The Professional Educator
The notorious image of the teachers’ lounge brings to mind educators escaping for brief minutes between responsibilities to vent frustrations about students, parents, and administrators. In the old model of teacher communication, these stolen mo- ments were often the only adult contact during otherwise isolated days within the four walls of the classroom. This isolation perpetuated stagnant teaching models, as teachers did not have consistent opportunities to share with and learn from each other.
Technology allows teachers to break that mold by giving them convenient access to remote resources, colleagues, and experts not previously available. Teachers can access on the web everything from traditional resources, such as information on print-based journal subscriptions, to entirely electronic resources, such as listservs (see Chapter 3). At the same time that this professional information is so widely available, a concerted effort is being made to develop and maintain teachers’ profes- sional skills. Ongoing training in both content and pedagogy is advocated by pro- fessional organizations, school districts, and society, as more than ever, teachers are being perceived as professionals who must be lifelong learners (McNabb, 2006).
This section will introduce the broad categories of web-based professional infor- mation for teachers. It begins with a discussion of the resources and strategies for online collegial communication, followed by information about contacting national professional organizations. An overview is given of the types of online funding sources for the support of classroom projects, and the section includes online pro- fessional development sources.
The most prominent professional education websites now offer virtual communi- cation areas where teachers can discuss educational trends, share innovations in spe- cialty fields, and get advice for challenging situations. (See Figure 16.5 for example sites. Please note that many sites now require that users join as members. For some sites, membership is free and simply requires filling out an online form. Other sites may require a subscription for more robust resources.) Teachers can post favorite lesson plans or air frustrations they have with students or colleagues. Some web- sites match teachers with partner classrooms for email collaborations, whereas oth- ers invite experts to participate through guest appearances. Host teachers, representative of a particular content area or grade level, moderate some of these online conversations, whereas other dialogues are open for free discussion. Teach- ers can communicate about both traditional and technology-assisted activities, so those tried-and-true strategies that prior to the Internet lived only in the minds of our expert teachers can now be widely shared with others, for the ultimate benefit of students.
Electronic discussion areas offer a convenient avenue for collegial sharing, al- lowing teachers access to colleagues any time of the day or night. A teacher might need to post an online query during his only planning break at 2:45 in the afternoon to see whether anyone else is experiencing the same behavior issue. Or another might want to log on late at night after a school board meeting to see whether others are facing similar challenges with administrative relations. Some sites offer conversation threads for first-year teachers to seek advice from the more seasoned, as well as to commiserate with others at their own level during that frequently overwhelming ini- tial year of teaching.
The power of these electronic conversations can be found at opposite ends of the spectrum. From the global perspective, the advice and viewpoints reflect teaching traditions around the country and even the world. No longer do teachers have only the individuals in their own school to rely on for advice. On the other hand, teach- ers are often surprised to find colleagues who actually live quite near to them, in their own state or even district. These local perspectives are insightful in sorting through new state standards or regional events. The ease and flexibility with which teachers can access these electronic forums match the professional needs of classroom teach- ers while catering to the unique nature of teaching. For additional online teacher re- sources, please see Portal Sites in Chapters 3 and 8 as well as the companion website for each chapter at www.ablongman.com/bitter7e.
|FIGURE 16.5 | Online teacher collaboration sites.
Professional associations provide the glue that binds a whole range of diverse edu- cators who share very important common interests, and the web provides the ideal communication medium to bring those educators together at any time from any location. With a by-the-people, for-the-people spirit, professional associations intro- duce “like minds,” from experts to novices, and prolific scholars to reluctant ob- servers. Educators at all levels, from early childhood to secondary, from researcher to practitioner, join in the conversations. Teachers who work in relative isolation among their immediate peers, such as the one German teacher in the foreign- language department or the only reading specialist in the school, can find solace with colleagues with similar concerns in professional associations. Teachers negoti- ating the practical day-to-day activities can learn of theoretical advances and research connections that complement their individual endeavors, while at the same time help researchers stay in touch with the reality of classrooms. Even if teachers cannot personally attend the national conferences sponsored by their professional associa- tions, concerns and common interests shared online help them to vicariously expe- rience these face-to-face gatherings. New teachers are encouraged to participate in their professional associations from the beginning of their careers; the satisfaction from contributing to a growing body of professional knowledge sustains a career. See Figure 16.6 for example professional association websites, and conduct a web search for new sites not listed.
|FIGURE 16.6 | Professional association websites.
