08 May 2011

My Autoethnography

An image that represents me at this stage of my professional life:

I have chosen a video on YouTube. Please watch “Monarch Metamorphosis”:
The diagrams below emphasize what can be seen in the video. I will reference certain stages in the life of a butterfly, please refer to the diagrams for assistance. As for myself, I would say that I am currently in the pupa/chrysalis stage in my professional life. When I finish my doctorate, a whole new world will be available to me; therefore I will no longer be a caterpillar crawling around, but a butterfly that can fly.

Reflections on the past: How did I come to be here as an education professional seeking my doctorate? I have included key influences, pivotal early experiences, earlier adult life events/transitions, and academic and career history.
Well, in the life of a butterfly, all individuals begin as an egg. I would equate my egg stage as my childhood and my freshman, sophomore, and junior high school years. I considered many possible careers in this stage of life. Basically I ate and slept, as a larva in an egg does, and remained fairly naïve about life and careers. One big transition was the move from a Detroit suburb to a very small town in Georgia during my senior year of high school. This move really opened my eyes to the “big, wide world” that is out there. It really changed my perspective about life and people (especially culture shock). Unexpectedly, it prepared me for the transition to college. Many of the people I graduated high school with could not make the transition from high school/hometown to college/new town. I made the transition relatively easily. I attribute this ease from facing the same challenge by moving to Georgia in the first place. For this reason, I would equate this experience to the next stage of the butterfly life cycle where the caterpillar (larva) hatches from the egg.

My undergraduate and graduate years would be consistent with the caterpillar stage of the butterfly life cycle. Caterpillars lumber around, eating everything they can. I would say that was me in college; not necessarily eating food, but consuming all the knowledge that I could. I just soaked in everything, academic and first-hand experiences. It was during my graduate school years that I found out that teaching was the right career for me. In graduate school, the college I attended had teaching assistantships available for their graduate students. This was my first experience teaching. It was like a “drug” and I couldn’t get enough. At the time, I was a pre-med student, with hopes of becoming a medical doctor. The combination of teaching experiences and the boredom I was feeling with pre-med curriculum had me facing the facts that medicine wasn’t for me. You know, caterpillars molt as they become too large for their skin. I guess this transition was me “molting” into a career that was right for me. One of my professors, Mike Moulton, also was a huge influence. He was one of the few professors that I’ve had that made class fun. He was great at timing his jokes with the notes so that just about the time you were losing your attention span, he would crack a joke about the material that would make you able to focus again. His classes always had a relaxed atmosphere and he always emphasized learning over testing. He became my mentor. I wanted to be able to teach as he did. So, as I “molted” out of pre-med and into teaching and science, I became one of Mike’s graduate students. When Mike left my college to become a professor at UF, I followed him after I finished my Masters degree. I began working on a PhD in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, but within a year I realized that I was on the wrong path. I found out the hard way that having a PhD doesn’t enable you to teach. Research is the main focus of careers requiring a PhD. I thought that I would be able to primarily teach and throw in a bit of research, but as things progressed, I realized that very little time is dedicated to teaching. This wasn’t me. I wanted the opposite, to teach most of the time and do some research. So, I “molted” again. I left UF with another Masters degree, instead of a PhD. I went directly into teaching at public schools. This, I would say, is where I entered my chrysalis.

The next stage of a butterfly’s life cycle is to construct a chrysalis (similar to a cocoon) where it enters the pupa stage – a transformation stage. I have been in this stage for almost 12 years, but I feel that it will be over when I finish my doctoral degree. I have been changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly. I have 9 years of teaching experience in the public school system. I have 11 years of teaching experience as a college adjunct. I have switched to a high school outside of the public school system, an adult high school, which is more concerned with curriculum than FCAT scores. This has helped me concentrate more on learning rather than testing (thank you Mike Moulton). And finally I began working on my doctoral degree, a degree that has taken me years to start due to financial and time constraints. I feel like I am in the final stages of becoming a butterfly. When I have my degree, I will completely switch worlds. You see, a caterpillar is tied to gravity; constrained to the plant on which it lives; seeing the world from one perspective (i.e., me teaching students). I feel that when I become a butterfly, I will be free of gravity and able to see the world from a new perspective (i.e., me teaching teachers). This is when I will truly fly!

