Courtney Glazer, Ph.D.

Courtney Glazer
Ed 232a - Reflection Paper
March 14, 1999

I had never formally constructed a conception of teaching before this class. Until recently, I could only draw from my own instincts and experiences. Now I have the tools to build my personal conception of teaching, but I realize that my conception will undergo many iterations as I continue to learn and change. What I will try to do in this paper is to describe my conceptual changes that have resulted from this class.

First, I have learned to be careful not to construct too narrow a conception of good teaching. For an English teacher who constantly preached to her students that in life there is no right answer, I found myself desperately looking for one in this class. My students would have enjoyed their moments of triumph as I pored over my reading looking for the right combination of factors to create the ideal teacher. I figured out quickly that my need for the right answer was not going to be met here or anywhere. I also have less anxiety about accepting multiple good conceptions of teaching.

I realized that my biggest hurdle in creating conception of good teaching was making it a complete conception. As we wrote conceptions in class I found myself leaving out many important factors, like content knowledge. This realization had a big impact on my way of thinking about applying a conception to another's teaching. If I could not remember everything to include in my writing, how in the world could I expect someone to include all elements in his or her classroom? The lesson that I take away from this experience is caution in applying my conceptions of teaching in my classroom, someone else's classroom, or in a policy meeting.

Two important characteristics of good teaching kept coming back to me through many of our readings and discussions: strength of conviction and objectivity. Whether teachers are evocative teacher-centered or transformative or tinkerers, they should reflect on their practice objectively and should practice with strong convictions. These traits seem to tie together all of the other factors shaping a conception of teaching. A teacher's beliefs are only as strong as his or her convictions. I can have the personal belief that my classroom should be student-centered, but if, for example, I succumb to my colleague's pressures that student-centered activities are unruly, then my beliefs will not be evidenced in my practice. In class discussions the issue of strength of conviction also came up in regard to personal traits. I can have a terrific sense of humor, but the principal of my school can believe that teaching is a serious business. Again, if I have weak convictions, I will repress my sense of humor that could be an asset to my teaching. In our original conceptions of good teaching, our class emphasized personal beliefs and traits, but agreed that these elements are only valuable if they are apparent in classroom practice. This argument strengthened my idea that good teachers must have strong convictions.

However, a teacher's convictions could be too strong and this could lead to not so good teaching. For example, I may hold a strong conviction that my method of teaching fractions is the best way. If I am faced with continued student failure in understanding fractions, I should not let my convictions get in the way and I should change my method of teaching fractions. To prevent this from happening, a teacher needs to be objective in his or her reflections. I believe teachers need to maintain a balance between strong convictions and objectivity. In "My Good Year Explodes," the teacher questions her practices in light of a parent complaint, yet her colleagues and administrators support her teaching as good. With the right mix of strong convictions that she was doing the right thing and objectivity to view her predicament, that teacher could have more effectively negotiated the context in which she was teaching and avoided the emotionally charged results of the complaint. Soltis and Fenstermacher reframe this idea when they write, "professional teachers only become professional when they reflect on and choose a stance toward their calling that guides and sustains them in their important work of educating persons." I propose that these qualities are the hallmarks of a good teacher as well as a professional teacher.

My experience leads me to believe that teaching is a very personal experience and through this class I found the vocabulary to say that I favor the transformative and evocative conceptions of teaching. I began this quarter by explaining a teacher who also held these conceptions. The parts of our readings that have stayed with me reflect the important role that a teacher has in the classroom - not as a deliverer of content, but rather as a deliverer of life lessons. Jane Tompkins writes, "The classroom is a microcosm of the world; it is the chance we have to practice whatever ideals we cherish. The kind of classroom situation one creates is the acid test of what it is one really stands for." From Tompkin's perspective, the classroom is a place where the teacher can implement his or her view of what the world should be. This proves to be a difficult experience for the teacher and a transforming experience for the students. Parker Palmer suggests one way to make the experience of teacher in a transformative or evocative way easier for a teacher: "Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher." In Palmer's estimation, the closer a teacher comes to knowing his or her own identity the better his or her teaching will become. Berliner seems to agree as he situates teacher effectiveness in the goals established by that teacher. Like Palmer, Berliner places faith and value in the individual teacher. While I agree with these ideas, I find myself cynical in wondering how many teachers in America are both good and effective according to the ideas of these writers.

When faced with the question of whether good teachers are born or made, I try to unpack the term "born." I feel that there are a vast number of traits that lend a person to success in teaching. Some people will exhibit many of these traits and some will exhibit few. I think that the role of teacher education is to enable people to tap these traits for use as a teacher. I think this is a very broad explanation of people born to teach. Francine Prose illuminates a few of these traits when she writes, "One has to be dedicated or at least wired at a fairly high frequency to be capable of the energy that good teaching demands." Can the dedication and wiring that Prose looks for in a good teacher be made? While many of my colleagues argued that dealing with various contexts is something that must be taught to new teachers, I believe that teacher education students already have the tools needed to negotiate context. Referring back to Palmer I believe that as a teacher become more in touch with his or her own identity, personal beliefs, and traits, that teacher will develop the skills needed to negotiate any context. On a personal note about context, I recognize that I am a good teacher in a suburban or rural setting, but that my traits as they are developed today would not help me to be a good teacher in an urban setting. I can only negotiate any context based on my personal traits and beliefs.

I fear that my reflections on this course are not yet coherent. I have looked back through the course reader and my notes, jumping on the lines that are marked by stars and happy faces. My difficulty in making sense of this class is that conceptions of good teaching for me seem to boil down to emotional connections; connections to content, connections to students, connections to the school and community. Yet, I see myself as a person who typically approaches life from an objective, rational viewpoint. Since I was a teacher and eight or nine times out of ten I practiced according to my conception of teaching, I find it hard to reconcile my emotional and rational sides. Also with my emphasis on good teaching from an emotional standpoint, and my intent to go into the field of teacher education, I find myself faced with emotional evangelism which does not sit well with my more rational nature. This course has shoved me forward into the task of reconciling my varying thoughts while moving forward as a teacher and a teacher educator.


Author's Note: This class was exactly what I needed to shake up my thinking. I truly hope that some of these thoughts make sense today, but I guarantee that they will crystallize more as time goes on and my experiences in education continue.