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Don’t Steal Your Struggle: Growing From Our Challenges

MATC Synthesis Paper

In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the

Master of Arts Degree in Curriculum and Teaching
Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University

Jamie L. Black
PID A42044710
December 11, 2018
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Don’t steal their struggle- that is something that I have heard many teacher leaders in my

district say regarding teaching our students. If we allow them to struggle, they will see their

errors and be able to critically review all of their options; they will grow because they figured it

out rather than a teacher jumping in and guiding them to the answer. When I reflect on my

experience over the course of the MATC program, I find that not stealing my struggle is what

has helped me grow the most. Before entering the program I was frustrated with the mandated

curriculum that I was given to teach and I thought this program would help me select better

programs to help my students learn. I also thought that a master teacher did not struggle, but was

I wrong. While reviewing all my artifacts and their commentaries I realize that I am growing as a

teacher because of the struggles I am facing. Much of my work has been reflections on my

teaching and inquiry or action research projects which stem from a struggle and how I wanted to

improve it. I came to the realization that there is no one program out there that is going to meet

the needs of my students, rather the methods in which I use to teach and the way I conduct my

teaching can set my students up for success, no matter which mandated program I teach.

Why Would I Want to Admit My Weakness?

But wouldn’t admitting that I don’t know everything be alarming to those who hired me?

Wouldn’t they question my ability to do the job? Before the MATC program these were my

worries, but I soon learned how to take what I don’t know to make myself stronger.

In the summer semester before entering the MATC program I took a course at Baker

College called ​Reading Assessment​, this is the equivalent to Michigan State’s TE 846:

Accommodating differences in literacy learners, which is also needed to advance to Michigan’s

professional teaching certificate. At this point I had taught Spanish for two years, fourth grade
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for one year, and my position for the following school year (2017-2018) was unknown. In this

course I was asked to give reading assessments to a case study student and analyze the results to

create a individualized learning plan (​Artifact 5​). In my year as a fourth grade teacher I gave a lot

of reading assessments, but was never quite sure how best to analyze the results and use them for

future learning. When initially given this assignment, I was very intimidated because I was not

very familiar with teaching reading and even had to relearn a lot of the reading and phonological

terms that I was expected to analyze. In the end, I not only learned how to give such assessments,

but I learned how to better use the interests of the child along with her results to better guide

areas in which she needed more instruction to become a thriving reader. Just from doing this one

assignment did I learn everything I needed to know? Of course not, but I felt much better

prepared to give similar assessments and set up learning plans for my students. Completing these

assessments with my case study student helped me work towards the MATC standards 1 and 2

because I was able to understand the needs of this individual child and also plan how I would

teach this child while drawing on her interests and prior knowledge. Also, writing this report

allowed me to delve into the MATC’s standard 5, because I used the information I gathered to

communicate skillfully with parents and other teaching professionals that could read this report.

The work I have done allowed me to document and assess student needs (goal 1) and forced me

to expand my repertoire in teaching reading to a diverse student.

A few months later I started my first year teaching kindergarten and I was also enrolled

in my first course for the MATC: TE 807. In this course I was asked to come up with a plan in

which I could work with a peer coach in order to better my practice (​Artifact 4​). Since I was a

non tenured teacher at the time, my evaluations were done by a evaluation specialist that services
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the whole district. The evaluation specialist had come in multiple times prior to my room and

had been very critical to the point where I felt defeated; I did not feel like I could meet the

standards of being highly effective on our Five Dimensions of Teaching and Learning

Framework scale. So I took a risk that was a bit uncomfortable for me, asking the evaluation

specialist if she could be a peer coach to me. I noticed that learning targets and success criteria

were an area in which I could grow; so my idea was to seek help on how I could make these

more student friendly and show how the students are reflecting on their own learning. My peer

coaching protocol plan was to discuss this and then to have the evaluation specialist observe a

lesson so that she could offer feedback. In my reflection I noted that she did not give the

feedback I was hoping for, and that further dialogue with her or a grade level colleague would

better help my learning. I appreciate that this project was a unique way to focus on my field and

improving my evaluation targets, while also learning about the process of peer coaching (Goal

2). My goal of the coaching was to give my students ways to demonstrate their understanding of

the learning goal (Standard 2). I focused on the educational practice of our evaluation model and

sought direct support in being able to prove myself highly effective in that area (Standard 3). I

knew that there had to be a more efficient way to tie student progress to the learning targets, so

this project provided me with a chance to inquire and critically reflect on my practice of writing

learning targets and how to better plan for my instruction (Standard 4). Collaborating with

another educator gave me the opportunity to see my teaching through a perspective other than

my own and learn from colleague (Goals 1 and 3).

