(Written as part of my application to Goddard College June 2009)
My experiences as a student, my achievements professionally and my ultimate goal to fulfill my aspirations as a educator and life-long learner have lead me to Goddard College. My goal to educate was born from my rejection of Henry Ford’s factory approach to education. Working professionally and creatively in the educational environment has strengthened my desire to attain an active role in reforming the current system of education and shaping the future discourses in education. Gaining a theoretical foundation through completing a self designed study plan will give me the framework and knowledge to draw on during my student teaching period. Combining the theoretical and practicum learning into a mastery of elementary education will prepare me to confidently execute the role of a teacher in the classroom.
During my life as a student and working in educational settings, I have come to believe that the current system of education in the United States is in need of reform. John Taylor Gatto writes about the industrial system Henry Ford developed, that turned schools into factories, and students into a standard product which schools and teachers produce in order to participate in the modernizing economy. While never completely successful, this system has outgrown it usefulness and produces a learning environment where both the student and the teacher are at a disadvantage. I believe that schools can, and should, treat students as individuals, and harness children’s natural impulses for self-learning, instead of subjecting students to a ‘one size fits all’ philosophy.
Contemplating the need for a new system where the student is the center of the learning, brought me to the the works of John Holt and Daniel Greenberg from the Sudbury Valley School. I connect with Holt’s ideas that students are best served by teachers who are guides to their learning, allowing students to learn by doing. The story of Sudbury Valley School conveys that school can be an environment were student and teacher can democratically learn together. Researching both of these educators led me to question not only my role as a teacher, but also the need to align myself with a progressive college, where I could continue my investigation.
Upon reflection, my journey toward Goddard is fueled by three attributes I have developed during my life. The power of questions; being a keen listener and observer; and the importance of taking charge of my learning have always guided me to personal, artistic and professional success. Analyzing each success and its accompanying lesson confirms my readiness for Goddard’s graduate school and the process of becoming an educator.
At a young age, my mother taught me the principle of questioning everything. This virtue spoke to me as a child because of my natural curiosity and tendency to inquire about the world around me, and as I grew older it evolved into not just questioning, but challenging preset notions and injustices in my school and society. I am an eager learner, always looking for new answers. Now, I am excited to learn the history and tradition of education, with a critical lens, which will give me a foundation on which I will rely when developing my own theories on learning and education.
During my childhood I was surrounded by adults of various ages, in the form of child care providers, friends of my mother and relatives. The ever changing environment of my childhood strengthened by ability to listen and observe, first at home and expanding into the community. I learned that being a keen listener could teach me a great deal about different personalities and situations. I see listening as an important trait for an educator because it lends to better communication with students, parents and administrators. In addition, appreciating the different perspectives present in a classroom will help me create a safe and calm environment where the student can be the center of learning.
Most of my significant learning did not occur in a classroom, it often resulted from taking charge of my own learning and seeking out experiences in my environment. My early science classes were not taught by a teacher, but from my brother and I exploring the woods in our town. We did not learn scientific names of plants and animals, instead we learned adventure and risk. My ability to adapt and problem solve is not a result of an assignment, instead, I was allowed to make mistakes so I could learn from them. Through building tree forts or seeking out work via paper routes or collecting cans, I learned the value of self-generated goals, and being responsible for my own success.
The experience of learning to cook taught me about my own learning process, and the way a necessity can spark a passion to take that simple skill to level of mastery. As a teenager I decided to take on the challenge of cooking for my family. Drawing from basic skills I learned from watching my grandmother in her kitchen, I began to experiment with new ingredients and techniques, eagerly consulting books and experienced cooks. After a few years of cooking, I realized I could tackle any complicated recipe, not because I was a master chef, but because I built a confidence in my ability find a solution. As I now transition from from active learner to teacher, I still do not have all the answers, but I help students understand how they can find their own answers.
My success in self directed learning and projects of various sizes gives me the confidence that I will be able to complete the unique program at Goddard. One of my greatest successes is creating the International Student Original Film Art Festival (SOFA). During my Junior year at Wilsonville High School, my friend and I decided to move from theater to film making. We wrote scripts and filmed a number of short films, learning as we went along. After a few attempts we had a film we wanted to show to an audience other than our parents. We decided we could created our own venue: a film festival. Starting with a web site and quickly growing from a local event to an international film festival with multiple screenings around the country, drawing submissions from around the world. The festival lasted five years and grew larger than the two of us with a organization of like minded students and teachers. With only hard work and internal motivation we created a full fledged business. I understand the process required to take a simple concept and cultivate it, in collaboration with others, into a meaningful mechanism for building community. The festival was a reflection of the passion I have for the creative and collaborative process, and for the dialog I crave to engage in with others in my field. My experience with SOFA led me to seek a learning environment that embraces my desire for self learning. One year at a traditional college confirmed my need for a more progressive, student focused learning institution.
