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Service Learning in Urban Alternative Schools: Investigating Affective Development in Preservice Teacher Education

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Abstract

Learning to be a teaching professional involves affective development. Preservice teachers need classroom experiences to make an informed decision to enter the profession. This Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) project is a part of my work as a member in the Carnegie Leadership Program, supported by the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) centering on Cognitive-Affective Learning (CAL). This SoTL project documents a service learning study conducted in an introductory education course and reports two kinds of data. The first kind of data comes from student interview questions and focuses on how this service-learning experience affected preservice teachers assigned as tutors at an urban alternative school. This data explored the extent to which this service learning experience developed and/or decreased motivation and interest in entering the teaching profession. The second kind of data spotlights the affective (dis)engagement of the preservice teachers through a reflective piece of the assigned case study for the course. Participants in this study read Parker Palmer's (1998) The Courage to Teach as one of the main course texts and were asked to reflect on the connections between and among their tutoring experiences, Palmer's text, and their growing notions of entering the teaching profession.
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Service Learning in Urban Alternative Schools:
Investigating Affective Development in Preservice Teacher
Education
Dr. Maureen P. Hall
1. Abstract:
Learning to be a teaching professional involves affective development. Preservice
teachers need classroom experiences to make an informed decision to enter the
profession. This Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) project is a part of my
work as a member in the Carnegie Leadership Program, supported by the Carnegie
Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) centering on
Cognitive-Affective Learning (CAL). This SoTL project documents a service learning
study conducted in an introductory education course and reports two kinds of data. The
first kind of data comes from student interview questions and focuses on how this
service-learning experience affected preservice teachers assigned as tutors at an urban
alternative school. This data explored the extent to which this service learning
experience developed and/or decreased motivation and interest in entering the teaching
profession. The second kind of data spotlights the affective (dis)engagement of the
preservice teachers through a reflective piece of the assigned case study for the course.
Participants in this study read Parker Palmer’s (1998) The Courage to Teach as one of
the main course texts and were asked to reflect on the connections between and among
their tutoring experiences, Palmer’s text, and their growing notions of entering the
teaching profession.
Key Words:
Cognitive affective learning, preservice teachers, service learning, Scholarship of
Teaching and Learning (SoTL), teacher education, urban education, alternative school.
2. Introduction: The Problem/s of Recruitment and Retention to K-12
It is no real secret: the K-12 teaching profession is fraught with problems. Among
these problems is both our inability to attract the best people to the profession and also
to keep current teachers in the profession. This is especially true in urban school
settings. Linda Darling-Hammond (1998) points out that within the first three to five
years of entering the profession there is a 30% attrition rate. Anderson and Olson‘s
(2007) work in urban teacher retention highlights ―the need to reconceptualize teacher
retention‖ (p. 1), and their findings reveal that ―urban teachers will remain in urban
education if they can adopt multiple education roles inside and outside the classroom
and receive professional support during the whole of their careers, not just the
beginnings of their teaching.‖ (p. 1) However, this article will center on the ―beginnings‖
of teaching, as it is one critical place to provide opportunities for future teachers to
understand both the demands and rewards of teaching. More now than ever, we need
to recruit quality K-12 teachers to the teaching profession, especially in urban school
settings. My premise is that the way in which we organize and develop preservice
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teacher education can create better opportunities for preservice teachers to make fully
informed decisions to enter into a life of teaching.
3. Addressing the Problem
This study provided an opportunity for participants to explore and make meaning of
the relevant issues in the teaching profession, providing ways to make informed
decisions to enter the profession with a clear vision of both the demands and the
rewards awaiting them. Inherent in this notion of ―quality‖ is that preservice teachers
recognize the stresses of teaching, including dealing with disengaged students,
disconnected teachers, and the political realities of schools (Palmer, 1998). My intention
is not to accentuate some of the negative dimensions or discount the rewarding parts of
being a teaching professional, but instead to prepare preservice teachers‘ entry into the
profession with a realistic perception of the work that awaits themshould they decide
to continue on and work towards licensure. Nothing can replace practical experience in
the K-12 urban classroom for making an informed decision to enter the profession of
teaching. Teaching is important work, and the conscious decision to become a teacher
should be fully investigated and at least partially informed by practical experiences.
