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

Karen Sue Rigdon

International Falls Masters of Education Cohort

Spring 1999

Highlights of an Educational Journey

Masters of Education, Year One

In April of 1998 I decided that it was time to learn how to type. I had not typed since my junior year in high school. My boyfriend, Fred, typed all my papers in college. My husband, Dave, did all my typing from 1983 to April of 1998. I kept these favors as buried secrets and frequently wondered what I would do if there were not a man around to do my typing. Finally, the day came when I decided to stop being so dependent.

It is absolutely amazing what one can do when the mind has been set to do it, the spirit has been motivated, and the timing is right. It also helps if there is at least a small cash reserve in the bank account. The UMD Masters of Education Program came to International Falls at a time when I was ready to learn more than how to type. I took a summer course in computer basics to help prepare me for the portfolio course that would take the place of the GRE for my admission to the graduate program.

I thoroughly enjoyed Education 5950, the summer portfolio course. Mary Jean Menzel was always so cheerful, patient and encouraging as she guided our group, one by one, through the various sectional components of the portfolio. One of the assignments, to analyze the mission statement of our school district, was a new experience for me and has prompted me to look closely at mission statements in general. I believe that without a mission there is no direction. And without direction, accomplishments are left to chance.

Looking back at my portfolio I reviewed the mission statement of UMDs College of Education. My year of learning has encompassed the four desired elements of the missionreflection, diversity, empowerment, and collaboration.

 Reflection -- Terry Anderson asked us to relate the issues in the UTNE articles to our own lives as well as summarizing the writings.

 Diversity -- Our guest speakers were the epitome of diversity  psychiatrists, counselors, police officers, teachers, superintendents and colleagues, media specialists, corporate leaders and more.

 Empowerment I felt empowered by the program because I could make so many of my own choices. I could choose which alternative journals to report on, which great book to read, and I could submit curriculum proposals.

 Collaboration Synergy has been encouraged in the program in many ways including teamwork in computer classes and field projects.

The two texts that were chosen by the program director, The Quality School and Principle Centered Leadership, were superb in many ways. In The Quality School I learned that all our behavior revolves around satisfying our five basic needs of power, belonging and love, freedom, fun and survival. Therefore, we would be wise to teach in need satisfying ways, and dismiss coercion and bossing which tend to inhibit cooperation and learning retainment. In Principle Centered Leadership I was introduced to the seven habits that Stephen Covey says develop one into a highly effective person. This book will be a valuable resource for me as I have volunteered to be a counselor/facilitator at Camp RYLA, Rotary Youth Leadership Award, this summer in Crookston, MN.

One of the great books I read was A Life in School by Jane Tompkins, a professor of English at Duke University. Tomkins memoir begins with her youth as a shy, hesitant, and sensitive only-child who worked very hard and always compared herself to others. She recalls that her most influential teachers were the ones who loved the subjects that they taught and didnt hide it. Later, as a teacher herself, she found it difficult not to show-off her intellect to her students. Tompkins struggled to change her performance / lecture style of teaching to a style that would give her students the power and let them do the talking. I have to remember to find out what they want, what they need, now, right at this moment, and not worry about whether what Ive prepared is good enough, or ever gets said at all (p. 119). Tomkins did succeed in her egoless experimental teaching designs that aimed to remove structures that enforced imitation and dependency (p. 159). She let the students present and she gave feedback: she wanted them to discover themselves as well as the subject matter.

The UTNE Reader assignments included a directive to share your writings with several colleagues and include their comments in your final papers. This led me to meet or speak with an intriguing mix of professionals to enhance my final drafts  a pastor, a psychiatrist, a biologist, a kindergarten teacher, a radio station advertising employee, and two semi-professional writers were among those that I interviewed. I appreciated their eagerness to listen, help, and provide input for my papers and I enjoyed that part of the assignment in particular. The UTNE Reader magazine had mixed reviews in our cohort: I was in favor of retaining the UTNE for our Basic Skills course and was disappointed that the others did not share my sentiments. Authors that had published books, or were to be published soon, wrote many of the articles in the UTNE Reader, and they provided a variety of excellent writing styles to model.

My choices for the alternative journal papers were predominantly centered on psychological issues such as emotional intelligence and mental illnesses and disorders. The professions of social workers and psychologists have always had an appeal to me: I have a fascination with probing the unseen depths of an individual to better understand their motivations behind their behavior. I have learned throughout my adult life and in my cohort experiences that self-knowledge is power and should precede attempting to understand others. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaires that we completed in the fall quarter were empowering tools to gain access to this knowledge of the self.

To date, I have completed eight credits of educational computing courses and am currently working towards finishing a third class. I was a computer-illiterate before the summer of 1998. Now I can utilize software programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and HyperStudio. Now the World Wide Web is there is serve me instead of overwhelm me. Now I have had my first educational experience working collaboratively. Through this experience I have discovered that synergy is a great deal more productive and creative than solo flight. I have always been in a predictable comfort zone working alone and knowing my capabilities. For me, trust in collaboration had to be built: I needed to have a positive experience with a shared project and I did.

At the beginning of the year I asked Terry Anderson if the cohort could write articles for the local newspaper for grading contract credit. He bestowed his blessing upon us and the Daily Journal gave us a monthly column on the second page of the newspaper entitled Living to Learn. To date, the cohort authors have written on subjects such as life-long learning, reading to children, parental involvement in schools, multi-cultural controversies, poetry writing opportunities, stock market math and the Responsive Classroom. We have all received many positive comments about our articles and the column from the community-at-large as well as from our colleagues. I still need more advice concerning peer assessment.

As good educators and citizens we all strive to make good things happen in our schools and communities. The program directors approval of our cohorts involvement in two International Falls mentoring projects has made a significant difference in the lives of many children and young adults. It is my hope that these children all know how deeply the adults in their community care about them, and believe in them, as a result of their experiences in these projects. To be a part of a mentoring project is also a rich and rewarding experience for the mentor, who serves as a catalyst, helping to make those good things transpire.

The first year of our graduate journey is nearly over. When someone asks me how school is going I give a simple answer, Its great, I love it and Im having fun too. We are all learning, growing, expanding our educational toolkits and sharpening our mental saws. An additional perquisite is that I am now keyboarding (typing) at nearly thirty words a minute with thirty mistakes!

-- Anonymous, November 27, 1999

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