As a secondary English methods professor, I wish I could get it right every time. The truth is, I wish I could claim just one perfect year as a middle or high school teacher instead of a few near-perfect class periods or too many near-perfect disasters. As many educators of any level might agree, it is the striving for perfection that keeps us moving forward: researching best practices, finding better resources, attending professional conferences, and meeting new colleagues as we continually shape and reshape our philosophical stance on teaching and learning.
Every week, my English methods students pose tough questions about numerous topics in education that experienced teachers struggle with daily. Last week they asked, "How do we get students to actually read (or care about reading) during silent reading? What does accountability for independent reading look like? How do I manage student choice and grading?" Channeling some of my best professors' strategies, I asked them to discuss their own classroom observations and what they have learned from their mentor teachers. Most recently, however, during our discussion of Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development and Deborah Appleman's Critical Encounters in Secondary English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents, one student stumped me with questions about grading: How do we assess scaffolding if one student needs more resources and assistance than another student? How does the scaffolding enter into grading?
Time limited our discussion that evening, which made it immediately clear that we needed more resources to help us grapple with these issues around grading practices. Having experienced the depth of the Twitter professional network, I turned to #sbgchat and discovered #sblchat (Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST). In just moments, I found a video by Rick Wormeli, proficiency grading guides, a website on all things standards based by Matt Townsley, and conversations archived by Garnet Hillman around grading theory and practice.
Yes, my students' questions give me pause, more now that I realize how much there is to learn. But knowing how to navigate these education resources moves me closer to being the professor my secondary teacher candidates need me to be. I have an advantage over my first-year teacher self of twelve years ago: supportive professional networks that constantly teach me (how else would I have discovered teachers on Twitter?). These networks include the National Council of Teachers of English (@NCTE), National Writing Project (@writingproject) beginning with the Louisville Writing Project (@LouisvilleWP) and continuing with the Illinois Writing Project (@IllinoisWP), the International Literacy Association (@ILAtoday), the Illinois Reading Council (@ILReadCouncil, and the Literacy Research Association. Through these professional networks, I have learned the value of mentors, lifelong research, and constant investigation. I have also learned the importance of wobbling on the edge of new challenges. Without these experiences and the support of these associations--of mentors and friends--I wouldn't be able to show my future teachers how to get it right, even if it's only some of the time.