Tomorrow Starts Today – A Survey of Teachers pt. 2

photo of teacher Cecily Langford, 2008

survey by Damon Locks

The discussion continues regarding the pros and cons of educating.

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Eve Fineman, 

age 38

What subject/s do you teach? I teach upper level studios in an undergraduate Interior Architecture program, including furniture design, portfolio, thesis and independent design studios.

Where do you teach? The Illinois Institute of Art – Chicago

What age group do you teach? 20 – 50 year olds. Many of my students are non-traditional college students, on their second degrees or careers, so the average age is in the mid-twenties.

How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? Great question! One benchmark for me is the highest level of quality I can get my students to produce, as measured not by the strongest students but by the ones who find it the most challenging. If I can teach them to tap into their abilities and discover new strengths and a higher level of confidence, then I think I have been successful.

Additionally, my success is measured by the outcomes of the students, and whether they have gained new knowledge or skills during the course of my time teaching them. Sometimes it takes a long time to see these come to full fruition. I love seeing their talents and abilities mature once they have graduated and are putting them into practice.

What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? Most of my students are putting themselves through school and are taking out major loans. As a result, their schedules are insane, where they are working full-time jobs and taking 4 studio courses at a time. That is not right, and causes them extreme stress and fatigue. They are not able to put as much into the class material as I’d like them to. But I don’t blame them, I blame the system that has caused higher education to be prohibitively expensive.

Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? YES!!! If I am lucky, I will be teaching alongside some of my brilliant former students.
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Therese Quinn, age 52

What subject/s do you teach? Art education classes related to teaching art in schools, like fieldwork and apprentice teaching seminars, and histories, theories and philosophies of American public education, and sometimes classes that connect to museums.

Where do you teach? School of the Art Institute of Chicago

What age group do you teach? College, both undergraduate and graduate levels

How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? Through the engagement and successes of my students, such as when they go on to teach in public schools across the city and country, and develop exhibits for museums, and publish their writing about teaching and everything else they do.

What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? Our national lack of regard for teachers of any subject, and specifically, the way our social understanding of “artist” is so limited (only for a few very special people, and not a way of understanding and responding the world that all of us should be able to access) and often precludes other identities, like “teacher.”

Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? Yes, teaching is intellectually challenging and political work, and always dynamic. And teaching people who will go on to be teachers, and doing this in Chicago–well, there’s nothing more exciting. Chicago has always been at the sharp edge of thinking about public education; from Jane Addams and John Dewey’s work in progressive and socially engaged education, to the initiation of elected Local School Councils in the 1980s, on through to Mayor Daley’s takeover of the Chicago Public Schools and Arne Duncan’s failed attempts to raise scores by closing public schools and opening quasi-private charter schools–this is the city where all education ideas and practices, good and bad, get tested. I can’t think of any kind of labor that is more interesting right now.
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Nicole Mitchell

What subject/s do you teach? Jazz History and Jazz Ensemble

What age group do you teach? I teach high school and at a university.

How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? I measure success by enthusiasm, independence, inspiration and development of the students.

What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? The major factor that impedes my work is the complication of being a professional artist in my field and teaching. Teaching schedules can be very strict which limits my accessibility to students. If institutions can be more supportive and flexible with active artists, students will be able to benefit more.

Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I will be teaching in 10 years because teaching and mentorship is part of the balance in my lifestyle. It’s important to give to the future.

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Kelly Kuvo a.k.a. Ms. Richardson, age 40

What subject/s do you teach? Fundamentals of Art, Arts and Crafts, Ceramics

Where do you teach? Baltimore City Public Schools, currently at Heritage High School

What age group do you teach? Middle/High School students ages 13 -21

How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? Students completed art projects & improvement in art skills over time, student understanding of principles of art/elements of design/aesthetics: describing, analyzing, interpreting, and judging their own and others artworks both verbally in class and in writing on a critique worksheet. Student work being chosen to represent my school in city and state-wide art exhibitions.

What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? Inept school administrators that have no interest in understanding what I do as an art teacher, nor the amount of supplies I need and why I’ll need them, and no concept of the extra time it takes to prepare art materials before each lesson in contrast to other subject area teachers who simply work with paper worksheets and pen/pencil everyday.

Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? Yes, in New York City or Los Angeles. Definitely not in Baltimore

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Diane Lena, age 42

Where do you teach? Early Childhood Montessori, Oscar Mayer Magnet school in Lincoln Park

What age group do you teach? 3-6 year olds

How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? I measure my success as an educator by observing my students and my classrooms environment. Are my students happy? Are they excited about learning new things. Are they working together as a community? I know I am successful I see my students teaching each other, talking to each other about what they have learned, and asking question to deepen their understanding.

What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? Developmentally inappropriate expectations. Many administrators do not have or even try to a thorough understanding of child development.There is a trend to make preschool more academic. I do believe it is important to challenge children, but not pushing to the point of frustration.