I found such an institution when I joined California Institute of the Arts’ Film and Video program in the fall of 2001, where I was treated as an artist joining a progressive group learning space. Cal Arts believes its role in education is to provide a broad framework in which individuals can experiment and grow within a supportive and critical community. This community includes a faculty of established and respected working artists. At Cal Arts, the relationship between a teacher and student is more of a mentorship because the teacher is not there to impart information, but to help the student access and develop the skills needed to achieve their own unique individual artistic style and voice.
My final project combined many of my visual storytelling skills and took the form of a video installation. The installation was an expression of my focus for telling small stories that included the relationship of the viewer to the material and how a intimate experience was created. Taking what I learned in class and producing a piece of work that showcased my singular voice, afforded me a dialog with my classmates. This dialog gave me the chance to reflect about my own inspiration for the piece and allowed an angle in which to discuss my work and the work of other artists from different disciplines. Cal Arts’ unique culture fed my strengths as a student and and cultivated my aptitude for self directed learning. During my time there, I learned not only the art of film making, but I became aware of what environment best suits my creative and academic growth.
I see Goddard as a similar environment to Cal Arts, and their roles of educational settings stem from the same ideals. I see the community at Goddard as a place where I can continue my self directed learning and hope to form the same type of relationships as I did with the faculty and fellow students at Cal Arts. I see my work as an educator being influence and enhanced my discourse with the broadest range of disciplines which are offered within the Goddard community and the community I will build for my self. I believe my successes and lessons learned at Cal Arts have prepared me to succeed within Goddard’s unique low residency program.
After completing my bachelors of Fine Art from California Institute of the Arts in 2005, I returned to Oregon, instead of seeking work in Los Angeles. This choice limited my opportunities to work in the Film business, but increased my quality of life. In reflection, I see how this decision led me to Goddard. Choosing to return to Oregon gave me a chance to really explore what drew me to film in the first place. Fighting for Portland’s limited film work made me reflect upon why I chose a career in film making. My passion for film making is grounded in my love of the creative process along with the medium’s strength to inform a vast number of people about social issues and stories. While I have decided to focus my energy on my growing love of education, I believe my skills and passion for film will strengthen my career in education
My first experience as a teacher came my Junior year at Cal Arts I began teaching film making at Oakwood Secondary School. I envisioned my role as a teacher to be much like my experiences as an director in theater and film or hold similarities to my work with SOFA. I realized that while leadership skills are needed, teaching requires a balancing act that I had yet experienced. During my first semester, I lacked classroom management skills and relied heavily on trying to create an environment where the students held primary control of what we did; myself often being timid and lacking a clear idea of how to design my curriculum. Some students took charge of their learning and succeeded, but others never really engaged in the class. Over the course of the next year and a half, I built my confidence in my skills as a teacher, learning how to balance a student-centered learning environment with classroom management and curriculum diversification for a wide range of learners. Each semester, I learned a new aspect of teaching, from incorporating unstructured time into structured time; forming specialized lesson plans for individual students, and knowing when to step in to help a student, or when to step out and let a student discover a new solution.
Teaching elementary-aged students at Oregon Episcopal School presented me with a new set of challenges and lessons in adapting my film-making classes for a younger set. The curriculum I created for high school students included mostly unstructured time with my role as a guide. I learned fast that my lesson plans needed more structure and had to accommodate the group dynamics and the different attention spans of boy and girl students.
One particular class demonstrated how complex circumstances can effect my ability to teach and the method with which I teach. It was not only the age and gender of the student, but the way 4th grade girls and boys interact in spring that affected my curriculum. My early attempts to corral this energy was challenged by the one hour length of the class and lack of a proper classroom space. It was not until the end of the semester that I learned I needed to separate my lessons for each group. Normally I would not separate genders, but I found the girls could focus and work on their own, while the boys needed to have a structure assignment and help keeping focus and on task. My ability to adapt and reflect on my own teaching, allowed me to turn an unruly and unproductive learning environment into a place where all the students were able to produce a final project. Oregon Episcopal school offered me the chance to continue teaching film, but I did not expect to find a more meaningful experience in a larger setting as an Extended Care Teacher.