The participants in this study were enrolled in my undergraduate course EDU 207
Teaching as a Profession. This interactive course introduces potential teachers to the
real world of teaching through an in-depth, candid analysis of the teaching profession
today; it explores the challenges and rewards of teaching; studies the history,
philosophy, sociology, and politics of American education; and focuses on the current
educational issues, trends, and reform movements. It is the first course in the sequence
required for teacher licensure. The students in this course arrive with many notions of
what it means to be a teacher. Most of them have had an array of wonderful teaching
and learning experiences, are self-motivated, and come to class ready to learn. Many of
these preservice teachers have never encountered students who lack motivation and
positive role models, or do not enjoy learning. To bring about deep and enduring
learning about the teaching profession, I use a service-learning component in my
course. Students learn theory in the university classroom and then get real-world K-12
experiences at an urban alternative school to see if and how these theoretical pieces
translate into the world of practice (Ball & Cohen, 1999).
4. How Does an Attention to Cognitive-Affective Learning (CAL) Make Sense
in Addressing This Problem?
Learning to be a teaching professional involves learning to think in divergent ways,
to perform complex tasks with ease, and to develop a professional identity that
integrates one‘s values, attitudes, and skills: all of these attributes involve affective
development. Service learning provides an avenue for students to uncover and
experience the affective dimensions of the teaching profession; they experience the
world of K-12 teaching directly in an authentic setting. The reflective component of
service learning provides a way to document the learning that can occur; this kind of
learning can be transformational (Strain, 2006).
In higher education, cognitive learning is usually privileged over affective learning.
Affective learning involves more than just emotions. The human brain does not separate
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emotions from cognitions and, without any attention given to students‘ interest,
motivation, appreciation, and attitudes, real and enduring learning is incomplete
(Chickering, 2006; Owen-Smith, 2004).
As a member of the Carnegie Leadership Program, I am studying and researching
the connections between cognitive and affective learning using the Scholarship of
Teaching and Learning (SoTL) as a conduit. The Carnegie Leadership Program is a
program supported by the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and
Learning (CASTL). I am the contact leader at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
for this three-year (2006-2009) Carnegie Leadership Program group focusing on
Cognitive Affective Learning (CAL) in student learning.
5. The SoTL Context
I investigated the data generated through the service learning component of my
EDU 207 course. The artifacts for this particular study include the data collected from
preservice teacher questionnaires (at two points in the semester) and from the reflective
component of end-of-semester case studies on urban alternative school students. The
questions and criteria for each of these teaching artifacts are provided in the
appendices of this article. Making this work public, in the largest sense, attempts to add
to the intellectual work of teaching. It adds to the literature on preservice teacher
education and invites other teacher scholars to build upon it. Lee Shulman, former
President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, points out that
unlike fields such as architecture and law, where new work builds on a body of existing
work, teaching is ―devoid of a history of practice‖ (Ornstein, Behar-Horenstein & Pajak,
p. 117, 2003).
6. Methods in this SoTL Service Learning Project
In my SoTL work, I investigated how a service learning component might affect and
influence students‘ decisions to become teaching professionals. Students in EDU 207
were required to complete 15 hours of tutoring in order to fulfill course and state
requirements for pre-practicum hours. These hours were simultaneously considered
service-learning; university students worked to meet the needs of the K-12 community
and then re-integrated these experiences back into the EDU 207 course, making
connections and/or disconnections to the research base and theoretical framework of
the teaching profession. Their service-learning experience was documented through the
use student interview questions and reflective diaries; students were required to explore
their interests, motivations, and values and thus the affective domain of learning was
explored. Between 2006 and 2008, EDU 207 participants in this study worked with
seventh and eighth graders at an alternative secondary school in an urban setting. The
students at this alternative school had been expelled from mainstream schools for
various reasons, including behavior and discipline problems.
Data were collected to capture my preservice teachers‘ experiences in terms of
affective development in student learning using two methods. First, through the
implementation of a questionnaire comprising mainly affective-based questions about
their pre-practicum experiences, which involved tutoring and teacher observations at
this urban school site. The questions were designed to allow data regarding students‘
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motivation and interest in becoming a teacher. The questionnaire (see Appendix A) was
administered to preservice teachers in EDU 207 twice in the spring semester of 2007.
These preservice teachers were a part of the second semester (of four semesters) of
working with seventh and eighth graders at the New Bedford Alternative School.
The second method of data collection method was to use the reflective piece of the
assigned case study, which is an integral part of the EDU 207 coursework for each
participant in the course. The portion of the case study involved a reflective piece on
Parker Palmer‘s (1998) The Courage to Teach in relation to their service learning
experiences at the urban alternative school. Preservice teachers were asked to identify
and write about an important theme from Palmer‘s text and to articulate that theme in
connection with the student whom they tutored at the urban alternative school. These
data represent another way to document the learning in the ―service learning.‖ Palmer‘s
text was one of three required texts used in EDU 207. It is important to note that all
teachers at this alternative high school were also reading Palmer‘s text, which raised
awareness in interest and motivation for learning.