Another impeding factor is the lack of appreciation or understanding of the importance of the creative thought process in education.

Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I do think I’ll be teaching or involved in education in 10 years. It will hopefully be in my own school or a school that has been developed with people that share the same educational philosophy as me.

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Olivia, age 37

What subject/s do you teach? Humanities – integrated English Lang Arts, Spanish Lang Arts, Social Studies, Fine and Folk Arts

Where do you teach? I taught 6-8th grades for 10 years at Telpochcalli Elementary school, a small CPS school in La Villita at 24th and California. This has been my first year out of my regular classroom – now am working with other schools and teaching workshops for teachers to help them build strong dual language programs so our students emerge bilingual, biliterate, and “culturally competent.” I also co-teach a Social Studies methods course at the U of C for their Urban Ed grad program.

How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? A successful teacher should be measured by the individual growth of each student they have taught and by their ability to reach every student in some powerful way. When still students call me for advice 10 years later, when they have the courage to express their individual identity no matter the pressure to conform, when they retain the artifacts and memories of our learning experiences together, when they have fish, know how to fish, have explored the metacognitive process of learning to fish, have written poetry about the…you get it, when they demonstrate that they have had experiences that they can build on and have developed tools with which to do so – those are the measures of my success.

What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? The biggest challenges to my work are 1) the intellectual laziness of many grownups with power 2) shallow attitudes about language and culture 3) policy and infrastructure that do not support solid teaching practices, most awfully, assessment practices that delegitimize any demonstration of learning that doesn’t lend itself to quantifiable measure.

Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I will definitely be teaching in 10 years.

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M. Brooks, age 43

What subject/s do you teach? English as a Second Language

How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? I measure success by the amount of interest I can generate in a student to learn and to recognize the importance of becoming a life long learner. This is measurable through a change in attitude towards grades, achieving higher grades, doing better in class and in school etc…This is not how success is generally measured by school systems who like to focus on standardized test scores mostly.

What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? The major factor that impedes my work as an educator is not having enough time to do all of the things I am required to do adequately…not having enough time to work with struggling students. Also, not being paid over the summer and not receiving raises has made it necessary to get a part-time job which means less energy for working with my students.

Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? I will not be teaching in 10 years. Hopefully, I will have moved on!

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Mary Dominis, age 43 yrs

Where do you teach? Mesa, Arizona

What age group do you teach? Kindergarten for 11 years

How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? I know I have experienced success when any one, and hopefully all of my students make gains academically, sociallly and emotionally throughout the school year. I also measure my success by my student’s level of comfort and joy in the learning process and the environment I provide. It is one of my goals to personally connect with each of my students at least once per day, via handshake, hug, quiet conversation at my desk etc. It also is one of my goals to share laughter in the class each day. My passion for multicultural studies, literature and music is also shared in my class as a way to teach tolerance and inspire an interest in the arts.

What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? The incredible amount of government, state and local district red hoops that teachers are being forced to jump through. I understand that there is a need for continuing education and checks and balances, but these things have gotten completely out of control. Teachers have endless meetings and are required to do ridiculous amounts of paper work leaving very littlte time for preparation and actual teaching. Kindergarten began a version of standardized testing several years ago and we are now being pressured to teach for test scores as scores are tied into our salaries.

Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? Not sure. I have been thinking about alternative occupations for several years now. I make very little money and am finding it more difficult each year to survive on a teacher’s salary. My garbage man makes ten dollars more per hour than I do for driving around in an air conditioned cab with a robotic arm that picks up and dumps the trash for him.

I do however have a passion for teaching and as long as I can find joy in what I do despite all of the aggravations I spoke of, I will continue to teach.

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Marliese Colantuno Roth, age 43

What subject/s do you teach?/ What age group do you teach? The Montessori curriculum is interdisciplinary, so I teach all subjects.  As Montessori educators, we are coached not to “teach subjects” in the conventional sense; rather we prepare a rich environment in which children can select from beautiful hands-on materials that interest them, teaching themselves via their own investigations and experimentation, with our guidance as asked for or needed.  This is true at every level. Also, a fundamental component of the Montessori method is a mixed age grouping comprised of a three-year span, so Montessori guides are prepared to offer lessons over not one, but three years’ worth of curriculum.  For the age group for which I am trained (which encompasses children from 2.5 years old through 6 years old), this includes Peace Education; Practical Life Skills; Sensorial Experiences; Language Arts; Mathematics; Science and Nature; History, Social Studies, and Geography; Art, Movement, and Music.

Where do you teach: I have been working with children since I was in high school; my high school ran a pre-school as part of its Child Development Program.  Currently I teach adult educators at The Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies, a graduate-level teacher preparation program housed on the campus of the Barrie School in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Since 2000 I have held this position concurrently with my work as a teacher of young children.  Since 2007 I have been teaching at my own Montessori program in Mount Airy, Maryland.