Educational Funding Opportunities
The financial hardships of school districts are well documented. Teachers are often motivated to spend their own money to provide the supplies they feel are necessary for their students’ learning. Many teachers go through their entire teaching careers without recognizing that there are a great number of organizations, foundations, and agencies that aim to fund exceptional and innovative education programs. Thus, the web serves as a vital information source. Federal and state programs set aside funds to provide assistance on the broad scale. Professional associations finance projects related to their missions and goals. Private foundations contribute to district and classroom projects in accordance with stated objectives and beliefs. In addition, both national and local corporate donors sponsor educational initiatives. Along with good teaching, good teachers must now also take an active role in seeking a share of these outside financial resources for the benefit of their students.
Most money available for education is awarded in the form of competitive grants, and it is in this area that web-based information can be the most helpful. The writ- ing of grant proposals is both a time- and resource-intensive process. Websites for granting organizations give proposal writers easy access to announcements of new grants, proposal guidelines, application forms, and information for new grantees. Figure 16.7 lists a small selection of web-based fund-raising resources; others are announced daily.
Recent web-based innovations offer new ways for educators to raise much-needed funds. One group of e-commerce websites designates a percentage of all sales to se- lected schools. (See, for example, FundingFactory.com at www.fundingfactory.com and Schoolcash.com at http://schoolcash.com). It seems that the public’s interest in seeing education succeed matches its love affair with the web; expect such innova- tive corporate–educational alliances to continue.
|FIGURE 16.7 Educational fund-raising sources.
Margaret Anderson unlocked the door to the sixth-grade class in which she would be substitute teaching today. As a regular substitute teacher for the district, she had seen all types of teaching situations and worked with all levels of preparation left by the classroom teacher. It was always a mystery as to how much information would be given to her when she walked into each new day of substituting.
Margaret could see that the day’s plans, as usual, were left on the teacher’s desk. Right away, she knew the outlook for a successful day was good! The plans were word- processed and very explicit. It appeared as though these were the regular teacher’s plans, but they had been modified to include notes especially for someone not fa- miliar with the regular class routine. For example, typed next to where the day’s plan listed the day’s starting time as 8:00 A.M. was, “You will find students lined up outside next to the large tree.”
Such helpful details were sprinkled throughout the plans: “Remember to send Jason to speech class at 10:35.”
“Pick up students from lunch at the west side of the cafeteria.”
“A guest speaker, Mrs. Hernandez, will be coming at 2:10 to speak about her job at the county courthouse. She is aware that you will be here, and she will bring every- thing she needs.”
Margaret got the impression that not only was this teacher organized but also she was smart. Rather than having to handwrite directions thorough enough for a stranger to keep the class moving throughout the day, she had had to modify her existing plans with only a few pertinent notes. It left Margaret feeling confident that she had enough information to make the day a good experience for both the students and herself.
Her impression of this teacher’s ability to use technology to keep a well-managed classroom was furthered when the students entered the classroom. The first girl to walk in turned on the computer by the doorway and launched a database application. She found her name, signed herself in, and entered her lunch order. One by one these jostling, active sixth-graders made their way through the door and independently used the computer to take their own attendance and lunch count. All that was left for Margaret to do was glance at the list to make sure it was complete and send it to the office via email. It appeared that more teachers than just this one were using tech- nology to their advantage to make this school run more smoothly and efficiently.