Thursday, March 3, 2011

Entrance Essay


Entrance Essay for MA + Certification in Educational Administration

I’ve floundered about in my educational career, product of budget cuts, student enrollment decreases, and brighter prospects. I’ve taught little snippets of every grade; my career looks like a hodgepodge of movie shorts. Pre-school, adult education, Native American, Title-1 program improvement, California Distinguished School, alternative education, charter school, I’ve dabbled in it all. In my short career of 5 ½ years (not counting, nor necessarily discounting, my student teaching and three summers of pre-school experience) I have seen what all grade levels and varieties of schools have to offer their students, staff, and community. No worries, I am not irresolute career-wise and I know my dabbling does not compete with a teacher of thirty years experience, but I feel I bring valuable experiences to wherever I go, and wish to contribute these while at U of R.

I also bring some valuable experiences for continuities sake. I am in my third year of full-time, year-long teaching experiences where I have begun to settle down and really learn the tricks and the trades of my own classroom. I feel these are the best to focus on while explaining my past and present experiences and history.

In the 2004-2005 school year, I taught fifth grade in Montclair, CA at a Title-1, Program Improvement, Reading First school. The student population was low SES (100% free lunch), with over 75% ELL students (in my class of thirty-some, I had one native speaker and two FEP). As many schools have experienced, we were under pressure from NCLB to raise test scores and implement recommended programs in a regimented manner to assure success. I gained many valuable perspectives from this job, as I sometimes felt powerless to teach when I had to be on the same page at the same time as the next door teacher, and had to teach word-for-word from the textbook. Certainly, low SES students whom are more likely kinesthetic learners (not to mention the language barrier interfering in linguistic activities) will benefit from a spelling lesson where they discover the patterns, similarities, and differences and then categorize them accordingly- in place of the rote-learning lesson where I as the teacher dictate the spelling terms and write them on the board in the proper categories! Oh my…I was much too innovative and wanted to change the system to help the students as that’s why I became a teacher! Besides, my brain was chock-full of ideas from my credentialing classes which taught me great differentiation skills and motivational activities (thank you U of R!). In retrospect, I should not have so grudgingly accepted the scripted lessons, and I should not have snuck in a kinesthetic lesson or two, as that was not my position. And I do realize that such programs exist for a reason, the theories of which are actually marvelous and revolutionary. I would love to actually go even more research-based and try and find what works for each child and teach accordingly whenever possible. Another valuable experience I gained from my position in Montclair was data-driven instruction which is a weird curiosity for me, as I actually enjoy looking over and analyzing data – what methods and practices are reflected in this data? What cultural, economical, and other outside forces may have had a mild contribution to the data? What standards are difficult for the student base? Were the questions worded strangely, or did the teachers browse over the standard thinking the students comprehended it when they did not? How can we change our teaching to increase the test scores across the board? What other alterable factors can we experiment with? I am currently the “data dude” for my school, or at least I’m in that position for our WASC visit, so I took it upon myself and tabulated some data in visually friendly graphs to help us being data-driven instruction, as we’re lagging behind the trend. I did this all on my own volition, as I did not want our school to appear disorganized, as we didn’t even have the data in one place before I got to it.

I have taught another year in 5th grade, during the 2007-2008 school year. I will not delve into so many details; while it was quite valuable, I have discussed rather unendingly about my previous experience in the same grade level. My school in Beaumont was a California Distinguished School, and we had API and AYP scores that were sufficient- around about 800. That does not mean we did not face obstacles, but we approached it often through data-driven instruction. We also had a great school culture, one of respect, understanding, and drive to achieve. Students were constantly praised and taught to do the same, and the school was full of smiles- so much that other schools teased us (in a friendly manner) that we were just too full of smiles.

I loved working with the elementary students, in fact I had originally decided while pursuing my initial credential, that kindergarten was my calling. I had loved my summer jobs in pre-school- a job which I had stumbled upon whilst fulfilling my community service requirements at Redlands- so Kindergarten was where I just had to be. However, I changed my mind when I had to be a student teacher in a 3rd grade classroom- wow, these students were very astute, and yet still full of childlike wonder. My next student teaching position was in 5th grade and I loved that, too. However, in between my 5th grade teaching experiences, I taught at an independent study program and had K-12 students and I really enjoyed the intellectual level of high school students. They have transitioned from concrete-operational thinking to the abstract, critical thinking level also known as “Formal Operations.” They begin to tie ideas together, challenge their thinking, and discover how what they are learning actually does relate to life. I was quite excited when I received a call to do a long-term position at a continuation school teaching science, computers, and P.E. Many ask me “you taught in continuation?” as if it is part of Hades Underworld. I instinctually knew that if I gave them the respect they deserved, they’d return the favor. Many of the students were so damaged from their life so far, that they did not respect authority, adults, or even education but deep down inside they were human beings- and they had a heart. When I left that position to teach 5th grade, many of my students were upset and jealous of my future students and asked me to come back.

I have now landed a position in a Charter School teaching English I-IV and I love connecting literature to history, the present, and their own lives. My school fosters preparation for life and allows students to set their own life path- University, Community College, Vocational, or Certificate of Completion. Their schedules are more individualized to reflect their path, and we are very keen on differentiated instruction. No wonder though, as our average class size is under twenty. In a much smaller environment, students do not get lost in the crowd. They get to know their instructors and vice versa, and they get the attention and differentiation they may need.

With such experiences, one may ask why I am pursuing Educational Administration. I feel that I am a mover and a shaker, a motivator and persuader. I am an engine for change when change is needed, yet I value tradition and proven methods. I feel that many times, teachers- especially newer ones- are not given the respect they deserve. We are to be quiet, listen, and follow directions. Many times we are “tsk-tsked” for recommending too many students to the SST process, or pursuing IEP’s, GATE, Redesignation (FEP), or retention. If we have an idea and it is more than just a worksheet, we are questioned as if it is wrong to challenge an idea or assist a student in need. It costs too much money, takes too much time, or is just not how we do things around here (unless it is thought up by a master teacher.) I do not want to sound bitter, as I am not. I am actually inspired by this. I want to listen to all perspectives as they are likely valuable, and some could even be enacted. No matter who you are, you should be as valuable as any other member of a school-site team, and I want to encourage that.

I have been intuitive and done some self discovery, and come to realize that I am quite a conundrum. I am creative, an out of the box thinker, a visionary. I also of course am empathetic, understanding, a good advisor. On the flip side, I am logical and see structure and patterns in the chaos of our world. I am often told I am business-like, professional, that I am “on top of things”. I go above and beyond the call of duty, and a self-motivator. As mentioned, I put together the test data as I saw a need for it. I get back to parents in a timely manner, and complete other tasks and paperwork before others. I see how things could be, and wish to implement them. For example, I was in a long staff meeting where we kept going off on tangents- albeit interesting and relevant, they were not on the agenda and doubled the time of our meeting. Setting goals and deadlines – ten minutes for announcements, fifteen for schedule changes, etc…and then if you want to stay and discuss your ideas and tangents, we will set aside a time afterwards, not necessarily mandatory, to get things off your chest. Those notes will be summarized for your review if not in attendance, as they likely have value but went past the agenda.

People in my profession become educators for many reasons, but a major reason is to help students in need. I am a child advocate and want a fair education for all. I feel a lot of students “fall through the cracks” until it is too late, when a simple intervention (often much simpler than an SST) could have solved the problem. I feel as an administrator I could help students, faculty, parents, the community... and together we could strive towards a common goal. It takes a village to raise a child, and I’d love to be a head facilitator.

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