  We need changes in our system, and my new position is offering me additional opportunities to promote changes and to encourage teachers along the way.

NOTE: This post used to appear on my About page, but when I decided to update that page today, I wanted to preserve my longer bio, so I updated this a bit and added information about my decision to get into education in the first place.

~~~Please tell me about your journey in the comments area below~~~