Monday, February 4, 2013

Century of Progress: A Jouney to Become a Better Teacher

It was over three years ago that I first received an email asking me to take part in a survey our education cooperative (ESSDACK) was needing for a grant project provided by the Teaching American History program.  It would be called Century of Progress. 

If I participated in the survey I would be one of the first teachers selected for the program.  If I was part of this program there were several things I would be receiving and several things I would be required to participate in. 

I hate the word "required." Automatically I got a yucky taste in my mouth. 

It didn't improve as I read the list of other required items...
  • Participate in four scheduled conference dates throughout the school year - GASP!  Take me out of the classroom.  No way.  I HATE being gone from school, I HATE making sub plans, and I HATE having my time wasted by boring meetings.
  • Submit lesson plans and allow for you to be videotaped.  These will be available on the web for other teachers to use as a resource.  - Uhhhh...I'm not a good speller and my work is filled with typos, most of my lesson plans are copied and modified from another teacher, no one would want to use them anyway.  Oh, and I am NOT going to be video-tapped. 
  • Required participation in a week long conference over the summer. - Are you kidding me?!?!  A week.  Out of my summer???  I'm busy enough as it is with school stuff over the summer, and they want an entire week. Never.
  • Book studies, lectures from American History professors, required attendance - No. No. No.
  • This project will last for three years - THREE YEARS?!?!  That's a long-term commitment.  NOPE.  Not gonna do it!
I stopped reading the email.  (I should have continued, I never got to the part about what I would receive...)

I dismissed the thought, deleted the email, and went about my day.  Until I checked my email again that afternoon.

Forwarded to me was the exact same email from my building principal, our district curriculum director, the librarian (really???), and the superintendent. 


I get the point.  I'll do it.  (But I am NOT going to like it.)

Famous last words...

It turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong about this project, how I would respond to it, and what it would do for my teaching. 

There are many things a teacher can do to grow professionally, but I truly believe one of the biggest is to collaborate with other teachers, and for secondary teachers it is almost more important to collaborate with other teachers who instruct the same subject.  I can work all year long with the math, science and language arts teachers in my building and get some ideas, many that I'll never use, but put me in a room with 39 other middle school social studies teachers FOUR times a year and I walk out of there with my head BUZZING of new ideas, strategies, and resources, and feeling like my professional career has jumped forward.

Century of Progress has done more than just improve the methods of which I teach, but it has taken away the fear.  The fear of trying something new and failing, the fear of a completely different set of standards and expectations, the fear of working with primary source documents which can be VERY intimidating.  I was so afraid of people reading my lesson plans and watching me on tape, that I forgot that I created my lesson plans by reading and watching what others have done.  Century of Progress helped to to realize that I can be that idea for someone else.   There are so many possibilities when ideas are shared from teacher to teacher.  When good ideas are shared and teaching practices increase that all translates into more learning and better experiences for kids.

I used to fear changes because it meant so much extra work.  (Work to be completed in our "copious amount of free time...")  I used to sit back and wait to be told what was coming.  Now, because of Century of Progress, I feel like I am a leader.  I am confident in what I am teaching, with new ideas, resources, and a strong belief that what I am doing is promoting learning and student engagement.  I have a network of teachers who not only have many of the same fears and concerns because we face the same challenges, but also have the same passion and drive.  That energy is exciting.  I want to share that excitement. 

Starting next school year, social studies teachers in the state of Kansas will have a brand new set of standards, very different standards to follow.  They will be scary to some, but because of Century of Progress I have already been given so many of the skills and tools needed to transition my classroom into one of the future, and some of that transition has already taken place.  I feel ready.  I feel excited.

Century of Progress will hold it's last summer conference in June this year.  I am dreading it, but not for the reasons I thought I would three years ago.  I have come to enjoy these meetings and the people so much, I don't want it to end.  It may sound cheesy, but there is a bond there.  We understand each other.   We have been through a lot in three years.  We are middle school teachers, we are history geeks, and we are awesome! 

Thank goodness for the forward button.