How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? I will share with you a quote from my Montessori mentor, Tim Seldin, of the Montessori Foundation:  “Education, properly done, is nothing more than holistic environmental engineering designed to meet human needs.  The purpose of Montessori education is to facilitate the development of self-actualized human beings in percentages dramatically greater than occur normally in the human race by chance.”  Although the children in her programs were known for remarkable academic achievements, it is this that Dr. Montessori described this as the most important result of our work.  So it is this I use as my paramount consideration.

I evaluate my efficacy not only from the perspective of what academic material the children demonstrate that they are learning, retaining, and applying, but by numerous other factors as well.  These might include the demeanor, moods, and character development of the individual children with whom I work; the level of cleanliness, order, and spontaneous care for the environment that the children achieve; the depth of their concentration while they are working independently; the kindness and care with which they treat each other; the level of harmony and creativity in our environments; the quality of the relationships between my colleagues and the families with whom we work; and so on.  I look for clear evidence of each child’s independent and joyful scholarship and their skills as individuals and in a group managing their own spontaneous interactions with one another.  

What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator? Education, and educators in general, suffer from a lack of respect.  Beyond that, within the field of education, as well as in the mind of the general public, Montessori education, like other models called “Partnership Models” by Riane Eisler (see Tomorrow’s Children), is still not well understood by the dominant culture, and therefore is not highly valued.  I would not necessarily say that this impedes my work, however it is a factor that makes it challenging. By way of example, Montessori educators in general are required to have significantly more training than conventional educators and have a significantly greater workload, while often making a lot less money and having fewer benefits, less job security, less free time, less planning time, and less access to resources for their students than their counterparts in conventional programs.   Another factor that I can identify as a challenge is the ambiguity in people’s minds as to the most important purposes of education.  Thus we are further hampered in our efforts by the fact that the “debates” about how to “reform” education are largely focused around what I see as meaningless, irrelevant, or erroneous aspects of this puzzle.  Additionally, teachers are often convenient scapegoats in the political process, while at the same time, we are prevented from doing what we know from experience would work better, and prevented from being innovative; none of this serves the best interests of children.  In the meantime, as a society, we continue to confuse symptom for cause, and continue to do more of what doesn’t work.  When it “fails”, we continue to attempt to apply the same approach with more determination, being punitive to teachers and children in the process.

Do you think you will be teaching in 10 years? In words also attributed to Michelangelo:  “I am still learning.”  I hope to be still learning always, and yes, I do envision myself continuing on this path, continuing to be a part of illuminating possible pathways for others, as was done for me; continuing to define my role for myself, continuing to expand what it means, and continuing to expand my job description accordingly as I go…

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Donna Wipf, age 38

What subject/s do you teach? Language Arts, Science

Where do you teach? Mitchell School

What age group do you teach? 6th-8th graders

How do you measure success as it pertains to being an educator? There’s student engagement. Do they want to be at my school? In my class? Learning what I present? Are they enthusiastic? Are they treated as if they have something worthwhile to contribute? Are they given opportunities to discuss important issues, concepts, and thoughts?

Then there’s the class climate. Have I created an environment where students enjoy both the learning and the socializing? Are they kind to one another? Are they learning to be good people? Am I modeling tolerance and an openness to new ideas?

Am I providing them with a variety of opportunities to learn outside the classroom? Are they exposed to things they would not otherwise experience?

Obviously there’s the curriculum content, skills, knowledge, and tests they have to pass. I want my students to test well, and go on to succeed in high school and college. Is every student being challenged at her/his level? Is our school progressing? We use a variety of data and assessments to ensure we are meeting academic goals.

Then there are the small, individual successes that are hard to quantify, but often are my favorite. Anai, a bilingual student is starting to joke around in English. Frank, a “very special” student is behaving more appropriately this year. Kadaivion, a boy who lives with grandma because his mom was shot and killed has started talking about high school, college, and his future career goals. Daniella, who’s home is incredibly troubled, has started really loving what we read, and writing about her ideas. Anselmo promised not to be like George Bush during his speech for student council president.

Then there’s my teaching. Am I improving? Trying new ways to present materials? Am I learning as an educator and challenging myself? Do I love what I do? And I definitely do.

What is a major factor that impedes your work as an educator?
I have two:
1. Time! We basically get paid for the time we teach, but do not get paid for the time it takes to prepare lessons, grade papers, meet with parents, organize the classroom, tutor students, etc. At my school we do get 50min per day, but that does not even begin to be enough time to do it all.

2. Babysitting “difficult” students. It can be difficult, even in a good school, to give the “good” kids the attention they deserve if “difficult” or noisier students command your attention.

Do you think you will be a teaching in 10 years? This is my 13th year. Not sure if I’ll be teaching 10 more. Probably

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