Vol 56 No. 11 | Sept. 2004
“Vignettes” Touches on Challenges
of Effective Teaching
By Richard Manly
Associate professor Jennifer Coots and her colleagues in the special education program know what to call top classroom educators: demonstration teachers.
Coots, a member of the Educational Psychology, Administration and Counseling Department since 1997, wrote about the challenges of effective teaching with this unusual group of CSULB College of Education graduates in their new manuscript Vignettes for Guided Critical Reflections in Effective Teaching .
“They are from districts all over the area,” said Coots. “Basically, this group provides program evaluation information; they have presented at national conferences with me; they have made guest presentations in courses, and they serve as master teachers for our students.”
The demonstration teachers are practicing classroom teachers going for their special education credentials or are program graduates.
“They feel participating in the demonstration teacher network is important for their lifelong learning,” she said. “It is much more than mere platitude. They mean it. They need a certain amount of hours in this kind of instruction every five years to retain their credentials. All too often, that instruction is not meaningful. This is.”
The teachers include: Caroline Smith of the Interagency Assessment Center in the Orange County Department of Education, Cayce Calder of Carver Elementary, Theresa Hawk of Buena Park's Emery Elementary, Jennifer Kagy of Westminster's Finley Elementary, Erin Koenig of Garden Grove's Woodbury Elementary, Robert Markel of Paramount's Collin Elementary, Kim Martin of Long Beach's Monroe Elementary, Deanna Pauca of Huntington Beach's Hawes Elementary, Kelly Skillman of Orange's Crescent Elementary, Glenna Steward of Bellflower's Lindstrom Elementary, Joyce Su of Long Beach's Garfield Elementary, Kim Ufholtz of Garden Grove's Russell Elementary, Angie Villani of Long Beach's Burbank Elementary, Rebecca Dennis of Long Beach's Hill Classical Middle School, Dina Colangelo of Tustin High School, Kathy Medina of Anaheim's Cypress High School and Laura Petschauer of Norwalk-La Mirada's Hutchinson Middle School.
Part of the instruction includes early morning breakfast meetings in her home. “The vignettes for the book came out in discussion of our class work,” she said. “One teacher would say to the other that this just happened in her class and she wasn't sure what to do. These discussions are not only fun, but they get down to the substance of the issues. It's gotten to the point where, when someone tells a story, someone else suggests, ‘Write a vignette!'”
Coots helps student teachers earn their credentials in teaching children with special needs in an appointment split between Child Development and Special Education.
The demonstration teachers provide feedback about a growing sense of frustration in the wake of demands by the No Child Left Behind Act that special education teachers be highly qualified.
“But there is no agreement about what that means,” she said. “Until they pass a subject matter test, they are not seen as highly qualified. They feel their professionalism is being questioned and they resent it.”
She hopes the work of the demonstration teachers profiled in “Vignettes” underlines the importance of teachers as problem solvers.
“Good teachers have to be good problem solvers,” she said. “There is no one right answer for the many complex situations teachers face every day. ‘Vignettes' addresses that moment when a teacher remembers what he or she read in the text when she sees actual classroom practice. The challenge is to adapt pedagogy to a whole new situation.”
That space between theory and practice that the demonstration teachers work to narrow even has a name: the research-to-practice gap.
“It is the old saw about scholars and their ivory towers,“ said Coots. “There are those who say researchers are not in touch with the classroom. I think that each teacher is surrounded by a unique set of students, each with a unique set of abilities. The fundamental task for teachers is to take their generalized knowledge and particularize it.”
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