Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Its scary and wonderful to start something new."

Entrance into Mills - springtime!
The new academic year began a few days ago.  I work with two programs that train college grads to become effective teachers.  This week I will talk about Mills College in Oakland.  (The undergraduate programs at Mills are for women only, but the graduate schools are coed.)

Mills bell tower announces every quarter hour, half hour, and hours
I connected with the Mills department of education while I was teaching - I had Mills student-teachers placed in my classroom many times and I found that I was much in agreement with the Mills philosophy.  When I retired it was natural to take on a different role - that of a visiting field supervisor regularly going into the classrooms of my supervises, affirming the good methods I saw, and offering suggestions when needed.  I also participate in weekly seminars.

Mills hall
Each year a 'cohort' of college graduates travel together through the year long program - taking courses, meeting for weekly seminars to share their successes and ' rough edges'.  By the end of the year the group is united  together into a firm supportive community - joined by the challenges they have overcome together and ready to 'move out into the world'.  The program, MCMS (mid career math and science ),  is focused primarily on training teachers to be effective inner city schools teachers.

Mills education buiding
Many of our trainees have worked in a different profession for a number of years and are returning to receive trained in the career of high school science or mathematics teacher.  We have had several lab technicians who discovered that they hated being stuck in a cubical lab all day - they craved interacting with people... We have professional people who feel that their previous work doesn't have the social impact that they are seeking, some come after years of training in one profession to find that they really dont like what they are now trained to do, some come from  the military... seeking a different sort of career.  The different backgrounds of the participants add to the richness of our programs.   I feel that I am among old friends was I work with the Mills community.

Classroom Daily focus - Notice that learning target is written in the person  of the student
 Many MCMS candidates go on to work in the inner city schools of Oakland.  In many large districts, inner city schools attract the least support, have the most extreme turn over rate of faculty, draws students deeply affected by poverty, injustice, and social instability.  Inner cities also draw the most newly arrived immigrants.  The Oakland school system is generally attempting to create positive schools that address the needs of students.  The Mills program seeks to prepare teachers for making the best use of their time and resources to work effectively in classrooms and create positive learning communities for all the kids.  We want our folks to be change makers but not burn out by trying to do the impossible.

Motivation poster on the wall of a classroom

 At Mills I have heard  the mantra – "good teaching is a political act" . Good teaching prepares students to go beyond rote memorization to become effective critical thinkers, prepares them to understand fairness and respect for themselves and others.  

8th grade end of period summation activity in Chemistry - a lot of fun!
We hear a lot about equity at Mills – The goal is to build awareness to meet the goal of  equal opportunities for everyone in the classroom:  women and men, for people of all cultures and races.   Mills seeks to change the fact that historically many classrooms in America have been male oriented. 
Kids of European ancestry have often had an advantage over black, latino, and asian kids. Being aware of equity imbalances is the first step.  Students with special needs need to be supported in accomplishing all that they are capable of doing.  When teachers have respect for their students (sometimes its challenging), students have respect for the teacher. 

Warm up activity - posted on the overhead  when students enter the room - they are to immediately take our paper and begin thinking of their  answer - later there will be group discussion before getting into the work of the day
Simple fact learning or even concept learning still has its place in schools – but today more than ever we have to realize that information is developing so rapidly, new research in leading to new ideas and new approaches … so in addition to learning the basics we recognize how important it is for young people to learn how to deal with new information. To learn how to be an effective self learner… where to access new information and how to assimilate it into our working knowledge.

A class discussion of how magnetic forces and electrical forces are alike and different, and what they have in common
Ideas are belong drawn from the class
At Mills we often  hear “There are lots of ways to be smart”.  True – the traditional “smart” that most of us know about is  based on memorizing processes and facts and then demonstration that we can recall that information back to mind (at least long enough to complete the examination).  Howard Gardner of Harvard has identified seven distinct intelligences. According to this theory, some people are extremely capable in ways that are not usually recognized as intelligence.  What a difference to teaching and to the lives of students to recognize the contributions that kids with differing skills can bring to the classroom.  To read more go to:

Sign on the back gate posts at Mills
Taking responsibility for teaching an actual class is good - working with an experienced master teacher is good, learning the theory of modern education that changes your way of seeing the classroom is good,  having a field supervisor that gives useful feedback is good. being supported by your cohort can be life saving! 

The student teachers undergo a year of intense hard work - along the way they receive a lot of support... but come to crunch they are the ones that grow the most in this process...