Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

I am about to embark on a new journey - graduate school. I struggled about the statement of purpose, but here it is!

One of my earliest memories is sitting beside my older brother, listening to him read the comics in the newspaper to me and being extremely frustrated that I couldn't decipher the squiggly marks myself. I couldn't wait to go to school and learn the mysteries of reading. When I received my first library card, I checked out Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter for almost a year until I could read it to myself. This began a life-long interest in literacy and the process of literacy. With over a decade of experience teaching middle and high school English, I strive to impart not only the skills of literacy, but also a life-long enthusiasm for reading, writing, speaking, listening and thinking to my students.

I've struggled with witty and interesting ways to write my statement of purpose for graduate study, but my purpose is actually very simple and direct. As a pre-service teacher, I had some great professors and teachers, along with some mediocre and poor ones. Like most first-year teachers, I had my share of challenges and successes, but I made a mental note of the things I wish I had been taught and exposed to before entering the classroom. Since that time, I have mentored teachers, written several articles, and given numerous workshops, but realized that one of the best way to influence the future of education is to become a teacher of future teachers and a researcher of best methods. I wish to pursue my Ph.D in Curriculum and Instruction in order to be qualified to work with pre-service teachers, research best practices and contribute to the future policies and methods of education, especially in the area of literacy.

From my first book, Peter Rabbit, reading has always been a passion of mine. I was surrounded by books as a child, since my mother was a school librarian and later a bookseller. My parents encouraged and required summer reading and writing, with one of my first poems being, “Parents are nice – They eat rice.” Considering this kind of background, it seemed natural to specialize in English/Language Arts as a teacher, and later become a certified Reading Teacher. Yet, as a first-year teacher in a very traditional school district, I balked at the idea of English class being focused on spelling, grammar, vocabulary and short stories. Real reading involved thinking, and thinking could only be articulated through speaking and writing. This was when my philosophy of teaching really materialized. I believe that learning should not be compartmentalized into subjects nor rigid by grade level and growth in one area can be used to encourage growth in other areas. I developed several interdisciplinary units and encouraged my fellow, more traditional, colleagues to consider a more holistic approach. I then entered the world of overseas teaching. My first contract was with the American School of Brasilia, Brazil. Each class consisted of 85-95% non-native English speakers. I became fascinated with the process of acquiring language, which reinforced my philosophy of learning – skills are important, but without context and motivation, learning only skills will plateau. Later, at the International School of Vilnius, Lithuania, I had the opportunity to become involved in the European League for Middle Level Education. Through this organization, I wrote and published several articles and gave presentations at the annual conferences. Each topic I researched focused on an area of literacy such as literature circles, graphic organizers, and the use of technology. My research was practical and personal and designed for in-service teachers.

How do I know I will succeed in a demanding doctoral program? I am reminded of a quote by Robert M. Pirsig, in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “A person filled with gumption doesn't sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He's at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what's up the track and meeting it when it comes. That's gumption.” I've got “gumption” which, according to the Dictionary.com means, “1. initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness 2. courage; spunk; guts 3. common sense; shrewdness.” This gumption has enabled me to pursue and succeed in several eclectic jobs in my life. Each job I have held gave me the opportunity to rehearse the roles that make me a great teacher, well-rounded person, and student of life. Directly out of high school, I joined the Army National Guard. Basic training was arduous; especially the physical demands; though through this I learned the importance of team work. I helped the women in my platoon with the academics and they pushed and cajoled me to success in running, push-ups and sit-ups. Without each other, none of us would have succeeded. Then I attended my Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), which was paramedics. During the training, I learned basic life-saving skills, but more importantly - how to think quickly, make decisions and calmly direct other people in the midst of crisis. In my unit, I quickly became a training non-commissioned officer and directed the training of not only my platoon, but the entire company. Because of my positive experiences as a medic, as a college student, I was first interested in seeking a career in nursing. However, my poor scores in my science classes led me to consider other options, which has led me to my true vocation in life – teaching. The first unit I taught during practicum was a unit on stars, in which I integrated science, math, social studies, and language arts. Besides learning the how and why of stars, the students discovered the wonder and the tales. Their excited chatter and enthusiastic research and observation was contagious and I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. Throughout my teaching career, I have sought excellence; constantly updating and refreshing my skills as a teacher through classes, workshops, and my own research. For the past ten years, I taught in three different overseas schools. Each country has presented its own challenges such as culture shock, bureaucracy, lack of supplies, and different views of education. Yet through this, I have learned to be patient, yet persistent; flexible, yet determined. At the International School of Aruba, I became the Curriculum Coordinator. In this capacity, I introduced the concept of curriculum mapping and guided the staff in a two year process of writing maps for all subjects and levels. In addition, I oversaw the creation of class syllabi throughout the school. This past year I completed the portfolio for National Board Certification for Adolescence and Young Adulthood/English Language Arts; although my scores will not be posted until December 2007. The reflection, documentation and writing required for the portfolio has shown my strong commitment and dedication to becoming a better teacher and contributor to the educational community.

Although I have been out of school and the country for over a decade, my real life experiences make me a solid candidate for doctoral work. As my transcript shows, I had excellent grades throughout my masters program. After twelve years of teaching, I have strong experience in both the theoretical and practical aspects of education. I've given numerous presentations for a variety of audiences and written articles for teacher journals and newspapers. Having taught overseas, I have proven that I can handle difficult situations and persevere, plus I have learned to be culturally sensitive in my dealings with others. I have directed my own professional development and continue to update my knowledge through online listserves, journals, and conferences. Personally, I am enthusiastic about education, determined to succeed in whatever endeavor I undertake, creative, organized and resourceful. I currently write a blog entitled “In the Heart of a Teacher is a Student.” I truly believe that the best teachers are always students themselves and I look forward to learning more, not only about teaching and learning, but about myself.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Good Readers Practice

I'm sure your parents have reminded you that “Practice makes perfect.” And the old joke says, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer, “Practice, practice, practice.” There are many other proverbs and quotations that support the importance of practicing, but it is common sense – the more you do an activity, the better you become at it. This is true not only in music, dance, and sports, but in learning languages too. One of the best ways to become fluent in a language is to read extensively in the language.

According to Warwick B. Elley, in a study of 9,073 schools from 32 countries, there is a steady increase in academic achievement in student populations who have the greatest amount of voluntary free reading. However, not only does extensive reading correlate with higher academic achievement, it raises the IQ (as measured by standardized tests), improves creativity, and increases the potential job salary earning, according to numerous research studies conducted by the National Institute for Literacy in the United States. In addition, several studies show that reading in a target language increases vocabulary learning and retention.

Aside from these serious academic reasons to read, there are several other benefits to reading. It provides relaxation and an escape from the tensions of life. It can be fun, stimulating and rejuvenating. Several early studies are showing that the habit of reading, well into old age, can help keep the mind active and slow down the onset of senility, which is common in sedentary elderly people.

So the next time you reach for the remote control, hit the “Off” button, turn the pages of a book and exercise your brain cells with a good story.