7. Data Analysis
The first data set growing out of the student interview questions (from Appendix A)
were administered to students twice in each of the two semesters; data was collected in
the fourth week and then again in the twelfth week of each semester. By the fourth
week of the semester, each participant had begun the tutoring of his or her student at
the alternative school. By the twelfth week, each participant had had the opportunity to
meet with the student whom he or she was tutoring several times. Each participant
spent a total of fifteen hours with his or her student, and, by the twelfth week, more than
ten hours had been spent tutoring. Numbers were randomly assigned to each
participant, which ensured anonymity for the participants and allowed a view on each
student‘s ―progression‖ from the first data collection to the second. The researcher
believed in the importance of student voices; therefore, the student interview questions
were used as one kind of data collection to gather insight into the factors that both
inhibit and generate interest and motivation to enter the teaching profession.
An inductive process was utilized for the first set of data, where emerging themes
were generated directly from student voices. The data was systematically gathered
through the research process and then analyzed. This analysis refers to sense-making
of the collected data and an articulation of the themes emerging from the data. In writing
about qualitative data analysis, Miles and Huberman (1994) state that the focus is on
data in the form of words. In this case words emanate from the interviews conducted,
and the processing of these words and ideas represent the form of analysis used.
For the second data set, participants were asked to choose a theme of interest from
chapters one and two of Parker Palmer‘s (1998) The Courage to Teach. Each
participant was asked to write about the meaning of that theme in the context of their
tutoring experiences at the alternative school. This part of the study had a more
deductive approach because participants had to choose an existing theme from
Palmer‘s work and make meaning of that theme in their teaching lives. As its purpose,
this part of the study aimed at deepening the understanding of identified themes of
importance to preservice teachers. It was an attempt to get an ―inside‖ view on
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participants‘ ideas of the relevance of Palmer‘s themes to their current and future
teaching lives. This model of investigation provided a way to encourage a more in-depth
understanding involved in entering the teaching profession.
8. Findings/Results
In the first section of the findings, I have organized the emerging themes from each
student interview question. These interview questions were anonymous and given to
two different groups of students of EDU 207one group was from the Fall of 2006 and
the other from the Spring of 2007. Under each of the questions below, I unpacked these
emerging themes with specific examples which are representative of students‘
responses. In the second section, I have reported the data from the reflective
component of the assigned case study. Similarly to section one, emerging themes are
listed with accompanying quotes culled from students‘ case studies.
Part One: Responses to Preservice Teacher Interview Questions
Question1. Through the experiences in your tutoring and teacher observations, what
is your perception of the teaching profession as a whole? Have these perceptions
changed? If so, how? If not, how have your experiences confirmed your existing
perception(s)?
Challenging Profession
One respondent explained that it could be a ―draining profession‖. Others talked
about how it is ―hard work‖. Another preservice teacher characterized what some of
these challenges included‖,Teachers need lots of patience and the ability to go with the
changes that occur in the classroom. My perception has changed because I knew it was
going to be hard, but I didn‘t think that the kids would be resistant to help.‖ Through
service learning, preservice teachers were able to view the demands of the profession
through firsthand experience.
Undervalued Profession
Preservice teachers‘ perceptions of teachers at the urban alternative school were
that they were generally ―overworked, undervalued, and underpaid‖. Nevertheless, after
this service learning experience, many preservice teachers seemed even more
determined about their decisions to become teachers. One preservice teacher wrote‖,I
still strongly believe that I want to be a teacher. It can be frustrating at times with trying
to keep the kids‘ attention, however, I still want to take on that task.‖ While cognizant of
the way in which both the profession and teachers may be undervalued, another
student expressed similar enthusiasm and fortitude‖,I still cannot wait to become a
teacher. I still think that it is a very rewarding job. My time spent at West Side hasn‘t
been the ideal situation, but I still see so much potential in these students even if they
may not seem interested in learning.‖ Even this preservice teacher‘s repetition of the
word ―still‖ seems to indicate that he or she has an understanding of the difficulties
inherent in the profession but is still determined to make the commitment to becoming a
teacher.
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Question 2. What positive experiences in your pre-practicum have contributed to
your interest in becoming a teacher?
Making a Difference
Respondents were engaged by the notion of how powerful a teacher‘s influence can
be on a student.‖One of the students is showing a noticeable change in interest and
ability. This makes me want to teach because I want to be the person that starts the
change,‖ a respondent said of the experience.
