Carol ChristineCarol Christine recently retired from her position as Clinical Associate Professor and Associate Division Director in the Division of Curriculum and Instruction in the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education at Arizona State University. She earned her Ph.D. in Language, Reading, and Culture at the University of Arizona in 1997. She worked in teacher education, primarily with faculty in preservice teacher education, from 1997 – 2009 at ASU. She was a founding member and Program Director of The Center for Establishing Dialogue in Teaching and Learning, a not-for-profit organization of teachers and schools, established in the Phoenix area in 1986. She has served as a member of the Board of Directors of Prospect Center since 1998. This work in Phoenix is described in a forthcoming publication from Teachers College Press, Jenny’s Story: Prospect’s Philosophy in Action by Patricia F. Carini and Margaret Himley — with Carol Christine, Cecilia Espinosa, and Julia Fournier.

Speaking of Children . . .

No matter what class I am teaching, at some time during the term I ask, “What is education for?” because I think the teachers who consider this question will look at the relationship they have with the other participants in the room accordingly. Is the purpose of education to prepare children for the work force or to be good citizens or is education for the personal growth and development of the individual? Or are all these interwoven? I want teachers to be aware of how different perspectives on the purpose of education influence curriculum, the role of teachers in classrooms, and how teaching and learning are assessed.

This question also surfaces personal beliefs that affect choices each will make as a teacher, and these choices have a direct relationship and impact on children. This year in my children’s literature classes, teachers told me they were afraid to read aloud in their classroom, that they must read the same story during reading instruction for a full week, and that the 90 minutes a day for teaching reading was sacred and could not be varied. So, when a teacher wrote that she was not afraid to read aloud throughout her classroom day, I asked how she’d come to that conviction. This was her response:
“I think the most important thing that contributed to this was seeing the interaction my kids have during read alouds . . . I see them connect with the story and they are able to use comprehension strategies throughout our reading . . . there is nothing better than to see every single one of your children fascinated with what you are reading together.”

Notice the way this second grade teacher referred to ‘kids’ and ‘children’ as she described her teaching and the children’s learning. She drew upon her knowledge of the children and her observations of their engagement to inform her practice as teacher. She was clearly aware of reading skills and confident in how her children demonstrated comprehension through their participation.

This teacher’s observations, her knowledge of children, and her personal beliefs about how children learn guided and informed her continued and frequent use of children’s literature within her reading instruction. A kindergarten teacher put it this way: “I think the major reason I feel so strongly about keeping authentic literature in the classroom is my experiences as a student and a teacher all involved LOTS of books . . . I was able to work with great mentor teachers [who] also felt this passion. . . . children’s literature has become a priority in how I teach the curriculum”.

Each of these classroom teachers is confident about choices she is making to teach. Each is working to enrich and broaden children’s access to learning new as well as required skills and content. Each teacher is supplementing and extending what those outside the classroom see as the “required curriculum.” The teachers know the outcomes used to evaluate the children, their teaching, and the school but neither one limits her curriculum materials and teaching.

In the educational literature, the words “children” and “students” are used as if the terms were interchangeable. I’d like to see consistency in the terminology we use to describe our work both with individuals within and outside the classroom, with those in education professionally, and also with bystanders and stakeholders. Observing how a child participates in the classroom, with children’s literature in these examples, provided the teacher with learning that she described in relation to both children and the desired learning. “I see [the children] connect with the story and they are able to use comprehension strategies throughout our reading . . . “ We can talk about children and required learning that is rooted in the visibility of the person – the child or the adolescent.

I remember a mother’s first statement to me at parent-teacher conferences: “Tell me what you love about my Heather.” She wanted first to know what I knew about her child and what made her distinct and particular within my room of 27 fourth grade children. This was not in my outline of what I had prepared to report, but I did answer. This experience continues to remind me those I teach do not change personas when they enter my classroom. To the parent and the family, each student in our schools and college classrooms is first a son, or a daughter, a niece, a person within a family of caregivers.

This is a view of the work of teaching that I believe might expand our possibilities as teachers. It is a conversation for teachers, researchers, and families. I believe that when you can see who is learning and who is teaching through a lens that gives both children and teachers choices and agency, possibilities within the curriculum will appear that would otherwise remain invisible and untapped.