In the next semester, Spring 2018, I again had to reflect on a weakness of mine or

something that I would like to improve. In TE 848: Writing Assessment and Instruction, I
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decided to do action research in my classroom of how to hold more effective writing conferences

with kindergarteners (​Artifact 2​). This again was a topic that made me feel uneasy because I

always felt guilty that I was not conferring with students enough; scaffolding 20 different writers

was a struggle for me. At the beginning of this action research project I did some research about

effective writing conferences as suggested by Lucy Calkins and her colleagues and decided to

create a conferring notes page that would help guide my students through a effective writing

conference. After using this notes page for awhile in my classroom I started to become

discouraged because I was taking a full page of notes on each student and it was hard for me to

organize and see student progress. Therefore, I revised my notes page in a second trial to resolve

the problems I encountered in the first. To my surprise the second trial worked much better, but I

was still upset to see it needed to be revised again. Finally, I came up with suggestions for a third

trial and defined my plan for moving forward and conferring with students in the future. It was

still a little unsettling to me when I realized that I did not solve my problem; but I am proud

because I found a system that worked for me and was open to revising it again in the future if it

would benefit me and my students. Conferring with my students individually is a great example

how I value my student’s diversity, capacity to learn and development as a whole person

(Standard 1). Along the course of this research project I experimented with different ways to

confer with my students to make sure they are working on what they need most which shows my

ability to monitor student progress and use a variety of assessment tools for learning and

planning (Standard 2). Throughout my research I found myself being critically reflective of my

own practice so that I could refine my repertoire of conferring (Standard 4). While writing this

report I realized it was a new genre of writing for me, I had modeled it after articles I have read
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such as those from The Reading Teacher in hopes that I could educate other teachers on my

journey to improve writing conferences. This project helped me improve my practice and share

my knowledge with others (Standard 5). My action research allowed me to review other

scholarly sources while analyzing my own practice (Goal 1). Finally, this project came from my

own desire to improve a practice and I documented the effects of my practice (Goal 2).

This is not working- now what?

Up to this point I have discussed that part of my struggle was admitting my weaknesses

so that I could grow, but I also noticed a pattern in my work across the MATC and that was

learning to recognize when something is not working and acting on it to change it.

Referring back to my experience in TE 848: Writing Assessment and Instruction in

Spring 2018, I realized the way I did writing conferences was not working. Prior to doing my

action research project (​Artifact 2​), I did not take any notes when I conferred with students. This

was making it very difficult for me to know where each student was as a writer. It also made me

miss out on a great opportunity to do small group conferring and shared writing based upon their

common areas to improve. In trial three of my action research I made a future plan to teach

shared writing in small groups and grouping students that needed to work on the same elements

of writing.

After TE 848 I took two summer courses for the MATC and also did some PLC work for

my school district’s math curriculum. Before the 2017-2018 school year had ended one of the

kindergarten teachers in my district was ambitious and asked for my help revising our math

curriculum over the summer (​Artifact 8​). My first thought was: ​No way, I don’t want to spend my

hard earned summer looking at lessons I did not particularly like teaching​. As the summer days
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started to pass and my courses for the MATC were wrapping up, I put more thought into working

on the math curriculum revisions and decided the work would be worth my time. It was my first

year teaching kindergarten and the math lessons did not make complete sense to me, I found

many to be rather developmentally inappropriate. Little did I know, the teacher who asked me to

join her to revise our curriculum felt the same way I did; she was a first year kindergarten teacher

who struggled with the curriculum at times too. So, with the help of our curriculum director and

some more veteran teachers, we rolled up our sleeves to do the hard work. ​Artifact 8 ​is the

product of many PLC sessions over the summer, it is a overview document we created to detail

our first math unit along with a scope and sequence for teaching and assessment throughout the

year. You will see that some things are highlighted and it appears to be messy; but in reality this

is how we organized ourselves about what changes needed to be made. As a result of

collaborating with other teachers we rewrote lessons to make them more developmentally

appropriate, aligned the appropriate standards to each lesson, determined when to assess certain

standards, and made the worksheets more student friendly. The happy ending to this story would

be that this work is final and complete and we are ready for the school year; however, that is far

from the truth. It is now the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year and we are still meeting as a

team to fully make the changes we have outlined. I take a lot of pride in the work we did because

I realized that I learned a lot more about math teaching, assessments, and standards than I did

before and it has made me much more comfortable teaching and planning math lessons for this

school year. Working on our math curriculum and assessments has allowed me to deeply

understand math as an academic discipline (Standard 2). Together other teachers and I critically

reflected on our lessons and instructional technique in order to plan instructional order and
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anticipate how our changes will better benefit our student’s learning (Standard 4). The members

of this PLC and I were being proactive members of a professional community to provide

leadership across our district and contribute to better teaching practice (Standard 6). I also relate

this work to all three of the MATC’s goals because I believe the work started with critical

inquiry and then used accomplished teaching and collaborative professional development to

reaching our goals of organizing our curriculum and streamlining assessment (Goals 1, 2, 3).

