Friday, June 13, 2008

Self and Class Assessment

Self Reflection

1. What were your expectations for this class? What did you hope to learn? What did you learn?

It was my hope that I would leave this class with a historical knowledge of education in urban environments, a picture of how that education has been formed and what it looks like today. I had no thoughts about learning best practices and practical tips for teaching in any environment, especially urban ones, but ultimately, I think that that is what I did learn in this course. I think this course has provided me with an intense, if narrow, view of urban education: it has offered me a good look at real classroom practice, but, although we touched on it a little, I don't have a great grasp on the sort of policy decisions and political movements that have greatly influenced not just urban education but urban environments in general. Ultimately, though, I think I might have gotten an even trade-off. I feel comfortable leaving this class with the knowledge it has given me, even if it is not the information I thought I would be receiving.

2. What was your biggest personal challenge in terms of the themes and content of this course? What was your greatest accomplishment?

My biggest challenge in this course was to be open minded. For me, the course was all about learning about 'the other.' I have no sense of urban life and no sense of urban education, but I do have a lot assumptions about both, and the consequent challenge was to not blindly abandon my assumptions but to interrogate them in light of our class discussions. I think my greatest accomplishment was, by the end of the course, to be more open minded about urban education. In the last few classes, especially, I found myself intrigued by and receptive to my classmates' comments whereas earlier in the course I am not sure that this was the case. In part that might be because as the class progressed, our discussions became more refined and better articulated, but in any case, the more I can participate selflessly in a conversation the better because traditionally, my doing so has been rare.

3. Based upon what you've experienced this semester, what do you think are the most important skills, knowledge, and dispositions that teachers need to develop if they plan to work in urban schools? Where are you on this journey? Even if you have decided urban teaching is not for you, what will you bring with you as a teacher?

The two skills that I think are paramount for urban teachers are the ability to be flexible and the ability to communicate effectively. From our discussions, it seems clear that we can accurately characterize urban communities as pretty consistently in a state of flux: there is high mobility among students, there are a multitude of state and national initiatives that want to have a say in education, there is a constant question of funding, and so on. Given this, an urban teacher, I think, has to be able to shift his/her plans, teaching style, perhaps even curriculum at a moment's notice. Additionally, I think that urban educators must be effective communicators; there are a lot of barriers to break down in a diverse, urban environment: barriers of language, barriers of interest, barriers of motivation. What's more, these barriers are not just between the students and the teachers, but also between the teachers and the parents and the educators and the community as a whole. If urban schooling is to succeed, I think all factors of urban life must be involved, and communication stands as the best method with which to engage people.

The most crucial bit of knowledge that I think an urban educator must carry with him/her is an idea of what the urban community in which he/she teaches is like. I think teaching becomes a dramatically different skill when your students are worried they might dead in a week from gang violence or when they haven't had a meal all weekend. It seems that there is an almost constant tension in urban environments between just life and death and to throw education into that mix carelessly will probably bewilder and "turn off" many students. Concurrent with this knowledge of culture, I think that the urban educator must have a compassionate disposition. This is not to say that he/she should baby students or go easy on them, but rather, urban educators need to make sure that their classroom is a place of stability for students, one where they are not threatened, so that they can, perhaps, forget about outside influences and focus on learning.

As for my own point along the journey of attaining these qualities: I am very near the beginning, I think. Not having ever taught it's difficult for me to say what I will be like when I teach, so I am hesitant to characterize myself as any of these qualities. That said, however, the fact that I can outline these qualities as necessary for urban teachers must count for something. The fact that I can picture the path I am on should indicate that I have at least started my journey.

No matter where I end up, I think that I will bring with me all that I learned in this course. As I said in another blog post, I think this class has made me realize that good teaching is good teaching, and that while environments do play a part in learning, teachers tend to employ variants of the same strategies no matter where they are.

Course Feedback

1. What was most helpful for you in terms of learning about urban schools and working in urban communities?

I think that I learn best when there is a discussion that can be represented visually. For example, the two classes where we talked about urban environments and drew concentric circle depictions of them on the board really helped me understand all the factors at play in urban education. I would have liked to have done something comparable to this in most of our classes.

2. How might the course be organized differently? Think in terms of length of time for the course, placement of activities, use of technology?

I have two critiques about course organization: 1) The Urban Educator's Institute. This, I felt, was very poorly organized, or, at least, its organization was poorly relayed to us. Not finding out what was going to be happening during each of the three days until the morning of the first day at the first sight did not maximize the effectiveness of the experience for me. It would have been much more beneficial if we knew what to expect before we went so that we could discuss what things we might want to pay particular attention to, especially when considering that many of us wanted to use the UEI as a source for our websites. 2) the syllabus. After about the first week, I don't think the syllabus articulated what we were doing very well. Readings were not listed, and I felt just a general sense of playing it by ear. It would have been helpful if the syllabus was more complete in terms of what we were accomplishing each day and any readings that were assigned.

3. What readings were most useful? What readings should be replaced? What types of readings would you have liked to read?

I'm not sure that I found any of the readings all that useful, but that might be because I also have the sense that we did not talk about most of them in enough depth. None of the readings seemed particularly bad, but because of a lack of discussion about them, I have a sense that I'm not sure why they were picked or how they supplement the class. This isn't to say that I would have preferred each class being mainly a discussion of readings, but rather, that if we're not going to discuss these "academic" articles, then I would rather read more personal narratives about individual teachers' experiences with urban education. Those would have information that I feel I could synthesize more thoroughly by myself.

4. What could I have done to make this a more valuable experience? What teaching styles worked for you? What could have made the learning experience more accessible for you?

The main critique I have, as I said, is I would have liked a better articulation of the planning of the course. After week one, things felt like they were just happening, and, while I am sure that this is not the case, I never felt like we were progressing on a path towards some end. I could never get a sense of the part (each class) and the whole (the scope of the entire class). This idea also relates to the website, which, until the last class where we used a rubric to critique each others', I wasn't really sure what it should look like, contain, etc. I would have liked to have had that rubric earlier.

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