After teaching mostly graduate and doctoral level classes for the last three years, I started a new undergraduate class last week. The class is a unique course in that it is taught in conjunction with a field placement. My students serve as “teacher interns” in a local school for three days a week and take classes on campus the other two days. While it helps my students bridge the gap between theory/research and practice, it does create some odd identity transitions for them. For several days of the week, they see themselves as teachers. For others, they have to transition to be a student again. With these shifts in identity, I’m sure it creates some dissonance for them. Teacher to student and then back again.
In a way, I’m experiencing similar dissonance. The class is an assessment course and I’m working to help my students develop a strong understanding of strategies for formative and summative assessment. Since this course is designed for beginning teachers, I’m trying to model best practices. In my mind, it’s not enough to talk about assessment strategies academically. I need to incorporate them in my lessons and then also discuss my objectives and instructional decision making. When I incorporate a technology into the class, I also unpack the affordances that lead to my choice to use that technology rather than another.
So, where does my sense of dissonance come from? Some of it comes from the back and forth shifting that I have to navigate as a teacher and as a teacher educator. In class, I find myself talking about what’s going on in my “teacher brain” and asking students to put on their “teacher caps” or their “student caps” to help them oscillate between their dual identities and focuses. It’s dizzying at times to discuss content that they have to learn (as students) and then be able to apply (as teachers). My use of the “teacher cap” and “student cap” metaphors is an attempt to make this a little more real for them. Although I’ve used this strategy in the past with some success, the time away from teaching this class is making me remember how hard it is to shift this focus.
Another source of my dissonance is the modeling aspect that I’ve embraced. I don’t want to just “talk the talk” but “walk the walk,” too. This means demonstrating different assessment strategies and providing effective feedback. I’d like to think that I do this regularly but this class is reminding me that there are some strategies that I have been neglecting. I’ve been teaching the same handful of classes for the last few years and employing similar strategies with my students. Since I’m trying to act as a role model, it’s forcing me to confront some of these neglected strategies and put them into practice again.
It also is forcing me to reexamine some of the foundational readings that I’ve encountered over and over throughout my career. Working through these feelings of dissonance, I dug up a chapter titled On Becoming a Reflective Teacher that Grant and Zeichner wrote in 1984 and that I’ve read and re-read probably two dozen times. I found this little nugget that seems to capture my feelings.
“(Teachers) have to break with the mechanical life, to overcome their own submergence in the habitual, even in what they conceive to be virtuous, and to ask the “why” with which all moral reasoning begins.” (p. 103)
By teaching this class again after a three-year hiatus, I’m in the midst of overcoming this “submergence in the habitual.” While it’s creating some personal dissonance, it’s helping to be more reflective and intentional with my pedagogical strategies. And that’s never a bad result.
Grant, C. A., & Zeichner, K. M. (1984). On becoming a reflective teacher. Preparing for reflective teaching, 103-114.