When things don’t go to plan

The next struggle I ran into throughout the MATC was when things did not go the way I

planned them. I later learned that when things do not go as planned there is always something

new you can take away from going through the process.

The first disappointment I had with things not going as planned was very early on in my

during TE 804 in my internship year (Spring 2014), before I even knew I was going to be in the

MATC program. As a part of this course I completed a science inquiry project in which I studied

the effect of lesson closure on the retention of student knowledge over time (​Artifact 3​). During

this time I was student teaching in a second grade classroom and remember I had a really hard

time thinking of something that I wanted to inquire about in my teaching, and had a hard time

analyzing the results. I was embarrassed that after putting all this work into the intervention and

how I was going to collect the data, that I came to the conclusion that it was almost impossible to

determine if lesson closure vs. non closure had a effect on the knowledge retention of my

students. As a beginning teacher you do not want to feel that all your hard work was a loss. I

specifically chose to incorporate something from my undergraduate experience to show that

struggle is not something recent, and I believe there is something that can be learned from any
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struggle. Overall this action research project reminds me a lot of my work in the MATC because

it encompasses a lot of the program goals and standards. For instance, the basis of my research

reflects standard 2 because I was seeking to relate content to student’s prior knowledge and also

monitor student’s progress through my assessment and planning. This project also allowed me to

analyze an issue (lack of lesson closure) and apply different conceptual frameworks and

perspectives through my research (Standard 3). What I like most about action research projects

such as this one is that it allows me to research my own practice and systematically inquire how I

can best improve my practice so that all students can learn in meaningful ways (Standard 4). The

report I have written about my research shows that I used and evaluated information to enhance

my professional understanding and improve my practice (Standard 5). At the end of the report I

had to re-examine my belief that lesson closure was the sole aspect that lead to greater

knowledge retention because I had discovered that the hands on independent practice also played

a factor in knowledge retention (Goal 1). As I stated in the report, analyzing lesson closure

during science lessons made me reflect more deeply on closure to my lessons in general which I

can continue to work on to strengthen my teaching (Goal 2).

Again, I will make reference to ​artifact 2​, which was my action research project in TE

848 during spring semester 2018. When I first drafted my writing conference plan I was

confident that I would follow through with the plan and then report on the results. However, my

original plan was not working for me and my students, hence trial 2. To my disappointment trial

2 was not quite what I wanted either, so I drafted trial 3. I am not afraid to admit that trial 3 may

not be the last trial, if it does not work the way I planned, then I may have to continue more
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trials. This is something I used to be very uncomfortable with, but throughout my experience in

the MATC I have realized that each trial has helped me become a stronger educator.

No Best Practice Left Behind

I have learned as teacher that you need to learn to become a master juggler; just when

you think you are balancing steady, there is always something more you can bring to the table to

better your practice. The following artifacts that I will discuss helped me reconsider some best

teaching practices that I had limited experience with up until my work in the MATC program.

First, I will make reference to the reading assessment case study report that I had created

in the summer of 2017 (​Artifact 5​). As I had mentioned earlier, diving back into reading

assessment techniques was helpful to me since I had taught Spanish for two years prior and did

very little with reading. Although I had to relearn many reading terms and how to administer

such assessments, I found that I came away from this assignment with a stronger knowledge of

reading assessment and how to cater to a student’s individual needs. When I began to teach

kindergarten right after creating this assessment report, I had a more clear vision of reading

development and how to scaffold my student’s skills. This artifact serves as a reference to me in

my future work because I can look back on it each year and see the process it takes to not only

get to know the students interests and abilities, but plan for next step instruction.

Two semesters later I took TE 836: Awards and classics of children’s literature and was

asked to compile some resources for using diverse literature in the classroom (​Artifact 1​).

Amidst learning new curriculum and changing grade levels almost every year of my teaching

career, I had little time to consider the effects of equipping my classroom with diverse literature.