While working in Extended Care, I came to understand that my enthusiasm for teaching was not only from my passion for film, but it was fueled by the students themselves and my own love of learning. Extended care began once the school day ended, occupying the time before the student went home, in the evening. For two and half years, I worked along with a co-teacher with students in the 1st and 2nd grade. My role could have easily fallen into a that of glorified babysitter, but I realized early on that EC is just as important as classroom time. EC was structured to allow for daily creative projects and ample amount of time to socialize and play. My co-teacher and I gave our students a choice of which activities they wanted to participate in or to not participate at all. This gave the students an environment that they did not have any other time in the day. I came to understand that we offered the one place in the children’s day where they were treated as peers to the adults around them. While many of the kids and parents didn’t see me as a Teacher, I believe my role was beneficial to their development and allowed them to relax without pressure to perform. Often my students were able to work out tension and stress that had built up during the day both at home and school. Along with helping them wind down from the rigorous academic setting of their classrooms, I decided early on that I was going to push the boundaries of the projects and activities we offered them. One of my greatest strengths as a teacher is my belief that students can and should be treated as equals, and treated as I would treat my peers or friends. I believe the only power I needed to wield, came with keeping the children safe and stepping in if a situation had grown out of control. I believe it is important to be sensitive to their development level, but often children are sheltered from making mistakes. Students can thrive, by learning that they can fix their own problems or try things that might not be comfortable at first. While teaching in Extended Care, I spent time reading John Holt and Daniel Greenberg, and started to contemplating a child’s ability to take control of his own education . I see the complex challenge of knowing when and how to let students learn for themselves, as a one of most important skill I hope to master at Goddard. .
During my time at OES, my passion for education started to cement itself. .My job was not work to me, but a new adventure and learning experience. I fostered relationships with students and saw the impact that my role could have in their development. I challenged myself to work with the students that had a hard time functioning within the freedom we offered. (rewrite) I knew that building trust was essential in helping them. I did this by looking for their strengths and giving them more opportunities to experience the power of getting attention because of their positive actions. I also had the freedom to experiment with different class management techniques. After recess, I notice the students having a hard time refocusing their energy into a creative project. Instead of forcing the issue I decided to allow the students a chance to channel their energy into something productive. I initiated a comedy sketch time, a setting for my students to laugh and giggle and perform for their classmates. It wasn’t long before they began asking for this time and making it their own. My confidence in reading a class situation and the different dynamic of the students allowed me to keep calm and not become overwhelmed by challenging groups of students.
Being the only male teacher in the EC program informed my role in the classroom and also plays a huge part in my desire to become a elementary school teacher. Teaching is not a gender specific role, but I experienced a level of sexism in my role with elementary age level that I did not see in my work as Film teacher. My intentions as a teacher were often questioned, and I constantly worked to convince parents and even peers of my qualification to work with children. I have made it a mission to reinvent the role of males in elementary education. I believe positive male role models in school and young children’s life are just as important as females.
Students benefit from the interplay between male and female teachers and are provided a more holistic earning environment in the years when they are still developing their understanding of gender and of self along with the complexities of the world around them. One of my focuses at Goddard will be to study the history of gender roles in education along with developing a theory on the benefits of a more diverse teacher pool that includes a combination of male and female teachers of different backgrounds.
With my completion of a degree from Goddard I hope to secure a license to teach Elementary Education. I have come to the decision to focus my teaching on the Elementary grades after a reflection of my experiences, and a survey of my strengths and dreams. My energy and enthusiasm for learning complement the developmental spectrum of children. I am excited about my chance to shape and guide the future education and development of children who are just beginning their journey as learners. My artistic background will lend to and enhance the wide range of activities and learning options that are available in an Elementary classroom. The flexibility of the elementary curriculum is appealing because it allows for multi-subject learning, and lends to experiential learning and the possibility of spontaneous student-generated adventures. I look forward to the challenge of helping children adjust to the vast amount of changes that happen in the short period of elementary school.
Honestly I love working with children at this level, the wonder and excitement they have for the world is contagious. I see a similarity between their eagerness to learn and my tendency to gravitate toward learning experiences and new skills to master. I see myself setting a tone in my classroom that learning occurs over a lifetime, not just from September to June. It is my dream to be a teacher. I know through my theoretical and practicum learning at Goddard College I will have all the tools necessary to confidently enter the classroom and began helping the next generation discovery their own dreams and become life long learners.