Another respondent reflected on how the student being tutored was ―really in need of
one on one, and providing that for her makes me feel that I can make a difference.‖ It
appears here that self-efficacy was heightened for both the respondent and urban
alternative student.
Another participant shared that what contributed to his or her interest in becoming a
teacher was ―helping students—I love knowing that they are getting something out of
me going there.‖ Participants were very interested in developing their capacities to
assist students, and this generated interest in the profession.
Lack of Respect
Question 3. What experiences in your pre-practicum have detracted from or
lessened your interest in becoming a teacher?
One respondent‘s interest in becoming a teacher was lessened by the lack of
respect he or she observed. S/He wrote: ―Seeing the disrespect toward some of the
teachers is discouraging, but when wanting to become a teacher, you should already
expect to have to deal with some respect issues.‖
Apathy, Disruption, and Lack of Motivation
Some participants‘ interest in the profession was decreased by some behaviors and
attitudes of the alternative school students. One respondent shared: ―What lessens my
interest in becoming a teacher is the way some of the students act inside the classroom.
They sometimes get very lazy and become very disruptive, which seems to make the
class impossible to teach. The kids are just unmotivated and it is hard to see how I
could help motivate them to learn.‖
Question 4. What parts of being a teacher have become more valuable to you?
Making a Difference
The idea of making a difference, which emerged as a theme in responses to
question two, was also echoed in the responses to this question. Through this service
learning experience, one respondent valued the profession more because of‖,the idea
that you really can make a difference. The girl I tutor looks forward to my visits because
I pay attention to her. I hope to give as much attention to all of my students someday.‖
Another respondent found that ―truly helping students and making a lasting
impression‖ added value to the idea of becoming a teacher.‖The piece of teaching
where you help make a difference in someone‘s life,‖ represented what made the
profession valuable. And one other respondent commented: ―When I am leaving the
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school, I feel better about myself because I know I helped a child.‖ Though making a
difference in a student‘s life does not come with commensurate financial rewards,
respondents valued the profession because they could positively impact students‘ lives.
Uncovering Potential in Students/ Lighting Fires
Another theme that grew out of the participants‘ responses was the idea of
uncovering potential in students; this ability added value to visions of the teaching
profession. One respondent appreciated being able to‖,help students that have trouble
reaching their goals.‖ Another respondent characterized that part of the teaching role
was ―knowing that children have a desire to learn, but I need to help them get motivated
and prove to them that they can be successful.‖ This enhanced her view of the
profession and made her value it more. One other respondent learned that identifying
and unlocking potential in students was valuable. This respondent explained how this
experience made the profession more valuable‖,Trying to get kids that appear very
uninterested in learning to learn. You can tell by looking at these kids that they still have
a lot of potential—they just don‘t know what to do with it.‖
Patience and Respect
Another emerging theme that accounted for respondents valuing the profession
more was observing the qualities of patience and respect exhibited by practicing
teachers at the alternative school. One respondent described some of the observed
teachers as ―Having eternal patience and not showing personal frustration.‖ Another
piece of the interview data reflected on teachers having ―Patience to teach to different
types of learners.‖ Responding to different students‘ needs as learners was seen as a
respectful act of pedagogy, and it enhanced respondents‘ valuing of the profession.
Student/Teacher Rapport
The positive interactions between teachers and students also accounted for why
respondents valued the profession more. One participant noted that ―Maintaining
respect between the students and myself is KEY.‖ Another respondent added: ―I think
that one-on-one interaction is very valuable to me. That way students and teachers can
have meaningful relationships where the students‘ individual needs can be met,‖ which
characterized the importance of open communication between teachers and students.
Question 5. What parts of being a teacher have become less valuable to you?
The Environment/Working Conditions
It is no secret that schools are political places, and data from students highlighted
how observing some of the politics of this urban alternative school made respondents
value the profession less. One respondent was discouraged by ―the politics of the
institution.‖
Teacher Disengagement with the Profession
Although many of the teachers at this urban alternative school were very engaged in
their work with students, some respondents valued the profession less because of their
interactions ―with detached/ burned out teachers.‖ Other respondents lost some value in
the teaching profession because of their observations of practicing teachers‘ attitudes
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and actions. Another respondent ―noticed that some teachers are negative and gossip a
lot. I do not want to pre-judge my students based on what other teachers say because
students may react to me differently.‖ Luckily, we learn from both examples of what we
want to become and also what we do not want to become. And nothing replaces
practical experiences for forming their own teaching identity.