Creating artifact 1 was tough at first because I didn't even know where to go to find quality
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literature on diverse peoples, but it was rewarding once I learned about so many new books. My

struggle here was finding children’s books that were an accurate representation of diverse

peoples, but also did not portray them in a very negative or unrealistic way. One part of this

project was to choose a diverse community and write a unit plan that you could teach to students,

this was very challenging for me because I had a lot of freedom to plan these lessons compared

to what I normally have in my classroom. Although we were not required to teach these lessons

to our students, this compilation of resources I made will serve as a future reference of how I can

use diverse literature in my kindergarten classroom. Sharing culturally diverse books with my

students shows that I am respecting and embracing their differences (Standard 1). Also, the more

diverse books I use in my classroom the more I am able to relate content to my student’s prior

knowledge, interests, and lives (Standard 2). When choosing the diverse communities that I

focused on for this project I showed commitment to strengthening my pedagogical knowledge

and teaching of subject matter to diverse students (Goal 2).

After this course, I took TE 845: Language diversity and literacy instruction and

assessment in summer semester 2018, where I was again asked to revisit a best practice that I had

recently neglected. Although I do not have any English language learning students in my

classroom, I was asked to make a professional development workshop on a topic regarding

teaching ELL students (​Artifact 6​). This project helped me to relearn something that I have not

had direct teaching experience with, so I was able to grow in my ability to help support ELL

students in my classroom. I chose to make a presentation about thematic instruction because this

is a best practice not only for ELLs, but for all students. The programs I taught in my classroom

at the time were not theme based, but after reading about the benefits of theme based learning in
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this course and also TE 842: Elementary reading assessment and instruction, I was excited to

make this part of my future teaching practice. It is important that my workshop helps teach to the

diversity in our classrooms and make every student a part of our learning communities (Standard

1). Thematic instruction is one approach to teaching subject matter in different ways to students

and helping student’s relate learning to their prior knowledge, interests, and lives (Standard 2).

Creating this workshop has helped me show that I am a critical consumer of information and can

use it to share my knowledge with others (Standard 5). Planning a workshop such as this shows

my potential to provide leadership to colleagues and work collaboratively to improve teaching

(Standard 6 and Goal 3).

We are all in this together

Earlier I had mentioned that my goal entering the MATC was to become a master

teacher, a master teacher who had no struggles. I quickly learned that struggles happen for every

teacher and in fact we use them to grow. In the last section I will discuss how I learned the

importance of working with others to help better my teaching practice.

Starting with one of my first courses in the MATC, TE 807, I had the chance to work

with a peer coach and come up with a peer coaching protocol (​Artifact 4​). This assignment

helped me to see that my evaluation specialist could provide coaching for me rather than just

evaluate what she has seen me teach. In the future I plan to use her and my grade level

colleagues to better assess my teaching.

At the beginning of my MATC I was asked to write a focus statement and at the end of

TE 807 I was asked to revise it (​Artifact 7​). In the beginning, being a quality teacher to me meant

that you knew your students, you taught using clear and measurable outcomes, and you used
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activities that were developmentally appropriate to your students. These ideas came from my

three years of prior teaching experience and were things I saw myself working on and slowly

getting better at. After my coursework in TE 807, I decided to add a very important aspect of

quality teaching: lifelong learning and reflection. This was the catalyst to pushing me into doing

action research and inquiry to better improve upon my practice. If I had not been in the MATC

program I would have missed those vital pieces to the puzzle. As I have mentioned before, I

sought to complete the MATC in hopes of becoming a master teacher, but instead learned that

being a master teacher means using your struggles to help you improve. For this assignment I

used the course readings and my experiences to analyze quality teaching from different

perspectives (Standard 3). Much of this statement was me inquiring into my own beliefs and

practices to understand the effects of my teaching on my students (Standard 4). When I revised

my statement I drew more from professional literature and used it to evaluate my view on quality

teaching (Standard 5 and Goal 1). I used my experience in the classroom and professional

literature to target important areas that make teaching high quality and used my thinking to

commit to upholding these practices for the benefit of my students (Goal 2).

Can There Really Be a Conclusion?

I would love to say there is a conclusion and a final ending to my growth and learning,

but the truth is there will be no conclusion. A conclusion to me means it is final; through the

course of the MATC I have proved to myself that there is no end; I will continue to have

struggles, but no one will be there to steal my struggle. Although I will continue to work heavily

with other teachers and administrators, I believe that I am the one who will turn my struggles

into growth. If we are not aware of the struggles in our practice then we will continue on the
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same path and if we continue on the same path there will be no growth. My resolution beyond

the MATC is to acknowledge there will be struggles, but I will not let anyone steal my struggle

and rob me of the opportunity to keep growing as an educator.