Well, I've been absolutely horrid at posting. I had a grand notion of reflecting on each of my classes after they happened, but, well, I didn't. Just a week left of classes yet, which will be followed by a few finals culminating activities, and then a month and a half of decompression.

One thing I didn't want to let go was my philosophy of (inclusive) education.  I think this is like the third or fourth time I've had to write one, but this is supposed to be the final one that will allegedly work its way into my job applications and whatnot, and so this one was actually read and critiqued by my professor.  He seems to get a kick out of it; as a school psychologist, he says that he has too much experience with seeing first-year teachers who are disillusioned by the reality of classroom management., so getting to ask ORLY at this phase in our professional development is a good move.

Anyways, I submitted enough drafts that my professor either ran out of questions or got sick of reading it, so here is my final draft which already got full credit.  SPOILER ALERT: I am either planning to be a radical educator or I am the king of snowing my professors with the current generation of dynamic buzzwords.

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I affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and I strive to use all of my talent, energy, and passion to provide a personally meaningful and practical mathematical education for all of my students. Every decision I make inside and beyond the classroom is, in some sense, a conscious reaction to my pursuit of this purpose. The following is a detailed but non-exhaustive list of specific strategies I undertake to achieve that ideal.

I define mathematics as “the systematic and objective process of making optimized decisions efficiently.” This includes learning how to perform numeric calculations, solving word problems, and other similar general tasks of primary and secondary mathematics. In the end, though, I believe that productive members of society must understand the range of decisions that they make throughout the day and the ways in which data is acquired, analyzed, and evaluated to make good choices and the ways in which both the choices and the processes are evaluated so that future decisions can be more easily and correctly rendered. For instance, if my students learn enough from about percentages and unit prices to pass a standardized test but not enough to be more strategic shoppers, then I will feel as if I have let them down.

To achieve that end, I believe in the principles of constructivist learning. As the mathematical tools students learn will be used by them throughout their lives, students must have an individual and intimate comprehension of those tools and how to apply them. When we teach a single perspective on a lesson and train students to apply it to solve a specific model of word problem, it should come as no surprise when students are unable to retain that knowledge past the unit test, much less when the lessons are built upon in future mathematics and science courses or in the real world. Only by giving students the resources and motivation to assimilate their knowledge into their own schematic understanding of the world will we provide authentic learning that the student can apply throughout his or her educational life and beyond.

Critical tools I use to showcase these diverse perspectives include small-group inquiry, peer learning, and a diverse array of multimodal media to explore problems in mathematics and the range of applications they have in the real world (focusing where possible on professional careers that require strong mathematical skills). An example that I often steer my students towards is the Khan Academy, which offers a thoughtful mathematical perspective that is often different from both my technique or the textbook's.

I believe that a teacher must be aware of and sensitive to the diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, exceptionality, age, and socioeconomic status throughout our society. However, such a multidimensional cultural profile is only the first stage in forming authentic and respectful relationships with our students. Multicultural awareness is beneficial for roughly interacting with a group of people without unintentionally giving offense, but we must seek to destroy our stereotypes as quickly as we build them as we strive to know and serve our students as individuals. These plans require a foundation in a classroom culture of respect: my overt and consistent respect for all of my students and for the curriculum, my students’ respect for both me and for each other, and the students’ having respect for themselves as individuals, learners, and teachers.

To create this effective and inclusive classroom, I subscribe to the philosophy of culturally responsive teaching. My students have a diverse array of perspectives and differ in terms of the best strategies for educational success, and so I would be negligent to teach only in a way that benefited most of them or only in the way in which I was taught. For instance, lessons and projects should be customized to match the interests of a class to maximize their engagement, and vocabulary lessons should be structured around the linguistic strengths of each student. I also strive to take advantage of the diversity of perspectives and mastery amongst my students and use peer learning to further promote personal inquiry and self-constructed meaning, because there is no more effective and authentic teacher for a struggling student than the peer who just came to comprehend the material.

In the domain of assessment, I tend to be a follower of the theory of mastery education. Particularly in mathematics, there is little sense in advancing a student before he or she has a solid understanding of all of the standards that form the foundation of the new class. However, I believe that students deserve a broad range of options to demonstrate those competencies and that we should be open to the realities that many students do not do their best work on multiple choice exams under time constraints. For these students, the most authentic testing accommodation we can offer is alternative assessment, like journaling, oral examination, or service learning. If the grading criteria are tied to established objectives like the CCSS, calibrated against standard assessment measures, and performed with a passion for student success, I am confident that the result will be a measure of achievement that will provide a relevant supplement to the traditional measures. And when you demonstrate in word and deed that the education program can be catered to meet each student's’ talents and interests, the result is bound to be an increase in motivation and engagement that will enable the greatest possibility of positive outcomes.
I promised myself that I would use this thing for my personal reflections during my summer course, but never quite got around to it.  Let's see what we can do about it during the full semester.

So, to catch everyone up, I am on my second semester seeking a Masters of Education from The College at Brockport.  To be specific, I am in the Alternative Adolescence Mathematics Inclusive Education program.  It's Alternate because I already have a full math education and just need education classes, and it's Inclusive because I'm learning to work with students with disabilities.  (This is not to say that I will focus on special education; the modern reality is that American classrooms strive to place students in the least restrictive environment in which they can learn effectively.  As a result, the general education setting contains students with a diverse array of gifts and needs and a large part of a teacher's energy is spent on identifying how education can be tailored to meet the needs of all students and particularly those that need accommodations.) 

Anyways, this semester I have four courses on deck.  That's overloading in Brockport's eyes, but I got a 4.0 under the same load last semester and my advisor doesn't seem to mind.  The first is Inclusive Teaching Middle School Mathematics, which is the first of my field studies which looks to be dealing with lesson plans and common standards and all that paperwork as it intersects with the reality of effective teaching.  The second is Teaching Language Skills in Middle and High School Content Areas II (can you guess that I love being in an environment where administrators won't use two words if eleven will do?), which is about literacy and comprehension strategies and differentiating instruction and many things that will probably be far more engaging that the way the course catalog makes it sound.  (I adored the prequel class, although I have heard rumors that this class ramps up the scholarly rigor.)  My third class is on Assessment for Special Education, which I think means diagnosing education-related disabilities rather than accommodating students with disabilties on general education standardized tests, but I'll know more on Thursday.  The fourth class doesn't start for another few months, and it's on drug awareness and public health and such.  Sounds like a bunch of boring seminars, but it's a critical certificate for schoolteachers so into the breach I go.

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Matthew Daly

December 2012

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