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Becoming a Teacher: A Year in the Life

February 06, 2009

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“Teaching is one of the most complex professions in the world,” says Mollie Dickson. Mollie is studying at Lewis & Clark to become an English teacher, and she wants everyone to know about it.

 Author of a blog called Ready, Set, Teach, Mollie has been chronicling her experiences as a graduate student and student teacher. In her blog she describes the frustrations and minor miracles she encounters along the way.

 “As someone who has wrestled with whether or not to become a teacher, I would have benefited from reading someone else’s experience - an inside look into what it’s really all about - but most aspiring/new teachers don’t take the time to capture and communicate the details of their journey along the way. That’s part of what inspired me to create this blog.”

 Kimberly Campbell, a professor of teacher education at Lewis & Clark points out that the lack of first-person narratives from teachers is a huge gap in the professional literature as well. “As Mollie’s blog illustrates, there is much to learn from the stories and wonderings of a teacher committed to creating a classroom where students discover their own voice and the voices of authors they read.” Campbell is also Mollie’s faculty advisor.

“It’s intense,” Mollie says of her graduate school experience, which includes 14 months of academic classroom study and a nine-month internship in a local school. “But it should be. The preparation to become a teacher should match the level of professionalism required by the job. That’s why I chose Lewis & Clark; I knew its reputation as a progressive and rigorous MAT program would ensure a strong start and offer me the necessary support to sustain my lifelong dedication to educating kids.” It’s a lot of work, and it begs the question: between class assignments, teaching, grading papers, taking the required tests, and looking for jobs - how does she find the time? For Mollie, writing the blog has become almost as important to her professional preparation as her studies: “Reflecting through the blog helps me process what’s happening around me. I’ll come home some days feeling stressed, but I won’t even know what it is that’s bothering me until I start writing. After about a page, I’ll suddenly see everything from a fresh perspective and feel ready to take action.”

 The fruitfulness of this work is obvious from the first minute you read her writing. With honesty and a fitting occasional ambivalence, she sorts through the daily challenges and triumphs that happen in classrooms every day. Particularly notable are all the question marks: Will my students forgive all my mistakes? How many hours a week will I really be working? Why are ineffective curricula and instructional methods still being used in the classroom? As one teacher, what can I really do? But she always comes back to her commitment to her students. She writes, “Somehow, amidst all the chaos and uncertainty, I have never felt more sure of my decision to teach. I know my students will keep me on my toes, keep me honest, and teach me more than I can even imagine.”

 

Mollie came to Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education and Counseling directly out of her undergraduate program at University of Portland. During her junior and senior year, she experimented with different internships to see what career path she wanted to go down. She was interested in medicine and so began an internship with the Behavioral Neuroscience department at Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU). There, she worked outreach to area schools, visiting and talking with students and administrators about adolescent brain development and risk-taking. The experience made her realize immediately that she wanted to continue working in schools. “Having been down other roads, I am able to more honestly and deeply appreciate my choice to teach,” she writes on her blog.

 “Mollie’s interest in pursuing her passion of teaching inspired us and we thought it would inspire others if it was shared,” says Sue Hildick, director of the Chalkboard Project, the education advocacy organization that sponsors Mollie’s blog. “We believe that most people don’t know the journey that our teachers take to the classroom and that it would be thought-provoking and illuminating to share that path as it unfolded for one Oregonian.”

 Ready, Set, Teach is the first blog that Mollie has kept, but she plans to continue writing about her experiences at least through her first year of teaching. “I’ve always used writing as a way of thinking through complex questions, inspiring new ideas, and reflecting on emotional experiences. Putting my pen to paper and just seeing what emerges… it’s liberating,” she says. “At the end of this, I hope to put it all together as a book.”

 What’s next? The dreaded job search. “I feel a real loyalty to Sherwood after being there two years, working first at the administrative level and now in the classroom. It is a district that’s moving forward while remaining grounded in all the right values; I see evidence every day of their commitment to do what’s best for kids. This is the kind of school community and vision I want to be a part of. Plus, my 6th graders tell me I will be teaching 7th grade there next year. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.”

 You can read Mollie’s blog, Ready, Set, Teach at the Chalkboard Project’s website: http://www.chalkboardproject. org/blog/blog-archive. php

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