Page 8. My Teaching Dossier
APPROACH TO TEACHING
1. My Assumptions About and Philosophy of Education
“Caring is not caring unless those being cared for perceive it as caring” (Van Galen 1993). This statement underpins some of my most basic assumptions about teaching. Within Van Galen’s statement is the imperative that reminds us that education must be socially responsive in order to meet the needs of the learner. These words provide me also with the assurance that my teaching is making a difference because I try to ensure that the curriculum is grounded in the lives of my students.
As a teacher who has taught at different levels, I have learned many a great lessons over the years from working with, listening to and observing my students. Firstly, I believe that teaching is very much a political act. In that way, education is never outside of power relations. It involves ideology, action and people who are acted upon. It involves also activism, struggle and resistance. Given all that, my approach to teaching is a critical, reflective, questioning approach. I continue to reflect on;
· how I teach?
· what I teach?
· and what skills, experiences, knowledge and attitudes I expect or want my students to have?
I began very early in my career to question my role in the classroom and the process of schooling itself. Because some of my students were invariably of immigrant and/or working-class backgrounds, I sometimes had inadvertently taken for granted the unequal power relationship in the classroom and more importantly, my own position of power. I then began to interrogate how my theory informed my practice and in turn, how my practice informs my theory. This caused me to move in my thinking and I had to begin to reconceptualize the curriculum to make it more effective for my students.
I came to this approach in my early years of teaching when I realized that students in my classroom were not responding to my attempts to teach them in ways I had come to expect. At the time, my classroom consisted of a very diverse racial, ethnic, religious, social class backgrounds and sometimes what they brought to the classroom was in conflict with the curriculum or my own background, experience or training. This type of conflict or dissonance raised a number of questions for me as;
· Am I an agent of the state or an agent of change?
· What is the purpose of education?
· What therefore is my role as the teacher?
In my approach as a teacher educator, I am committed to intellectual and professional excellence and to community service and to exploring ways in addressing equity, social justice and environmental issues in all my courses. I have brought this approach to my work with teacher candidates in the Faculty of Education. I try to get teacher candidates to identify their location and to bring the same kind of critical inquiry to their practice. Oftentimes, teacher candidates experience discontinuity between theory and practice and in my program. I try to help them to bridge this gap and to connect academic discourse with their actual classroom practice.
2. Teaching Practices
I believe that teaching is also a relational act. Teaching is embedded within relationships. Purposeful and meaningful learning experiences are constructed through genuine learning relationships. As an assistant professor in the faculty of education at the University of Windsor, I believe that it is important that beginning teachers examine how our classroom practices are shaped by our understanding of education as a social and cultural phenomenon. I encourage my beginning teachers to begin to understand that education takes place in a specific socio-cultural context and that our cultural and class bound perceptions of students, in turn, shape our thinking around curriculum and pedagogy. I encourage teacher candidates to learn to read the cultural, economic, and social lives of students to begin to appreciate how the students interpret their own school experience. The teaching-learning process is located in a relationship between individuals or groups with inherently unequal power relations, where our decisions and actions can have very profound effects on students’ lives. Sometimes, our well-intentioned teaching methods and materials may actually serve to reinforce and reproduce traditional socialization of students to social roles differentiated by such factors as social class, race, gender and sexuality.
Given all that context, this is how I conceptualize my thinking about teaching and how my philosophy/approach is incorporated into my work. Firstly, I encouraged students to take more ownership in their own learning. I try to Involve them in the decision making process in the course and in the teacher education program where possible. I encourage risk taking and promote a problem solving approach. Over the years, I have initiated my own inquiry or action research into my own teaching when the corresponding literature did not seem to address my questions or meet my particular needs. I came up with the following approach in working with students in a teaching-learning environment. My findings led me to the following:
a) Address silence - Understand how my power in the classroom may render some of my students silent. I attempt to raise the issue of silence and get students to become aware of and recognize the silence in the classroom.
b) Identify/define biases in the process and learning materials being used - Open up discussions for students to feel free to take the risk to speak up more in class and identify points of disempowerment for students.
c) Provide space for discussion and/or take up issues - Encourage an environment of trust and respect and set aside time within the course to continually receive feedback from the students themselves.
d) Encourage response (social action) - Once issues are identified, encourage students to take constructive or productive social action to address those issues.
e) Validating voices - Ensure that all voices and perspectives are validated at the end of each seminar or session by seeking out student response to issues raised.