Reflections on the present: How would you describe yourself currently in terms of what you are like as an adult learner (for example: what recent life events or transitions have been important? What are your learning preferences and strengths? What aspects of learning cause you anxiety? What are your learning habits?) and as an education professional (for example: what are recent career experiences, interests, challenges, responsibilities, etc.)
The college where I work has a motto that “the primary enemy of great is good.” In other words, you must constantly be trying to better yourself and never be happy with status quo. They really want their employees to be life-long learners and so they set aside time and money specifically for this purpose. For this reason, I have been an adult learner for over 10 years now. I think the biggest transition in becoming an adult learner is to NOT believe that you know everything and won’t get anything out of a class. I have taken classes where I have more education about the subject than the teacher, but I still can learn something from the teacher. It may not necessarily be about the subject, it may be about teaching or life, but it could also be about the subject too. No one knows absolutely everything about a subject and the attitude that an adult learner must take is that something, no matter how big or how small, can be gained from the class if you are open to learning. So, I believe that is the key to being an adult learner, to be open to learning.

As for my learning habits, I think those are more person-specific. I mean everyone learns differently and only that person can tell you the best way for him or her to learn. Personally, I realized that I no longer could read something and have it instantly memorized, as I did when I was young. Now, I read something and take notes on it or from it, and this helps me really comprehend the point the article or book is trying to make. Also re-organizing the material into an outline or flowchart helps me get my ideas in order. Because I know me and how I learn, I no longer have any classroom anxiety. No testing anxiety or worrying over projects, either. I think my strength comes from my confidence. I do things in a timely manner, never the last minute, and I make sure I thoroughly understand the material. For these reasons I am confident in my learning and don’t stress.

I have done a lot of transforming as an education professional. When I first started teaching in public school, I had no experience or training in K-12 teaching. I remember that when I received my first lesson planner, I had no idea what to do with it since I had never before written a lesson plan. When I first began teaching, my main goal was trying to please my administrators. When I left public school teaching, my main goal was what I should be teaching my students. This was a main reason for me leaving public school. I couldn’t handle how the focus was no longer on learning, but mainly on testing (FCAT). We were flat-out told to teach to the test. I couldn’t see how that philosophy would help any of my students in the “real” world. My interests in teaching and my confidence as a teacher had shifted to the point where I could stand up for myself and my beliefs in teaching. So, I left public school and found a high school at the local college campus where teaching and learning were the focus, not testing. I’ve never looked back.

Projections into the future: How do you see the doctorate as helping you achieve certain goals and aspirations? What alternative visions of the future do you hold? How will you continue to engage in lifelong learning? Name professional organizations and publications central to your professional goals.
As I previously said, this doctorate will be the finishing touch in my transformation into a butterfly. I will have transformed from a teacher who taught science to students into a teacher who teaches teachers how to teach. I want to teach these potential teachers that it isn’t all about paperwork and FCAT scores. I want them to know that teaching students how to think is the best gift you can give them. I mean looking up facts and figures today is easy when you have technology. But, teaching students how to solve problems, to think critically, and be innovative is what will help them really succeed in life. THAT is what teachers should teach. THAT is what will never show up on any FCAT score. This degree will help me open the eyes of these potential teachers so that they will have their priorities straight about teaching vs. testing.

One of the alternative visions of the future that I have is that perhaps my main job isn’t teaching teachers, but setting up and running a model high school. The college I work for is very progressive and allows the high school employees to set up the high school as we see fit. For example, we are implementing a career pathways plan this year. One of the other ideas we are trying to implement are cross-over classes. These classes incorporate two or three subjects in one class. For instance, a new Florida History class incorporates a history class and an English class. Another possible example is a medical journalism class that would incorporate science (including anatomy and physiology) and journalism (English). Eventually, I would like to see classes that incorporate all subjects at once, because this is what you find out in the “real” world. Problems in life are very rarely split into English, math, science, history, etc. Usually it takes a little math, a little science, a little English, and so on to solve these situations. Why not have classes that do the same? These classes would teach you all of the subjects but incorporated all at once, as you find in life’s daily tribulations. Setting up this type of model school would be an alternative option to my goal of teaching teachers.

I plan on being a life-long learner in the respect that I don’t plan on stopping with this doctorate. I plan on continuing my education and perhaps earning another doctorate. I also understand that as new technologies and teaching theories/styles/media develop, I will need to learn them. Therefore, I will always be a student. Thankfully, I work for an institution that shares this opinion and who offers many classes to enable my learning goals. Also, due to distance education, I have many good programs and colleges (UF, for example) that will also continue my objective to be a life-long learner.

I am currently a member of NSTA, FACC, and ACE, which are science, Florida community colleges, and adult-learning, respectively. I also attend FETC regularly. But I will need to broaden my associations to incorporate technology and gaming too. Therefore, I will probably join the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, and The International Game Developers Association to name a few. I also, more recently, have found publications that would be ideal for me to read and publish: Phi Delta Kappan, the Journal of Research on Computing Education, the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Computers in Education, Journal of Interactive Learning Research, and Innovate.

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