Final Reflections : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Final Reflections

-- Anonymous, June 02, 1999


End of the Year Reflections

Submitted by Karen Swenson

As I reflect back over the past year, I am amazed at how quickly time has passed. It seems as though we were just getting together to plan our first year, and now it is time to plan for our second year. I remember the anxiety that was felt by all of us as we started out on this important educational experience.

The first big challenge came for me when we were told that all of our papers had to be posted to the web. For a person with little or no computer experience, this was a very frightening situation. I soon found out that I was not the only person feeling inadequate about my computer skills. Maybe because misery loves company, this put my nerves somewhat to rest. I can look back with amusement now as I remember writing out my autobiography by hand and then sitting down next to my thirteen year old stepdaughter while she typed it for me. I can not express how much the patience and expertise of both Tina Meyers and Tim Iverson have helped me gain computer skills and confidence. One of the first times I had to post a paper to the web, I called Tina and she talked me through the process step by step. Although I have chosen not to take the classes offered for the technology concentration, I feel that I have learned a lot of computer skills by being a part of this cohort.

Early last fall we took the Meyers Briggs. I had taken this test once before at a Center for School Change workshop. At that time we looked at how different personality types are needed to successfully implement school change projects such as the multi-age, school within a school program, that we were starting at Falls Elementary School. I was very interested to concentrate, this time, on how different personality types within my classroom require various teaching approaches to accommodate different styles of learning. It was also important for all of us starting in a cohort program to recognize and accept all of the different personality types and learning styles within our own group.

It didnt take us long to get down to the nitty gritty of what was required to earn the letter grade of our choice. It was certainly not a surprise to me that each of us wanted to contract for an A. This brought us to examine the required reading and writing assignments on the syllabus. The Utne Reader was given to us by Terry Anderson. As I read the articles in our first issue, I struggled to find something relevant until I came upon an article entitled Learning in the Key of Life by Jon Spayde. Now I have read through four issues of The Unte Reader and written four reflective papers. I realize that even though this journal would not have been my choice of reading material, it has been a positive learning experience for me.

One of the most rewarding things about being able to contract for a grade was that it allowed each of us to do something that was interesting and important to us. I became involved in the Strive Mentorship Program. Strive is a motivational program started by Don Mooney from White Bear Lake, Minnesota. The program is aimed at high school seniors who are not meeting their maximum potential in school and who want to improve their present grades. Students in the lower one-third of the senior class are eligible to participate in Strive. In International Falls, the Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Aquillo League, Rainy Lake Womens Club, and the local school district are working together to make a difference in the lives of the young people involved in Strive. I have been fortunate to work with a young girl who has been very determined to improve her grades in school. She has been taking classes at night at the alternative school besides her regular class load at the high school, so that she can graduate with her class on time. The Strive Program is a wonderful example of using a whole community to raise a child. I know that if I was not a member of this cohort, I would not have become involved in this mentorship program, at least not at this time in my life.

I expected to gather information and gain knowledge from the video presentations, ITV presentations, and from guest speakers. I was not disappointed. Many fascinating topics such as dealing with death, fetal alcohol syndrome, the unattached child, juvenile delinquency, the gifted child and brain development were presented to us. I especially enjoyed the guest speakers because we had time to discuss the topics and ask questions. Some of the video presentations were difficult to absorb because of poor sound quality. As we became more involved in choosing topics for our research papers, I found the ITV presentations by the Duluth Cohort and the statistics presentations by Dr. Lloyd very helpful, although somewhat overwhelming.

I have to say that one of the best parts of working in a cohort is the bonding that has taken place between cohort members. Everyone is willing to help each other. Several times, our research group has been given information that someone else has come across in doing research. These exchanges of research have been very helpful and created an atmosphere of cooperation, free of competition. Many of us have taught in this community for over ten years, but now we actually talk about, and have a better understanding of, the various job issues that we face each day. I have often said that even though Falls Elementary School and Fall High School are separated by only the width of a football field, they might as well be separated by miles. There is little or no communication between the two buildings. Working in this cohort is helping to break down that communication barrier.

A sense of humor and laughter always add to the learning experience. This was especially true when Ladd Kocinski presented two class sessions in April. Ladd was able to blend humor and patience in getting all of us to operate a front end loader and construct what turned out to be an eight by eight building. I have a new appreciation for people who operate heavy equipment. My oldest son was a skidder operator for a logging company for several years. I spoke to him on the telephone after my experience in Ladds class. We had a good laugh about my operating debut and I told him that I have a new understanding and respect for the skill that it takes to operate heavy equipment. Having a hands-on experience like we had during those two class sessions, made me think about how much all of the students in my class would benefit from that type of teaching method. The math and measurement skills used in the construction of that small building, had all of us scrambling for our pencils and paper as we worked together to calculate dimensions and make sure that our measurements were correct.

Along with the regular Wednesday night classes through UMD, I am taking a year long course called S.E.E.D. or Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity through the College of Saint Catherines. This class has taught me a great deal about myself and how I relate to the world around me. We have discussed gender and racial prejudice, as well as homosexuality. Each of these discussions are emotional for all of us but the classes are held in an environment of confidentiality and trust. I have gained a heightened awareness of terms and expressions that may cause pain and embarrassment for some students in my classroom. I have learned that just by doing nothing and pretending that it is someone elses problem, I am part of the problem. I am trying to make my students more accountable for what they say and do. I want all of my students to feel safe and respected in my classroom.

We were asked to chose a book from a list of Great Books this year. I chose to read the book, In The Time of Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez. This is the story of the Mirabal sisters who lived in The Dominion Republic during the tyranny of the dictator Trujillo. The book begins and ends in 1994, as the only surviving sister Dede, is asked to tell the story of the Mirabal sisters. Each of the chapters in this book takes us through the 1940s and 1950s as told from each sisters perspective. The book forces you to look at the lack of respect for humanity that comes from political oppression. The power and greed of Trujillo brought a nation to worship him out of fear. Each sister faces her own battle of personal courage and commitment, the final cost for all but one, was death. We did have an opportunity to have a short discussion during one class time with the other people who had read the same book. We had hoped to have a jigsaw experience with people who had read other books, but time ran out. Perhaps this is something we can do next year.

I feel that we have had a very informative and exciting first year. I know that at times we have experienced frustration and confusion in communication, but hopefully we have all learned from these setbacks. I have found that trying to be a full time wife, mother, teacher, and student required more hours in the day than I could sometimes find. I am looking forward to having the time this summer to do the literature research necessary for writing our research paper on the Responsive Classroom. I know that we will feel less frustrated once our research proposal and consent forms are accepted. I am confident that we will be more focused but every bit as busy as our second year as a cohort unfolds.

-- Anonymous, June 02, 1999

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