When I think about the early years of my teaching career, I taught the way I was taught by those who came before me. I remember experiences where teachers lectured to deliver content, problems were given to be solved, and tests were taken to determine whether I learned. That was how I was taught from the earliest years of my student career, and those were the practices I readily adopted as a new teacher. Even though I attended a fairly innovative Masters program at Teachers College in science education, I still learned and used techniques that mirrored the history that influenced me, at least in the beginning of my career.
You could say that I graduated into my “automatic self,” which was a reflection of the history I grew up with. I can’t remember teachers who expected or taught me how to deviate from my automatic self, who helped me grow into a new way of being a teacher. They showed me techniques they integrated into their “automatic self,” and I learned how to conform. Looking back, I wish I had the knowledge and foresight to have asked challenging or harder questions of those who taught me how to teach.
As I think about it, I was pretty good at accepting the paradigms I was taught. If I had thought more deeply about it, I might have questioned the paradigms that shaped, limited, and defined my thinking and behaviors. But I didn’t until later in my career. Some of these paradigms, and they may be familiar to you, were:
- Stay in control
- Learn the content, it’s more important than the process
- Competition trumps collaboration
- Feedback is how well I did on the test
- Being vulnerable is a sign of weakness
I adapted well and learned to live by these paradigms as I put my teaching skills to use. As a science teacher, I think I was mostly effective, but I wasn’t expanding my understanding of how to reach all students. If I was going to make that leap into new territory, I would have to challenge the paradigms I had learned, that were part of my automatic self.
As I developed confidence and expanded my knowledge of what good teaching meant, I began to learn that I could make significant changes to my approach and practice. I started to formulate a new story of who I was as a teacher. There were a few individuals during this part of my career that helped coach me into a new way of thinking about science teaching. Exploring, questioning, tinkering, modeling, and applying became more important in how I designed my courses. These approaches pushed me to change my assessment practices and challenge students to master and apply concepts and skills rather than merely memorize information.
I would call these the transformative years of my teaching career. I was learning how to teach more effectively while my students were recipients of a more interesting classroom. During this time, I had a new story to tell colleagues, students and parents about how I taught science.