Question 6. Is there anything else that you would like to share about your pre-
practicum experiences that have affected your attitudes toward teaching? If so, how?
Motivation
Working with students at this alternative school reinforced respondents‘ notions of
teachers as agents of change. One respondent shared that ―There‘s probably a way to
reach disinterested kids, which is a goal of mine.‖
For some respondents, this experience was transformative and solidified the
decision to enter the profession. Another respondent explained that ―In the small
amount of time I‘ve had, it has re-sparked my interest in being a teacher.‖
Respect
Respondents observed that without granting respect to one‘s students, the best kind
of learning could not be fostered. One articulated that ―Teaching comes from
understanding and respecting students, and having a rapport with them. Only from a
place of respect can anyone hope to truly educate.‖
Part Two: Reflective Piece of the Case Study
Respondents chose three main themes for which to respond: Fear, Identity and
Integrity, and Community. The reflective component of these case studies explored
these themes in relation to the participants‘ tutoring experiences. The requirements and
criteria for this assignment can be found in Appendix B. After each theme below, there
are accompanying examples of quotes from respondents‘ work. Each student was
asked to make connections between their identified theme from Palmer‘s text and his or
her tutoring experiences at the urban alternative school.
Fear
One respondent wrote about the theme of fear and talked about how ―fear can be
either a positive or a negative emotion.‖ S/He referenced the following quote from
Palmer‘s (1998) work‖,Some fears can help us survive, even learn and growif we
know how to decode them.‖ (p. 39) Looking through the ―lens‖ of fear in his/her own life
and shared fears of ―college, a certain teacher, what my friends thought of me, and
confrontation.‖ Again associations were made to lines from Palmer‘s text: ―I should have
remembered from my own experience that students, too, are afraid: afraid of failing, of
not understanding, of being drawn into issues they would rather avoid, of having their
ignorance exposed or their prejudices challenged, of looking foolish in front of their
peers.‖ (p. 37) By integrating ideas from Palmer‘s writing, this respondent made
meaning of the relationships between her experiences and those of the alternative
school students. S/He wrote:
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Every student goes through the same type of fears, but chooses to deal with
them differently, which is the case for the kids we are tutoring…They put up a
―tough front‖ but deep down I am sure that they fear many things, whether what
they might have to go home to, a fight, or how they may appear to their peers.
This is something all kids go through as they are trying to create their own
identity. They need positive influences in their lives who cannot give up on them
because they need a strong support system to get through adolescence, which
can be extremely scary and difficult.
The written reflections on this theme evidence the learning that occurred. S/He
understands the importance of a teacher being a positive influence in a student‘s life;
this role as a positive force can address students‘ needs, perhaps lessen some of the
fears inherent in the schooling life of a student, and deepen learning possibilities.
Another respondent also chose to write about fear and characterized it as ―being the
root of the problematic disconnection between teacher and student.‖ This respondent
went on to explain that Palmer‖,proclaims that fear is what distances us from others
our peers, students, subjects, and even ourselves.‖ The background of this respondent
was self-described as being from ―a family, city, and background where it was unlikely
for me to attend college, but ―still managed to get to and succeed through college.‖ S/He
explained about having ―great passion to influence other children akin to myself in giving
them the same hope and aspirations to do what the statistics say they are not fit to
accomplish,‖ but later pointed out that, even though similarities could be seen between
the alternative school students and his/ her situation, this respondent did not want to
enter that teaching space with a largely false and stereotyped sense of understanding of
all the fears future students might face. S/He further clarified how Palmer‘s work helped
her understand that teachers‘ stereotyping of students‘ fears might be a mask for the
teachers‘ fear and end up making the fear in students worse. To illustrate this point
further, Palmer‘s words were quoted about how a condescending view of students may
―make our lives look noble in comparison to the barbaric young, and place the sources
of our students‘ problems far upstream from the place where our lives converge with
theirs.‖ (p. 41) This respondent explained that teachers ―may not know what causes
someone to be a certain way. And rather than label or prejudge them…teachers need to
teach with openness to fearful hearts.‖ With the student at the alternative school, this
respondent made meaning of her new awareness of the role of teachers. S/He put in
plain words:
With my student, I felt that I could connect with him because of where he came
from and I could show him he had opportunities to succeed. I realize now that
this is probably what every other older person was preaching to him. I now see
that it is important to hear his truths regarding his fears, somehow, to really
‗understand‘ him…A good teacher must empathetically enter into their students‘
worlds so that they will perceive us as trustworthy people with the promise of
being able to hear their truths, rather than protecting your own truths and fears.
