Today we talk with Margaret Grabowski, a member of our Teacher Advisory Group. Margaret taught elementary school for six years in South Texas, and currently works as an English language arts strategist.
How did you become a teacher? When I first started college in Chicago, I never thought I would become a teacher. An idealist, all I knew was that I wanted to make a difference in the world. Work study led me to schools where I could see the difference good teachers make. After graduation, I joined Teach For America and headed to South Texas.
What was your preparation experience like? Over the summer before my first year, I picked up enough classroom management strategies to stay a step or two ahead of the six year-olds in my first classroom that fall, but I still had a lot to learn. I was enrolled in a Texas alternative certification program, complete with a mentor and supervisor, as well as participating in Teach For America development activities that first year. The experience left me tired. I still didn’t have the tools to be highly effective, but I had a better idea where my areas of weakness were.
My second year of teaching, I began a master’s program in education. I also began to seek out books and other resources relevant to my instructional weaknesses. It was through this self-initiated professional development that my instruction began to improve.
My first graders began to show substantial growth in reading and in math, and during my third year teaching I was selected District Elementary Teacher of the Year. During my third year I also became a mentor to a fellow teacher, who would later ascribe much of what she learned to me. Although I cannot take all credit for her success as a first-year teacher, I do believe that having an effective mentor really makes a difference for new teachers.
Looking back, what are your thoughts? In reflecting on my teacher preparation programs, I began to question a famous proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. What if the man, after determining that fishing is the best way to feed himself, can discover his own method of fishing? Wouldn’t this process of experiential learning empower him to seek another way of feeding himself should the rivers run dry?
Remembering the proverb, it is important to note that these are not our only options. Based on my experience, a combination of effective coaching, coursework, and reflection can give teachers-in-training the time and support to pinpoint student needs and discover best methods, preparing them to face the challenges of first-year teaching and giving their first-year students a fairer shot at an equitable education.
In five days, NCTQ will release the 2014 edition of the Teacher Prep Review, which will include the first-ever look a secondary alternative certification programs. Make sure you check-in first thing Tuesday morning to learn more.