What is your teaching philosophy?
My mantra is “they may not remember how I teach them, but they’ll always remember how I treat them.” Sometimes this is hard to do in practice, especially when you feel frustrated by students’ behavior, so it’s a work in progress. I try my best to take it day by day.I found the philosophy of one day at a time helps me to cope with the uncertainty and instability of teaching in the Philadelphia Public School District.
Why did you become a social studies teacher?
I like working with young people and the creative aspect of thinking about how to use content to teach students skills that will help them succeed in life. I choose social studies because it is a subject I've always enjoyed and I’ve had great social studies teachers and they made a very positive impression on me.
You attended GSE 14 years ago, what memories do you have of your experience?
GSE challenged me to think deeply about how people learn and how to create opportunities for students to think about their learning too. Our program was very focused on student centered pedagogy and individualized learners. I enjoyed working with my classmates at University City on a daily basis. We supported one another by visiting each other's classes and trying to think about how to develop powerful learning experiences. Unfortunately, out of the 30 people in my class very few have remained in Philadelphia. The classmate I’ve kept in touch with the most is Joshua Block, who’s at SLA. We don’t hang out like we used to but I still read his blog. My Penn memories come from Dr. Susan Lytle’s class. She taught English language theory (for example, how do people learn how to read and how do we create meaning from words). I found the class fascinating, but I remember my classmates studying to teach English wanted more teaching methods and less theory. By contrast, our Social Studies Methods class, led by professor Ellen Bronfman, was so practical that I felt that I could teach what she gave us immediately.
Has your teaching practice changed over the past 14 years?
I've learned to utilize the community in which I teach, particularly individuals in the business community who bring a level of expertise and professionalism to the learning experiences to the classes I teach. I see my teaching as a community effort and not just my own practice.
Tell me something unique about your school?
Constitution H.S. is very close to the Constitution Center, so we’re very lucky. The Center is a community partner with our school and supports us with workshops and special event invitations, such as when presidential nominee John Mccain came to the Center. All our students get free membership and I try to take my classes to the Center whenever it fits into our curriculum. Unfortunately I think we are underutilizing this resource. We used to have a contact person who worked directly with our school at the Constitution Center, but due to budget cuts this position doesn’t exist so it’s harder to coordinate.
You’ve partaken in a lot of professional development workshops over the years. Tell us about them.
When I first started teaching, I participated in Pennsylvania Governor's Institutes for Teachers. These institutes focused on concrete practices for teaching literacy. This was a topic that really interested me. The institutes were great because I spent a week studying teaching methods with teachers from around the state in many different content areas. I learned a lot from my colleagues. Unfortunately the Governor's Institutes are no longer around because of cuts to funding. Another series of very good workshops that I’ve completed were led by the Teacher’s Curriculum Institute (TCI). They helped me learn new classroom techniques, about multiple intelligences, and simulations among other things. Through a Teaching American HIstory grant, the Philadelphia School District was able to fund the TCI trainings. Another workshop I’ve done for many years is run by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. I love it because they bring together teachers from all over the country and treated us like we are professionals. Teachers spend a week studying on a graduate level with professor who specializes in a certain topic they’d like to teach. Teacher discuss how to turn what they learn into classroom lessons. There’s a lot of cooperation and congeniality. The deadline to apply for this summer’s seminars is February 13th.
A few years ago, you went to study history at Temple University. How did this happen?
I won a James Madison Fellowship, which is for H.S. history teachers who teach about the Constitution. I used the money awarded to study early American history at the graduate level at Temple University. The rules of the Fellowship are that you need to take 12 credits in courses about the Constitution. Temple University has a very flexible program, so it was possible to teach and attend Temple part-time. It’s a competitive Fellowship but I encourage everyone to apply. And if you don’t get it the first time, reapply. Since Fellowship recipients are selected by state, your chances are higher if you teach in a less populated state, but applicant numbers vary year by year. In your application you need a defined program of study (a plan specifying how you’ll use the money if you get it).
What advice would you give new teachers?
See the students as a resource. Ask them to be a part of your learning process. Ask them to give you advice. I believe in the value of asking students to reflect on their learning experience. Their reflections provide you with real anecdotal evidence of what’s working and what’s not. They also provides you with a way to connect with different individuals, especially students who may not come up to you to talk about their feelings.
You’ve had many student-teachers over the years. What motivates you to take on student-teachers?
I really enjoy the collaboration and the student-teachers help me to continue to reflect on my teaching. Student-teachers challenge me to be a better teacher and work harder.