This meaning-making evidences the power of service learning in teacher education.
Experiences and texts were viewed as raw materials that could grow learning
opportunities. Concluding with an overarching notion of fear in the space of teaching
and learning; this respondent chose Palmer‘s account that ―we cannot see the fear in
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our students until we see the fear in ourselves.‖ (p. 41) S/He ended by saying that good
teaching takes ―great courage.‖
Identity and Integrity
One respondent explained that the theme of identity and integrity was most
important. S/He explained her interest in Palmer‘s discussion of this theme because a
―‘good‘ teacher is traditionally described as a person who knows his or her material well,
not a person who knows himself or herself well.‖ What follows below are reflections on
schooling experiences in relation to Palmer‘s ideas:
The theme of identity and of knowing one‘s self is of particular importance to me
because the best teachers I have ever had were ones who were wise in all areas
of their lives, not just in their particular subject matters. As a student, the classes
that have been my favorite and taught me the most were classes in which I was
allowed to share a little bit of myself and the teacher was willing to do the same. I
would hope that as a teacher, my students would be aware of my identity as well
as their own, and I would also hope that our identities would play an important
part in the learning process; our identities shape the way in which we learn best
as well as the way in which we change as a result of what we‘ve learned…
Sometimes it is not only the content of learning that is important, but the way you
feel about learning in the first place; thus if the teacher who is attempting to
educate you does not know how they feel about their material or even their life,
their lack of identity and self will directly reflect on the learners.
This respondent‘s writing confirms and evidences her new understandings about the
cognitive and affective dimensions of the teaching profession. S/He ended by quoting
Palmer‘s (1998) own words on identity and integrity: ―The self is not infinitely elastic—it
has potentials and limits. If the work we do lacks integrity for us, then we, the work, and
the people we do it with will suffer‖ (p. 16). Good teaching requires more than just
knowing the subject matter; good teaching weaves the self, the subject, and one‘s
students together into a united quilt of learning.
Another respondent also joined his/her own K-12 experiences in making meaning of
identity and integrity in teaching. S/He echoes the previous respondent‘s reflections by
highlighting that teaching is much more than just knowing the subject and the
techniques. S/He quoted Palmer‘s famous line‖,good teaching cannot be reduced to
technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher‖ (p. 10)
and articulated how important it is to have good communication with students:
It is important to relate your past experiences and allow students to share their
experiences and feelings as it adds interest. Integrity to me means that teachers
should be supportive and make themselves ‗relatable‘ to the students, but at the
same time they must stick to curriculum and maintain discipline in the classroom.
There is no technique or formula to being a good teacher. Most teachers who
stick to a technique day in and day out cannot generate any interest in their
subject and cannot engage their students as it tends to be boring. As a teacher, I
believe the techniques used must suit the needs of the students and make a
balance between making a subject interesting and getting the material done.
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This respondent continued the reflective piece by making meaning of the work with
the alternative school students. S/He explained that in the tutoring experiences‖,you
must show that you can relate…find compatibility through some means even if it is
simple like showing your vulnerabilities or even discussing videogames briefly.‖ This
illustrates Palmer‘s notion that teaching is made up of more than just technique;
teachers must find ways to connect their identity with those of the students they teach.
Community
One respondent wrote about the theme of community in Palmer‘s work and chose
this quote: ―Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to
weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their
students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves‖ (p. 11) S/He made
meaning of this connectedness or community in her own work as a tutor:
I think it is extremely important to be a connected teacher. As a teacher one
needs to understand the students you are teaching, the community they come
from, and their individual strengths and weaknesses. To understand these things
a teacher needs to be connected. According to Palmer to be connected means
that you open your heart to your students. I agree with him. You cannot connect
to your students if you yourself are not open. To open yourself to your students is
to trust them; students will see this trust and respond in kind…These (alternative
school) students need to be in a safe and trusting environment to be able to
learn.
This respondent highlights the importance of trust in building community with
students. These pieces of learning are large and enduring and will serve this preservice
teacher well in her future interactions with students.
Another respondent referred to the theme of community as ―connectivity‖; s/he
reflected on the same quote about teaching and technique as the previous respondent.
