Things I Know 315 of 365: Spencer is one of us

When I say I want my students to be successful, I mean I want them to blow adequacy out of the water.

– Spencer Nissly

Last Spring, SLA had the pleasure of hosting a group of pre-service teachers from Millersville University of Pennsylvania. They were part of a larger contingent visiting Philly schools and classrooms.

In my room was Spencer Nissly who will be starting his student teaching next semester. I’m eager to read about his experiences on his blog and twitter feed. He’s going to be a fantastic teacher. I know this because he loves to learn and has as many questions as possible answers.

While I’ll be offering any help and encouragement I can as Spencer gets his teaching legs under him, I want to do what I can to make sure he’s surrounded by a larger network of support as well. I asked him today if he’d mind answering a few questions as a way of introducing him to, well, anyone who might read this.

If teaching is to improve as a practice and a community, then we must support and foster one another’s growth – especially that of our newest teachers. Spencer and I are not likely to ever work with one another in the same school or district, but I education will be better because he is a teacher.

Q. Who are you?
A. On the surface my life is pretty much that of a normal 21 year old male. I love movies, music and sports. I like finding cool pubs that I can talk with my friends over a beer. On a deeper level I love literature and writing. For me this is where I can express myself and connect with other people. Reading is the way I make sense of life; it shows me that I’m not alone, that my feelings are apart of being human. At my core I am my relationships. The relationships I have with my friends, family, role models, God and even myself, exemplify the values most fundamental to who I am, and who I want to be. Those values being faith, trust, community, communication and compassion. It is through my relationships that I am reminded time and time again of these values and present a platform for personal reflection.

Q. Why Teaching?
A. Education is the most important thing for any person. It provides the means for social mobility, self-realization and personal growth. Essentially, education sets people on the path for them to pursue their passions. I am passionate about English, and education allows me to translate the passion in a way that others could appreciate it. On a deeper level though, teaching gives me the opportunity to model my own core values to kids. By doing this I can help them grow by recognizing what values they hold most important to their own identity. To translate their own passions into goals and help them achieve their goals. It took me awhile to find myself; to find my passions and live up to my potential. For me teaching is a way to fulfill my passion, and help others find theirs.

Q. Where do you do your learning?

A. I try to look for opportunities to learn all around me. Primarily I learn from reading; I am constantly reading all kinds of books. But I also find that I learn most from the interactions and relationships that I have. Through talking with people I trust and sharing personal experiences, I find that I am able to process learning on a meaningful level. Also by listening to their ideas and stories I am able to gain a deeper understanding that sometimes challenges my original beliefs. In engaging in this sort of exchange I’m often able to get past my ignorance and see things in a new way.

Q. What are your Goals for your Students?
A. My main goal for my students is success. Not success by achieving “adequacy” on some state standardized test. For me being “adequate,” is nothing I want for my students. When I say I want my students to be successful, I mean I want them to blow adequacy out of the water. I think this success will come in different ways for different students. For some kids that might be thinking outside the box and being creative. For other kids it might be participating in class, or just keeping their head up. I think success is something that needs to be pursued daily. Kids need to have personal goals and be constantly pursuing them, never being satisfied with where they are at. Another goal I have is to establish a legitimate classroom community. I believe this is paramount for learning to happen. My students need to feel safe and valued in my classroom. There needs to be a place for everyone’s ideas, stories, questions,passions and identities. Within this community there needs to be ample time for discussion and communication, as there is for personal reflection. I want this community to value the individual as much as the group. I think its my job to facilitate that community by providing an environment that makes it possible.

Q. What support do you need?
A. I think I would benefit most from a mentor. Someone who is willing to listen and give advice on a consistent basis. Who can relate to things I’m going through and help me find solutions to problems. Someone I can bounce ideas off of and complain to and will encourage me. I have a lot of meaningful relationships in my life and they are huge for me, but I don’t have someone who can fulfill that capacity. I have professor that I meet with but they feel like professional relationships not like a friendship.

Q. What are you reading?
A. Currently I am reading Sutree by Cormac McCarthy and The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer. I am also going through two textbooks that I have used in the past but feel like I just scratched the surface in. One is called Bridging English  and is all about strategies for teaching all aspects of English. The second is a textbook with basic ed theory: Dewey, Adler, Freire etc.  – stuff that I was definitely not ready for as a sophomore. I also asked for a ton of books for Christmas so I definitely have my work cut out for me.

Q. What was the last thing you learned?
A. I was just reading in my Parker Palmer book before doing this survey about the paradoxes that are necessary in teaching. Such as how we need to value silence and speech. Meaning we need to encourage kids to share and make them feel comfortable sharing, but we also need to value silence in the classroom. We need to resist the urge to break the silence when we ask a question and no one speaks. Palmer further explains these paradoxes by showing how an analysis of your own personal teaching will show that your best and worst moments teaching can be attributed to the same personal qualities. The book is really good and it has me constantly examining myself and my goals and talking to my peers about their goals.

Q. When is the last time you changed your mind?
A. I changed my mind earlier today about a professor. He’s sort of a cocky guy and not very patient and all semester he’s just been making me feel like he doesn’t have time for us. So I’ve joined my classmates in complaining about him the entire semester. But the entire time, I knew there was more to him. He has a legitimate passion and ability to convey that passion to others. So I stayed after for a little today and talked to him abut some stuff going on in my field placement, and, again, I felt like he cut me off and rushed me. But when I got past that and listened, I realized he gave me some good advice. So I changed my mind about him and what I can learn from him if I just look past some of his downfalls and focus on his strengths. Which is something I hope people do for me and something I hope to do for each student I come in contact with.

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