How to Be Critical

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I just finished writing the 5th chapter of my dissertation where I discuss the pros and cons of teaching One Hen from the teacher perspective. Of course, since I was one of the teachers I’m relying a lot on my own reflections as data. (And, to think, my students hate writing reflections! They are useful!). The regular classroom teacher, Lynn, also has a perspective on the unit, and I interviewed her twice (once at the beginning and once at the end).  When I write about the “cons” of the One Hen unit, I really need to take a look at what we did in practice or adjustments we made to the unit itself that didn’t work out so well.  I am very used to looking at my own practice or my own lesson planning and reflecting on what went well and what didn’t. I am my own toughest critic when it comes to teaching. But critiquing someone else…that’s a different story.

But wait, one might say, I also teach teachers. Doesn’t that mean I have to critique other people? I do, but it’s different. It’s easy critiquing a student, they have taken a class seeking feedback. They are seeking new learning and someone to prompt THEM to look at their own teaching critically. Not necessarily to critique them. And most of my students aren’t even teachers yet, so I don’t have any qualms critiquing their practice because they are just developing their practices. In my dissertation, things are different…

Lynn is a veteran teacher who began her education career when I was still listening to Alanis Morissette in my basement. She has had so much more experience than I have. And we share the same approach to social studies education and a lot of the same beliefs about education in general. So when I have to reflect on her practice as well as mine to critique, it’s more difficult. For example, Lynn made a lot of adjustment to my original design of the One Hen unit. I am not so proud that I don’t want teachers to make revisions. In fact, I consulted several teachers when writing the unit. And I would assume teachers would need to adapt any unit to fit the needs of their specific students. And Lynn made several adjustments to the unit that I think made the unit a lot better, including field trips and beefing up the math standards and activities.

However, there were some choices that Lynn made adjusting the unit and implementing it that I wouldn’t have done. For example, Lynn wanted to have the students sell their products for a long time, whereas the original design of the unit is 4-5 days tops. In the end, Lynn got her way–the students sold their products for 4 WEEKS, not days. I rolled with it (she is the veteran), but looking back, I see that it wasn’t the best decision. The students “forgot” what they were selling for, there was a huge gap between instruction and the final assessment (that’s never good), and the students’ engagement with the project diminished. Even fun things stop being fun when they become routine. So, looking back, I think I was right. So how do I write about that?

I can’t just rip Lynn apart for this decision. It was made with good intentions; after all, the kids selling for longer meant they made more money. And Lynn is a human whom I happen to like very much. Nobody wants to read about how someone else questioned their professional decision-making. And really can I even judge what was the “right” decision as far as time? It’s complicated. I know that when I was teaching I could have taken more time on certain subjects to let students explore. This is something I have come into thinking more now that I have left the classroom than in actual practice. I, like many other teachers, faced the issue of too-much-to-cover-not-enough-time. Not mention, Lynn has expressed a desire to read my dissertation. What if she reads it and is offended by what I wrote?

At the moment, I am treading lightly with wording and hoping my message get across…

Save the Date

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This week has brought some big steps for me.  These steps indicate that an end is near. Although I am not sure how I feel about the end of my “year of writing”, I am encouraged this week.

First of all, I spent a lovely Saturday getting to know some new/old friends from Twitter at the Michigan Reading Association Conference. It was nice to socialize with some people that previous to this I had only conversed with on Twitter. And I got to spend a day discussing books, reading, writing, and research with some super-smart people. That is a good time any day and it was much needed to get me out of my stay-at-home-alone-and-write funk that I was in.

Being alone much of the week must have been somewhat successful because I accomplished a lot writing-wise. I submitted a draft of my Ch 5 to Anne-Lise (a chapter about the classroom teacher in my study–another blog post coming on this) and I submitted a journal article for publication. The journal article came back within two days with a resubmit (“This really didn’t come alive for the reader”–blerg) and a deadline to resubmit within the week. More writing ahead!

I also got a call for another on-campus interview at U of M Flint. I had a phone interview with them a long time ago but since so much time had passed, I had written it off as a rejection. It had been so long since any news on the job front that I had resigned myself to not having one next year. This perked up my spirits a bit and helped me see that I need to stop being so discouraged so quickly. I have such a hard time being patient and my mind tends to go to a dark place where I assume the absolute worst. They want me to come out next Thursday. Mike said “Don’t they know it’s March Madness?” I don’t even care that I’m missing my favorite “holiday”–that’s how excited I am to go there.

I also decided to get out a bit more to break my cabin fever. I had dinner with friends and family this week and babysat my 4-year-old nephew. It was kind of nice to spend the afternoon dressing up like super heroes, schooling him in  Just Dance on the Wii, and playing with his Star Wars action figures. His collection rivals any adult nerd’s, trust me. Even I was a bit geeked to see his Millennium Falcon, compete with Han Solo at the helm.



But by far, my biggest news is that I have an official dissertation defense day set. The big day is Tuesday, May 7, at 2:00 pm. I booked the day so nonchalantly that it took me a couple days to realize what that day represents. It represents the last day of my MSU doctoral career. I started back in August of 2008, a middle school teacher that needed to read every article for every class with my Dictionary app in front of me. Five years later, I have turned into an educational scholar. And I truly feel like I have. I feel more and more confident in what I know with every passing year. I’m assuming this confidence will continue to grow regardless of where my career takes me after this. On May 7, I unveil the biggest work of my career this far. And I am really excited to do it, not nervous at all. Yet. I changed the date on the countdown clock on the side of this blog from a general day to the specific time. Time to keep working toward that end.

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