People have asked me why I wanted to go back to school, especially when it meant taking a leave of absence from a stable teaching position. My answer was that while I thought the things I was doing were effective, I wanted to figure out whether I was doing them the best way I could and also the long-term effects that these activities had on my students.
For example, I've used reflective writing activities with my students for a long time in a variety of formats: group learning logs completed during class, class-wide discussion boards, and individual journals that are shared with me. I wondered which of these was most effective and why, and did these activities affect students differently depending on their backgrounds?
Answering this question was my pitch to start a PhD program- I never thought about improving my teaching. After all, I'd been teaching for a long time, had taught a range of courses and traveled abroad to study educational practices in other countries, and was even part of a program that specifically recognized me for being a Master Teacher. I expected that the teaching part of my program would be a cakewalk and that the majority of the learning that I would be doing would be related to my research.
As you may have guessed, I was quite mistaken. From my first rehearsal of a lesson in EDEC 708 (Seminar in Practice-Based teacher Education 1) it was clear that there were things that I could improve on. Specifically, over the course of the term I realized that I'd become so focused on the technical aspects of teaching - creating the perfect worksheet, diagram, or technological tool to facilitate the learning of content- that my teaching moves had atrophied. I'd stopped pushing students as soon as I got the answers I was looking for, and had gotten into the bad habit of not asking specific students to respond to each other's thinking. In a nutshell, when I arrived on campus my notion of what constituted high-quality teaching was suddenly turned upside down, and accordingly so was my thinking about how teachers should learn how to teach.
The second epiphany I had over the course of the term was that the content students learn is only half of the job. Whether intentionally or not, I am also teaching them how to behave as members of the school science/math community that we create as a group. From this perspective the way that I teach has a profound effect on student learning and the extent to which they see the field as a potential match for their interests and goals. This has helped me reflect on how my practices affected students, and how I can rethink my policies to produce intentional outcomes and better help my students come to see themselves as scientists and mathematicians.
I was also astonished by the variety of backgrounds not only in the Science and Mathematics Education Research Group, but also in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education (DISE). Coming from a small rural town I don't have frequent contact with people of different backgrounds, which I have frequently lamented but didn't realize the extent to which it had affected my view of the world. In the past 5 months I've had conversations with people from all over Canada and the US, but also Brazil, India, Greece, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Italy, and more. I've also gotten to speak Spanish with native speakers, which has been amazing. While sometimes I wish I knew French, I've gotten by better than I expected.