Friday, October 1, 2010

Open Educational Resources (and other ways I survived my first year of teaching . . . )

As I read all one hundred and forty nine pages of Geser's edited report on "Open Educational Practices and Resources", my mind kept wandering back to my first year of teaching . . . 2004. . .

Elated to get a job my first summer of interviewing, I paid little attention to the fact that I would be the ONLY English teacher for ALL 6th-8th graders at the small Catholic school, and didn't even know enough to realize that having SIX preps each day (one involving US History) wasn't so much the norm for a teacher work load. But it only took a few days for me to realize . . . I CAN'T DO THIS ALONE!!

Despite their best intentions, the burnt out math and science middle school teachers on my team had few curricular-pedagogical ideas to share with me, and my "mentor" teacher in the building visited me once, saying "they weren't too noisy, so I think you've got things under control."

Being the tech-savvy barely-twenty-something I was, I immediately turned to the Internet to fill my looming void of teaching experience, and found that, with a few key types and a click, I could access idea after idea after idea. Sure, I found (and ignorantly used) some bad teaching worksheets/ideas/tests I discovered online, but I was reflective enough as a teacher to realize after a few minutes that they WERE crappy. And, with the help of some idea-packed-quality sites (such as the Read, Write, Think lesson plans on NCTE's site), I managed to impress (or anger) pretty much everyone with my "wildly creative" teaching methods. The open educational resources I implemented those first few years were an invaluable source of teacher education for me. I tried things. I discarded things. I adapted things. I discovered things. All of this, thanks to the OER movement.

Just one minor problem . . . I never contributed ideas myself. I never made blog comments about how I adapted things to fit my context, and I never reflected publicly about what worked and what didn't. In one sense, I was in survival mode, and taking time to do such gratuitous work would have been ridiculous. In another sense, I was incredibly selfish . . . taking, taking, taking, but never adding to the body of knowledge. Perhaps this is why I've returned to grad school . . . now I have TIME (the time real practicing teachers DON'T have) to contribute.

This is what worries me when authors wax on and on about the importance of "bottom-up" models that involve K-12 "teacher participation and reflection". Yes- practicing educators are our best sources of information, expertise, and can be powerful reality-checks. BUT-- the current teaching climate disempowers teachers from engaging in most "professional" activities outside of their duties with their day to day students. To be a great teacher means investing time in assessment, planning, searching, and facilitating. This simply leaves very little room for posting reflections or ideas or comments online.

How to solve this? Cut class sizes in half. Hire twice as many teachers. Give teachers real time to think and prepare during the school day. Pay teachers more. The answers are many, but the payback could very well be enormous . . .


  1. Did you just say cut class sizes in half?? I think so! And paying teachers more? And giving them more prep time? This is uber-radical, but maybe it shouldn't be...why isn't it more of a current conversation? Oh yah, that accountability thing. But wait, wouldn't it help teachers be more effective?? Hmmm...
    You're right-- teachers are tired, they can never be done with their jobs, and asking them to do one more thing (especially when it doesn't directly benefit their students and school) is asking a lot. But if teachers are truly in a profession, they should push for circumstances that let them practice most effectively. Lots of people (not teachers) have strong opinions about how to do that; how can we get our voices out there advocating as grad students?
    I'm like you. I feel a huge obligation to give back now that I've been given the gift of think-time. Write up that reading workshop curriculum I was always patching my notes together for, write to my congressman, make a website that compiles resources. I still identify as a teacher (just with no classroom). I'd love to think of ways teachers (current, and former), and just those who love them can ban together to support them. Being isolated is hard!

  2. I'm with you, Christy!

    I feel like our biggest job while in grad school is to keep our heads in our past contexts. It's so easy to get distracted by the utopia that is university life :) Let's CHANGE THE WORLD!