S/He reflected on this quote by writing ―as a teacher you can‘t just go into class every
day, go through the motions and expect to intrigue adolescent minds.‖ This was further
explained by highlighting the essential connections between teacher and students come
from ―having a good sense of self-awareness.‖ S/He asked this question: ―if you don‘t
know yourself, how can you make yourself available to others in the classroom?‖ For
this respondent, like Palmer, knowing one‘s self represents the linchpin for the creation
of community or ―connectivity,‖ as it was aptly put. S/He also located this theme in the
work with the student at the alternative school:
From the day we met at the lunch we seemed to have a lot in common. Even
though we have a decent gap in age, I feel we are very similar in the ways we
dress, the music we enjoy and our hobbies and interests. Whether this would
make me an immature adult, or him a mature adolescent I am not sure. The thing
that matters to me is that when I go to the school to work with him he gets his
work done promptly, and we work very well together, always making time for
casual conversation which never seems forced. I feel like he enjoys when I am
there and that he doesn‘t mind doing his school work when we work together.
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12 Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal March 2009
This respondent explained that making connections with students was the way s/he
wanted to teach in the future and that he wanted to keep the classroom ―youthful.‖ From
practical experiences as a tutor for an alternative school student, the importance of
creating community in promoting learning was uncovered.
9. Discussion/Reflections on the Findings
The voices of the participants in this study may provide information about how to
reorganize teacher education experiences so that we can help students make fully
informed decisions to enter the professionso that they enter with eyes wide open.
Service learning provides a practical application for learning, opportunities for reflecting
on one‘s activities, and for providing a bridge between theory and practice. Both kinds of
data, the student interviews and the reflective component of the case studies, explored
the cognitive and affective dimensions of what it means to be a quality teaching
professional.
In terms of the demands of the teaching profession, the themes emerging from the
student interview data include that the profession is challenging, there is a lack of
respect for teachers, and the notion that teachers are undervalued. These themes
reflect some of what we already know about the demands of the teaching profession.
Though the specific term ―burnout‖ did not emerge in the findings of this study, teachers
who are unable to provide for their students both physically and emotionally leads to
emotional exhaustion and eventually to teacher burnout. (Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter,
1996). Grayson and Alvarez (2007) assert that emotional exhaustion in teachers is a
―tired feeling that develops over time as one‘s emotional resources are drained.‖ (p.
1350) This verifies that there is a degree of external validity to the findings in connection
with the literature on teacher education. It is important that future teachers know that in
choosing to teach, they may likely encounter challenges, be undervalued, and lack
respect as teachers. Because there are a myriad of affective dimensions in the teaching
profession, which center on the idea of teaching to the whole person, future teachers
will need to draw on their emotional resources.
Themes which demonstrate the rewards of teaching emerged from the participants‘
interview data and include making a difference in students‘ lives, uncovering potential in
students, patience and respect with students, and good student teacher rapport. All of
these themes reflect the affective dimensions of the teaching profession because they
all involve aspects of caring about a student‘s progression as a learner and
development as a person. Personal satisfaction in teaching is particularly important, in
part, because most teachers enter the profession so that they can make differences in
their students‘ lives. It is unlikely that they enter the profession for the financial rewards.
(Schwab, 2001)
Students wrote about the three themes of Fear, Identity and Integrity, and
Community in the reflective component of their case studies. Respondents made
meaning of the affective dimensions of these themes in the context of their work with
urban alternative school students. Respondents demonstrated deepened learning of the
fears inherent in the teaching and learning space. Not all fears are negative, and
teachers need to be aware of what is going on with their students, have empathy for
them, and conduct themselves as positive role models. The importance of identity and
Service Learning in Urban Alternative Schools March 2009
13 Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal March 2009
integrity was navigated and explored; respondents in this study reinforced the value of
prior experiences for both teacher and student. And part of this valuing of prior
experiences grows through mutual respect between and among teachers and learners.
The theme of community, also articulated through the respondents‘ case studies,
illustrated how the creation of a trusting environment can be promote and deepen
learning. All of these themes reflect the affective dimensions important in the profession
of teaching.
10. Where to Go From Here
Riane Eisler (2006) talks of constructing partnership models in education, ones
which prepare ―a new generation with understanding and experience in a partnership
way of being, interacting, and thinking‖ (p. 134). She contrasts this more progressive
partnership model to what she terms the ―dominator model.‖ While the partnership
model represents an ―integrated pedagogy that honors students as whole and diverse
individuals‖ (p. 135), the dominator model characterizes the teacher as the sole source
of information and knowledge and where relations are based on teacher control. I
believe we need to work towards the partnership model to improve teacher education.
