Below is my final essay for my Transformation of Teaching and Learning course. I went back to graduate school in March 2020 to pursue a second Master’s degree. We were restricted to 1000 words using information learned in class. APA format was required.
As a brand new teacher, I embarked on a journey with naïve hope, a belief in myself, and passion for learning and teaching. Over these past two decades, that passion never waived. However, my hope and belief were tested, pushed to the brink, and cracked in a few places. Through it all, I remained steadfast to the profession I love.
I am a tired teacher; one who has ran the gauntlet of the teaching profession. I have taught in two states, multiple school districts, and multiple grade levels ranging from Native American Reservations to small districts in rural communities. I am currently a support person for families trying to navigate a confusing special education system. Through all of these experiences, I never stopped learning. I am lifelong learner improving my craft as a teacher. I entered this course with a hope that I would find academic engagement that would fuel my starving brain and help rekindle my passion.
Over these many years, my role as a teacher has evolved to become more as a guide and facilitator of knowledge and skill. I provide the necessary tools that will build that needed self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation where a person feels capable enough to take that next step through a door of opportunity of their own choosing (Ormrod, 2016). I create an environment where the student feels safe, meeting the second level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need, and then provide them information and resources to make an informed decision (Ormrod, 2016). Once a student makes a decision, I then provide encouragement to build the student’s sense of empowerment which aids is developing self-worth (Ormrod, 2016).
Constructivist approaches, such as inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and discovery learning have always felt natural to me as a teacher (Shaffer, 2018). I found inquiry-based and project-based learning opportunities were typically embedded in the school approved science curriculum and I created supplemental curriculum based on those same constructivist approaches. I did not feel comfortable using star charts, marble jars, or prize boxes to provide extrinsic motivation to my students (Ormrod, 2016; Ormrod & McGuire, 2007). To me, behaviorism seemed more about coercion to get students to do what you want. Utilizing operant conditioning techniques to reinforce a desired behavior seems to be more about programming an individual to receive a reinforcer rather than learning information or a skill (Ormrod, 2016).
This thinking changed during my years as an elementary science specialist when my classroom management techniques needed to be changed for the younger age group. I decided to explore behaviorism techniques, which included the use of star charts and a prize box. I never felt confident in utilizing these techniques. What was I actually teaching my students? Why was the pride of accomplishing a task not enough of an intrinsic motivator? I didn’t understand at the time that intrinsic motivation often needs help to develop from extrinsic reinforcement (Ormrod, 2016).
I wanted my students to feel the sense of flow that I did about science where autonomy and enjoyment of learning become driving forces of increased intrinsic motivation (Ormrod, 2016; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Unfortunately, my process was not always sensible, because not everyone is as passionate about science as I am. I did not understand how the nature of my neurology was impacting my teaching ability until much later in life. I experienced a paradigm shift of my whole world view after I became a parent. All my energy focusing on academics went to focusing more on the whole person. This began when both my children were diagnosed with multiple disabilities. I only learned after their diagnoses that I, too, am considered highly impacted by a disability.
How did I make it so far in life without knowing that I was highly impacted by a developmental disorder? I learned early on how to navigate the hidden curriculum described as the “unwritten, unofficial, unintended, and undocumented life lessons and virtues that students learn while in school” (Sulaimani & Gut, 2019, p. 30). I learned how to hide and mask. I was motivated through extrinsic reinforcers that kept me in a fight or flight state much of the time. Fear is a very strong motivator. I also had a strong need for approval that was internalized at a young age. This particular need is describe as “a desire to gain the acceptance and positive judgments of other people” (Ormrod, 2016, p. 441).
Looking back at my own educational experiences, I see a struggling, lonely student with an undiagnosed disability falling through the cracks, because she learned that “doing school”, as Pope (2001) described, meant surviving and jumping through hoops to get where you really want to be. My education philosophy has been heavily influenced by those experiences. I believe in student choice and creating a learning environment that is sensory friendly, culturally relevant, and supportive of all learning needs.
How can I, as a teacher, reach the types of students that typically fall through the cracks: those whose social emotional needs are neglected, those who are not presumed competent, and those who are treated as a behavior problem rather than a student crying out for help? I have learned that I need to work toward improving my own self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation before I can expect to reach students who struggle with the same thing. I need to be mindful of hidden curriculum that promotes the notion that “doing school” to achieve high grades is acceptable no matter the cost to the student (HumberEDU, 2017; Pope, 2001).
When I started teaching almost 22 years ago, I never thought my journey would lead to my craft evolving where the idea of educating the next generation became less about academics and more about the whole student and the community. We, as a society, need to make a cultural paradigm shift where focus is less on the idea that achieving high grades is the ultimate goal and more on encouraging critical thinking, reinforcing intrinsic motivation, and meeting the needs of all students.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Literacy and Intrinsic Motivation. Daedalus, 119(2), 115-140. Retrieved April 30, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/20025303.
HumberEDU. (2017). The hidden curriculum | Part 1 of 2: Norms, values and procedures [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuLhmDE9Exo.
HumberEDU. (2017). The hidden curriculum: Part 2 of 2: Sociological perspectives [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77psBGyYj94.
Ormrod, J. E. (2016). Human Learning (7th ed.). Pearson.
Ormrod, J. E., & McGuire, D. J. (2007). Case studies: Applying educational psychology (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Pope, D. C. (2001). Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students. Yale University Press.
Shaffer, S. (2018). Constructivism & Sociocultural Perspectives [PowerPoint].
Sulaimani , M. F., & Gut, D. M. (2019). Hidden Curriculum in a Special Education Context: The Case of Individuals With Autism. Journal of Educational Research and Practice, 9(1), 30–39. doi: 10.5590/JERAP.2019.09.1.03.