- Standard 4: Content Knowledge The teacher understands the central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures of the discipline(s) he or she teaches and creates learning experiences that make the discipline accessible and meaningful for learners to assure mastery of the content.
- Standard 5: Application of Content The teacher understands how to connect concepts and use differing perspectives to engage learners in critical thinking, creativity, and collaborative problem solving related to authentic local and global issues.
Where have all the teachers gone? That’s the question that NPR is posing to the country. We are seeing a nationwide decline in qualified educators in public schools, and few newcomers applying to become teachers. A recent article published by npr.org in March of 2015 states that “Several big states have seen alarming drops in enrollment at teacher training programs. The numbers are grim among some of the nation's largest producers of new teachers: In California, enrollment is down 53 percent over the past five years. It's down sharply in New York and Texas as well. In North Carolina, enrollment is down nearly 20 percent in three years.
"The erosion is steady. That's a steady downward line on a graph. And there's no sign that it's being turned around," says Bill McDiarmid, the dean of the University of North Carolina School of Education,” (npr.org). Not only are there fewer teachers across the country, but a lack of incoming teachers is likely directly impacting the achievement gap that is present in public schools in America."
While I have no control over the numbers of incoming public educators and maintenance of qualified educators in the public school system, I do have control over my classroom and the learning that takes place there. In order to ensure my success as an English language arts and social studies teacher, I need to be able to not only have an understanding of the content that I am teaching my students, but also to be able to demonstrate this understanding to them on a regular basis. As a first year teacher, I was nowhere near ready to demonstrate my content knowledge to my students; I was a French and applied linguistics major. While I had the capacity to translate my knowledge to my 6th grade ELA/ SS classroom, it took some work. I found myself actively seeking out as much information as I could as often as I could. I would google phrases like “context clues explanation”, “figurative language lesson plans”, or “critical thinking in the English classroom lesson plans”. And while these links often provided me with saving graces, they weren’t enough. Because of this, I often found myself in the classroom of the only tenured veteran teacher on my grade level outside of our structured planning time, to ask her to help me to better understand the content. Through her guidance, and the programming through Johns Hopkins University, I was able to begin the process that I needed to grow as an English and social studies teacher.
I have always noticed that my students tend to be more engaged when I am obviously knowledgeable about the subject matter, and demonstrate content knowledge and understanding of my material while I am teaching it to them. I first noticed this in a lesson that I did about eastern philosophies. Growing up in Hawaii, in a predominantly Asian community, I have always had a strong affinity for eastern philosophies. Because of this, I spent a lot of time learning about different disciplines and philosophies such as Buddhism, Taosim, and Confucianism. In social studies, we had a two day lesson examining the different philosophies and their teachings, and my passion for the topic inspired some of the best work that I have seen my students produce in social studies.
In English, I demonstrate how I use my content knowledge to create a learning experiences that make the English accessible and meaningful for learners to assure mastery of the content through the lesson that I have attached as my piece of evidence for the InTASC standard #4: an English literature-based lesson on sensory detail and descriptive language. The first time that I read the book The Giver, I was impressed by how Lois Lowry used her words to take me on a visual journey through the story. The realization that when Jonas began to see color, I as a reader started to see color as well, blew me away. Because of this, I was extremely proud of the sensory detail and description lesson that I created because my passion and knowledge of the content enabled me to create a very thorough and engaging lesson for the students. In my reflection for this lesson plan I noted that “My philosophy of teaching ELA is that my students need to be critical thinkers and critically engaged with the novels that they are reading. Another component of my teaching philosophy is that my students will develop an appreciation, and love of reading, which can lead them to being better readers and performing better on literature standards”. I continue to note that “After the previous lesson, the students noted that they had difficulties with understanding how to make descriptive language using sensory details, but after this lesson, having them go through the creation process as well as the production process proved to be more effective than before because of their abilities to produce the sentences”. This reflection on the lesson demonstrates that I am striving to create learning experiences that are accessible and applicable for my students. I was able to recognize that even though I was knowledgeable about the content, I identified that my students needed an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge as well in order to really solidify the content. This shows that I not only have the content knowledge to create the lessons, but the knowledge of my classroom environment that is needed in order to guide the students to become even more successful in the content that I am passionate about.
The issue then lies within the content that I am not as knowledgeable about. This year I have already begun to notice a distancing between my content knowledge of English and my content knowledge of social studies, the two subjects that I teach. I am very passionate about my social studies content and as such my social studies lessons and activities tend to come across as more engaging and generally more successful. Because I have less content knowledge in the particulars of the English curriculum that we are studying, and especially less knowledge about the Engage New York curriculum that we are beginning in quarter 2, I have been having a rocky start. I have identified that despite the scripted curriculum that I am working on, I need to make sure that I am able to be knowledgeable about my content so that I can make the most impact on my students.
As an educator, and a TFA educator at that, I need to accept that not every single lesson that I teach will be transformational from start to finish. There will be times that you have to teach a lesson that covers a standard where you are lecturing for a chunk of it, in preparation for a future lesson. Throughout the year though, and with prompting from both TFA and JHU, I have had the opportunities to compose and reflect on lessons that I believe to be truly transformational. That being said, I would like to highlight my evidence for InTasc standard #5, where I used my Ho’ike portfolio, or culturally responsive portfolio, to engage my students in critical thinking, creativity, and collaborative problem solving related to an authentic local and global issue: sexism. In the accompanying reflection for the evidence, I explain how this was spurred from a teachable moment where I had a student make an extremely sexist comment at a point in the year where I felt that we had developed a strong classroom culture. Before this day happened, I had carried out and implemented my action plan which focused on addressing needs on campus with regards to issues such as bullying and necessity for increased adult supervision. As my students had already been in the mindset of being solutionaries and working towards problem solving, they were quick to accept this lesson on how can we be advocates for those who are generally discriminated against. This lesson applied their abilities to carry out comprehensive, purposeful discussions, their abilities to create reasoned arguments, and to produce a well organized piece of writing. Through these English skills, they were able to address an area of need that was identified in their community.
While it is useful to have a strong basic knowledge of the content being covered in my classroom, it is equally as important that I recognize where my gaps in knowledge are and how I can begin to develop my knowledge in those areas. Because of this, I have been proactive in seeking out professional development opportunities as well as actively engaging my peers and team teachers in broadening our content knowledge in both of our subjects. It is important to make sure that I am consistent in incorporating real world application opportunities for my students throughout my curriculum in order to ensure that their education is truly transformational and purposeful in all contexts. As an educator, I will always be growing in terms of how I approach my content delivery. But by remembering that I am consistently growing as an educator, and that my students are consistently growing as scholars, I can ensure that we are developing our skills and growing together to maximize our potential in all areas of our content knowledge.
Standard 4 Content Knowledge Evidence
Standard 5 Application of Content Evidence