Eisler recognizes that ―although state requirements allow little space for
experimentation, teacher training programs must be approached more creativelyand
more collaborativelythan has been the traditional practice‖ (p. 136). The service
learning project documented in this article represents one way to collaborate in a
creative way with local urban alternative school students and connects to Eisler‘s
partnership model for education. Though the integration of service learning is not new,
there are new ways of accessing, documenting, and promoting meaning-making
through student reflection and writing. Through practical experience and reflection on
that experience, respondents in this study were afforded an opportunity to have an
―insider‘s view‖ on the teaching profession. And with this view, I believe they have
become better equipped to make informed decisions about entering the profession of
teaching.
I am, in Riane Eisler‘s terms, trying to work towards a ―partnership model‖ in creating
new, creative, and collaborative modes for preservice teacher training. Going forward, it
makes sense to try and do something that dynamically combines projects in which I am
already involved or am very interested in pursuing. That way I can try to combine the
best ideas into a learning "whole". I am thinking of ways to enlarge this service learning
component by finding new ways of combining reading, writing, and technology. But
more than that, I want to bring a variety of things and different groups of people
together. These include Changing Lives Through Literature, technology as a learning
tool, new learning modes that have roots in the culture and traditions of India, and
contemplative writing, which works as an assessment tool for feedback on the learning
outcomes of this dynamic mix. I would like to do this by creating community or reviving a
plan to ―build a new neighborhood‖ (Hall and Waxler, p. 10, 2007) through a community
focused writing plan involving many different stakeholders. The main idea of this new
teaching plan is to involve actively the groups of students I teach as people who are a
part of this community, this new neighborhood. The kinds of enduring learning that I
would want to promote for all involved would include deep reading, thoughtful writing,
Service Learning in Urban Alternative Schools March 2009
14 Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal March 2009
self-efficacy, and concern for others in the world. That is asking a lot, but you have to
―keep the vision, as my collaborative CLTL partner and colleague Professor Robert
Waxler so often reminds me. I think I know what he means. Waxler‘s CLTL program
does promote a vision. Part of that vision has to do with getting people to read deeply
and respond to literature. That is what literature is there for, in part, to give us
something to talk to each other about (or in some cases IM or text to each other). For
this coming semester, I have many ideas about how I might invite participation for
students to dialogue (both face-to-face and in cyber-locations) with each other about
different kinds of learning. Certainly, I have not clearly articulated how exactly I will do
what I propose. But because I am working with others, I cannot plan this completely by
myself. However, I know that whatever ramifications we come up with will attempt to be
both collaborative and creative. I will be working in community with others to manifest a
vision of a partnership model of learning (Eisler, 2006) to improve preservice teacher
education. And working and being in community with others is also generative for my
teaching and learning because ―I believe that in the best learning environments, there is
a space characterized by mutual inquiry, a place where teachers are learners and
learners are teachers.‖ (Hall, p. 1, 2005)
Authors contact Information
Dr. Maureen P. Hall
Assistant Professor
Teaching and Learning Department
School of Education, Public Policy, and Civic Engagement (SEPPCE)
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
398-C, Liberal Arts Building
285 Old Westport Road
North Dartmouth, MA 02747
mhall@umassd.edu
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16 Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal March 2009
Appendix A
Student Interview Questions
1. Through the experiences in your tutoring and teacher observations, what is your
perception of the teaching profession as a whole? Have these perceptions changed?
If so, how? If not, how have your experiences confirmed your existing perception(s)?
2. What positive experiences in your pre-practicum have contributed to your interest in
becoming a teacher?
3. What experiences in your pre-practicum have detracted from or lessened your
interest in becoming a teacher?
4. What parts of being a teacher have become more valuable to you?
5. What parts of being a teacher have become less valuable to you?
6. Is there anything else that you would like to share about your pre-practicum
experiences that have affected your attitudes toward teaching? If so, how?
Appendix B
EDU 207 Teaching As A Profession: Reflective Component of the Case
Study
(worth 10 pts total of course grade)
Reflections on a theme in Parker Palmer‘s (1998) The Courage to Teach in two
parts.
Directions: Choose a theme of interest to you from Palmer‘s text in either
Chapter 1 or 2 and describe how this theme is important to you in your (current
and future) teaching life.
Make sure you:
Part 1. Clearly articulate a theme from Palmer’s text (from either Chapter 1
or 2).
*Use at least two quotes that illustrate this theme. These quotes come directly
from the text (remember to cite page numbers).
*Explain why this theme is important to you in your current and future teaching
life.
(5 pts. possible)
Part 2. Making-meaning of your service learning experience.
Directions: Using the same theme from Palmer‘s work that you chose above,
describe how this theme is important in your work with your student.
* Give examples of how this theme informs your tutoring experiences at the
urban alternative school.
(5 pts. possible)
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