Returning to …?

Some emails from Singapore prompted me to look back over this blog. I have had very little time for reflection since returning. Classes started about a month after I returned, and the combined effects of teaching 3 different courses (5 classes) while coping with some family and personal health issues has been overwhelming. Fulbrighters are warned that “re-entry” can be difficult, but I had no idea it would be so challenging!

Now that I have taken some time to look back  at all of the ideas I developed in Singapore and the overall experience, it is clear that it has had a significant impact on my teaching. I think the re-entry process is difficult because I am different, but life here is still very “status quo”.  I struggled with the passive transmission of information referred to as teaching before; now I cannot tolerate it! Scantron machines, memorization, repetitive problem-solving and the obsession with summative testing should, in my opinion, be banned from every school. This doesn’t necessarily make me  a good fit in traditional learning environments.

I am lucky. I have five terrific classes this year. All of my students are kind, thoughtful and motivated. They arrive ready to work at learning, understanding and problem-solving every day. They are willing to ask questions, to make mistakes and they delight in finding connections. They have figured out that I don’t work well with sponges and that things are a lot more fun when they are active participants in their own learning process.

But so much is frustrating. Managing two AP courses and labs, along with three project based Engineering classes is beyond challenging and pretty much consumes 10-12 hours or more of my time every day. There is little time left for innovation, creativity or reflection. After I attended a recent conference and came back with lots of new ideas that I have no time to act on, I realized the complete validity of what we found in my project at SST in Singapore. Professional development, altering lesson plans and teaching, and trying new things all take time, and it is time no fully committed teacher has. The simple modification of co-teaching with a few a teachers to help them implement the Engineering Design Process worked when many hours of paid consultants and workshops had failed. They are using more Engineering Design Projects at the School of Science and Technology as they begin their new academic year in January and I am looking forward to some long distance collaboration!

Meanwhile, back here, my work day starts at 7:15 and often ends after 5 with little breathing room due to the constant demands of lesson prep, lab set-up, equipment issues, grading, managing projects and helping struggling students. Bookmarked articles, journals, project ideas, etc. just pile up. It makes it difficult to feel as if you are making any difference and it is hard to implement and expand on the great ideas I had during my Fulbright experience.

I have had the opportunity to meet excellent educators from all over the world during this last year and a half. It is clear to me that all good teachers have two things in common. They are all convinced of the potential of each and every student. And they are all committed to learning as much as they can every day. I have been keeping those two thoughts in my mind as I work through the frustrations of dealing with slow-to-change practices and the limitations of little time and energy to enact meaningful changes. I also try to remember that, for all good teachers, it is always about the young people who walk into your room every day.

One Response to “Returning to …?”
  1. Constance Ciampanelli says:

    Ann, I have you on my mind and pray for you and your family every day. And I wear, every day at work, the bracelet with which you graced me. I intone the mantra “OM MANI PADME HUM” and remind myself of its message. I intone for me, but for you as well, that the universe bring down on us promised protection and blessings and removal of obstacles to our success, whatever our endeavors.

    You rock the world. And you DO make a difference. Every single one of your students is fortunate to have you as his or her teacher.

    Love, good luck, good health, and Peace. Connie

    *Connie Ciampanelli*

    Constance Ciampanelli La Salle Academy Guidance Office Secretary 612 Academy Ave. Providence RI 02908

    401-351-7750, ext. 128 FAX: 401-444-1782

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