3. Professional Development
To explore some of the initial questions I had about my teaching, I decided to pursue graduate studies to further develop my professional knowledge and skills. My scholarly interests range widely and are informed by critical and sociocultural theories. I am interested in how classroom social and cultural structures and norms affect both teaching and learning. I completed a Master of Education Degree in Language, Culture and Teaching through an in-depth research by thesis. The focus of my dissertation was to examine how children construct meaning form images in literature through an examination of the responses of a group of emergent readers to Black images in children's picture books. Through this research program, I discovered that schools are a site of social reproduction and that the policies and actual practices of schools, as well as the curriculum and learning materials, were limiting the opportunities for academic advancement and achievement of many students. Schools became a point of disengagement for students and it failed to respond effectively to the educational needs of particularly Black and/or working-class students
A masters degree has taught me that effective ethnographic research must be grounded in the lived experiences of the students and particularly those students most likely to be marginalized by the system. I have subsequently developed a more ardent critical approach to teaching and learning. My subsequent interest in the process of teacher candidates learning to teach, has grown out of my experience teaching and supervising them in the teacher education programme. In their courses and practicum setting, I noticed how teacher candidates often encountered conflicts, dilemmas and contradictions while learning to teach. I have encouraged them to think about and reflect critically on their experiences, both in my class and in their practicum. In all of my teacher education courses, I encourage teacher candidates to become critical readers, thinkers, and writers; my goal is always not only to promote their intellectual engagement with the underlying theories of their practice, but also to help them become transformers of the academic literature they read and to become active participants and reflective practitioners in their own pre-service teacher education process.
My continuing enquiry led me to pursue a doctoral degree because I have a desire to learn more. My initial questions lead me to more questions and a need to explore more of the research issues. My doctoral program was an instrumental tool that has assisted me in obtaining my future career goals. I would like to pursue a tenured position in pre-service teacher education while continuing to engage in research committed to problematizing the many issues associated with critical inclusionary and/ or anti-racist/anti-bias pedagogy. I continue to look forward to furthering my learning and exploring and strengthening my research and interpretative skills.
To this end, I focussed my doctoral studies on critical inclusionary teacher education. My work in teacher education provided me with the inspiration, as well as, access to the “field” for my doctoral dissertation research. My project, Teaching Controversial Issues: Tensions, Dilemmas And Challenges Of Teacher Candidates Negotiating A Critical Teaching Practice, examined teacher candidates’ emerging teacher identity and factors contributing to and affecting the process of learning to teach. I argued that emerging possibilities for social change (curricular reform) might best be revealed by examining the struggles and real life experiences of pre-service teachers entering the field. After developing my dissertation into a book manuscript, I plan to continue my work in looking at the development of the classroom as a literate community and the nature of the teaching-learning process being negotiated and forged by prospective teachers.
SUMMARY OF TEACHING CONTRIBUTIONS
1. Classroom Teaching
I have learned a great deal though my observations of my students, from their responses, and from reading the research literature on related issues. I realize that as a teacher, I needed to take into account my students' racial and social class backgrounds and how it contrasted, or even conflicted, with my own. I needed first to recognize and interrogate my own biases as they relate to the learning materials I use, my instructional strategies and my pre-service teacher education program.
I have come to realize that I had hardly ever asked my students about their perceptions of the curriculum or program they are enrolled in. As well, my training and experience (as a child and as a teacher) has influenced the way I have approached the teacher-learner relationship. I needed to give up my traditional role as a teacher and consult with my students. I had also neglected to engage the students in any critical discussions or interrogations of the teaching strategies and learning materials that I used. As a teacher, I needed to seek out all the perspectives of my students, and particularly those that would likely to differ most from my own, and I needed to learn to understand my own power in the classroom as a teacher. Most of all, I needed to listen and be willing to hear those voices silenced in the discussions regarding issues of power and pedagogy.
I needed to admit my cultural and class bound perceptions of my students, especially when these students do not respond to schooling in ways that I have come to expect. I needed to read the cultural, economic, and social lives of students to appreciate how they interpret their school experience. The process of schooling enacted on students by teachers in schools involves a relationship between individuals or groups with inherently unequal power relations. Well-intentioned teachers may actually serve to reinforce and produce traditional socialization of students to social roles differentiated by social class, race, and gender because they cannot understand their students' perspectives.
I now realize that I can help students to transform their social realities and to become transformers rather that simply consumers of the academic literature. I want them to begin to examine the literature and their own education critically. As a teacher, I believe I can help students to point out how our various locations within social institutions, like the university, affect our perspectives and investments. We can discuss strategies to deal with these issues and they come up with their own strategies for change.
I suggest that teachers can:
· involve students in selecting, reviewing and critiquing of the curriculum, course materials and assignments,
· help students develop critical thinking skills so that they take greater ownership over their own learning.
· examine their own position or frames of reference with respect to your power, social class, access, privilege and perpetuating the status quo,
· become aware of students' location or frames of reference and how it is implicated in the education process,
· take into account the perspectives and interpretations of the various groups in your class.
· examine the social messages in the curriculum to ensure a balance between materials and issues that promote social or cultural information,
· be attentive to the students reactions and seek out their opinions and perspectives.
In my work in the Faculty of Education, I have had excellent opportunities in teaching and instruction in a pre-service teacher education programme. In my capacity as assistant professor, I have taught a number of courses that prepare teacher candidates in the theory and practice of education at both the faculties of education at the University of Windsor and York University. I have also gained considerable experience in mentoring, monitoring, observing and evaluating teacher candidates in their practicum placements in my role as a supervisor of teacher candidates in both the concurrent and consecutive teacher education programmes.
3. Teaching-related Activities
I) Membership on Departmental Committees
As a faculty member, I am committed to being an active participant in the daily operations of our faculty. My administrative contributions as a faculty include:
University of Windsor
· Member of Field Experience Committee (2002 – 2003)
· Member of Tenure Stream Appointment Committee (2003 - 2004)
· Member of Promotion, Tenure and Retention Committee (2003 2004)
· Equity Assessor, Faulty Recruitment and Employment (2004)
· Member of University
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University of Windsor
of Windsor Diversity Awareness Training Program Committee (2002-2004)
· Coordinator of the Access Initiative Programme - the Faculty of Education’s equity recruitment project for prospective students (2001-2002)
· Chair & Co-chair of the Faculty of Education admissions committee (1999-2000)
· Principal researcher on a research team (2001)
· Coordinator, Annual Equity in Education Conference (2001)
· President, York University Faculty of Education Alumni Association (2000-2002)
· Committee Member [Faculty of Education]:
- Computer, Educational Resource and Technology Committee (1999)
- Tenure Stream Appointment Committee (2001)
- Secondee Hiring Committee (2002)
- Faculty Colleague [Field Development] (1999 - 2001)
I have a desire to become even more involved in the life of the larger university and local community in Windsor. I have participated in such research projects before and, in particular, the support the Westview Project [a York University Faculty of Education and Toronto District School Board Partnership]. I have been involved in a number of other on-going research. For example, my research into the practicum is very timely because the practicum is the most under researched area in teacher education. I am keenly interested in developing and improving teacher education. I want to move associate teachers and host principals in their thinking to see themselves as part of the teacher education process. I want to build more of a research community within the faculty and the participating schools to get school personnel more involved. My vision is to see more seminars conducted in the practicum sites where our teacher candidates can better integrate themselves into the life of host schools. I want to explore community resources and to help maintain the link with the community and the university.
II) Teacher Development Activities
As a teacher myself, I am always learning more about exploring, and expanding my limitations through teaching. In my work in the Faculty of Education, I feel I have been afforded the opportunity to have a unique leadership experience unlike any other in education. My work has offered me the opportunity for leadership, to engage in research, to learn more about teacher education and to make more of a contribution to the university in general.
As a way of disseminating my learning and my research findings, I have done lectures, seminars, various presentations and in-school professional development, have been on writing teams for curriculum/support documents. I have been a research associate, interviewer, reviewing teams for curriculum materials. I have acted as a liaison with sponsor teachers and their schools (principals, vice-principals, adjunct professors and host teachers). My continuing contractual assignments, ministry and school board-wide involvement have helped me to keep abreast of the new directions and initiatives at the local school, board and provincial levels. Most of all, my work within the graduate program has been true teacher education and true professional development for me because it has allowed me the opportunity to become a teacher-researcher. I have gained so much insight into my thinking and into what I do as a teacher from the courses, reading the related literature and from observing my students.
4. Publications and Professional Contributions
a Curriculum Materials
I have been actively involved in a number of board and school committees and working groups and I have acted in a number of leadership roles within the school; both in curriculum and staff development. I have been on a number of writing teams for board curriculum documents and reviewed a number of learning materials as follows:
“African Heritage Resource Document: K-8” [Lead Writer on a school board working group writing committee]. Toronto District School Board. (2002).
“Role of the Reader in the Curriculum: A Curricular Approach to Anti-Racist Education.” [Working group writing committee]. North York Board of Education. (1996).
“The Infusion of African Heritage into the Curriculum.” [Working group writing committee]. North York Board of Education. (1992).
b Research and Professional Contributions
I have conducted several conference presentations, seminars, workshops, and lectures to boards of education, faculties of education pre-service and graduate programs and at academic conferences. The particular areas of focus in my presentations and lectures are consistent with your Faculty of Education’s objectives in bridging the connection between academic discourse and classroom practice through a rigorous interrogation of critical issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and educational equity. I have conducted a number of research within schools settings and produced academic writing for educational journals and books. I have worked collaboratively with several tenure stream faculty members and graduate students and I have been involved in several research projects looking at designing, evaluating and improving teacher education programmes.
Allen, A. (1997). Creating Space for Discussions about Social Justice and Equity Issues in an Elementary Classroom. Language Arts . 74 (7), pp. 518 - 524.
Allen, A. (1994). Emergent Voices on the Playground of Educational Theory and Practice. Primary Voices K-6, 2 (4).
Allen, A. (Forthcoming). Improving the Education and Life Chances of African Canadians: A Vision for Preparing Students for the World of the 21st Century.” In V. D’Oyley (Ed.) Re/visioning: Canadian Perspectives of the Education of Africans in the 21st Century. Toronto ON: Captus Press Inc.
Allen, A. (2002). Analysis of Canadian University’s Commitment to Equity and Diversity: What Might University Websites Have to Offer? In K. Brathwaite (Ed.) Access and Equity in University Education. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.
Solomon, R. P. & Allen, A. (2001). The Struggle for Equity, Diversity and Social Justice in Teacher Education. In J. Portelli & P. Solomon (Eds.) The Erosion of the Democratic Tradition in Education: From Critique to Possibilities. Toronto: Detselig/ Temeron Books.
Allen, A. (2001). A Democratic Literature-Based Curriculum. In P. Freppon & E. McIntyre (Eds.) What it Takes to be a Teacher: The Role of Personal and Professional Development Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Allen, A. (2000). ‘I don't want to read this:' Students' Respond to Illustrations of Black Characters. In J. Iseke-Barnes & N. Wane (Eds.) Equity in Schools and Society. Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press. pp. 73-85.
Allen, A. (1996). I don't want to read this:' Students' Respond to Illustrations of Black Characters. In K. S. Brathwaite & C. E. James (Eds.) Educating African Canadians. Toronto: Lorimer Press. pp. 147- 166.
Allen, A. (1998). Constructing Meaning: The Responses of Emergent Readers to Black Images in Children's Picture Books In V. D’Oyley & C. James (Eds.) Re/visioning: Canadian Perspectives of the Education of Africans in the 21st Century. Toronto ON: Captus Press Inc.
Allen, A., Blake, H., & Blake, N. (forthcoming children’s picturebook) Awesome Dwayne: A Grade 2 African Heritage Reader. Higher Literature, Div. of Higher Publishing Inc., Toronto: ON.
I have been very fortunate enough to have received the following scholarships, awards and research grants as a classroom teacher and as a doctoral student:
"Teacher Development and Women's Empowerment Centre - University of Dar es Salaam Tanzania." CIDA Canada International Development Agency Start-up Grant. [Collaborator] Awarded to help prepare an application for Summer 2004 CIDA competition. (With Profs C. Beckford, C. Clovis, N. Dlamini, B. Egbo, & A. Eziefi) Faculties of Education University of Windsor and University of Dar es Salaam, February 2004.
“Examining Social Justice and Democratic Education in a Climate of Conservative Educational Reform: Tensions Generated and Potential Impact on Teacher’s Professional and Personal Lives.” [Collaborator] SSHRC The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (With Prof. P. Solomon), October 2001.
“African Canadian Youth: structural barriers and bureaucratic impediments to participation in the New Economy.” [Collaborator] SSHRC Special Initiative Grant. Awarded to help prepare an application for the fall 2001 SSHRC competition. (With Profs. J. Mannett, C. James, & R. Walcott), August 2001.
“Negotiating a Critical Teaching Practice: Teacher Candidates Working from the Margins”
OISE/UT Community Teaching Project 2000. [Principal Investigator] The study was funded by the Student Services at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, Summer 2000.
OISE/UT Doctoral Scholarship awarded by the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (2001- 2002 academic year).
"The Success and Failure of Black Students in the Greater Toronto Area Schools: Contributing Factors." [Co-investigator] The study was funded by The John Brooks Community Foundation, The Lawson Foundation. (With Prof. P. Solomon), April 1995.
York University Senate Committee on Teaching and Learning Parents’ Association
University-wide Excellence in Teaching Award
2002 Award Recipient - Other Faculty category
The Senate Committee on Teaching and Learning York University