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6 Responses to “Speaking of Children . . . by Carol Christine”

  1. Diana Autin on 5/28/09 8:03 AM US/Eastern

    My sister teaches middle school math in a Pennsylvania district where many schools are identified as repeatedly “in need of improvement” under NCLB, as was her school. But after a few years teaching at that school, she helped her school make AYP and get off the list, for at least 2 years in a row. And one of the ways she did it was by establishing strong, personal relationships with the middle schoolers in her math classes. She has lunch with each student individually at least once a semester. She offers before and after school extra help. She learns about their families including their siblings and what responsibilities they have at home. She commiserates with them when they are having a hard time. She coaches them and encourages them – and shows them every day that she believes in them, not just as test takers but as human beings. Students who are behavior problems in every one else’s classroom are not problems in her classroom. She pays close attention to how each child is doing, charting each child’s individual progress. Just a few years after becoming a teacher she helped rewrite the district’s math curriculum and shepherded a process of the elementary and middle school teachers coming together to discuss math curriculum and alignment. She is an amazing teacher, determined that all of her students will succeed in life. But she is brilliant, committed, incredibly hard working, driven, and determined – and she had life experiences prior to becoming a teacher that really made a difference in how she approached teaching (including raising three children of her own). How can we attract and prepare and support more such teachers, who see teaching not just as a profession but as a mission?

  2. Annmarie Urso, Ph.D. on 5/28/09 11:12 AM US/Eastern

    Your sister is an inspiration! She exudes many of the qualities research has shown to improve academic outcomes for students and increase engagement and motivation. Not only does she have high academic standards, but believes her students can achieve them and provides the emotional and academic support for them to do so.
    Your question, How can we attract and prepare and support more such teachers, who see teaching not just as a profession but as a mission? is one that many teacher educators focus on. One observation on why it is hard to attract and support this quality of teacher candidate is that many of these teachers “on a mission” are non-traditional students – older students coming to pursue their first or second degree, or students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Traditionally, higher education was not set up to support the unique needs of these students. Mentoring, financial support, academic support, emotional support, and peer support are needed to help foster their success. There have been many local, state, and federal initiatives and programs designed to address the unique needs of these students, but economic times have brought about the elimination or lack of reauthorization for funding at this time.
    As a teacher educator, I strive to support my pre-service teachers who have that mission philosophy of teaching. I find that it isn’t always easy (e.g. institutional barriers like GPAs 2.75 or higher to continue with coursework)and I often lack support from my colleagues to look at each candidate individually.
    As teacher educators, I believe, we need to provide a variety of diverse experiences that will move our pre-service teacher candidates beyond the notion of teaching as a job, to the level of commitment that honors student engagement, motivation, diversity and high standards.

  3. Carol christine on 9/6/09 3:47 PM US/Eastern

    Diana and Annmarie – thank you for your responses. The question/issue that I surfaced here has been uppermost in my mind this summer when working with other teachers and I asked each of them to deliberately begin to think about when the term student seems more apt usage than child. I, too, continue to think this through. It is our students who generate those test scores, but somewhere in the process of teaching and learning I continue to think the teacher/child relationship is the dynamic that most contributes to what is learned.

    I hope you each have a memorable year with your children and teachers.


  4. hilary on 3/10/11 3:55 PM US/Eastern

    I was so happy to see Dr. Christine refer the the teacher/child relationship as being the most influential contribution to what is learned.

  5. Ana Ontiveros on 9/24/11 7:05 PM US/Eastern

    I have asked myself the same questions. What is the purpose of an education? Is the material that I’m teaching my students going to make such an impact in their lives and that of others? Is my job to prepare them to achieve their dream career, become model citizens, or for them to grow as individuals? As I ponder the question, I realize that is all of the above. As a teacher I know that my students are motivated and influenced by how and what I teach them. It may be a lesson in math, science or history. Regardless of the subject matter, I believe that the content is important, as standards are at the center of teaching, however, I strongly believe that even more important is how the content is taught. Is it relevant to their lives? Will they learn a life lesson with it? How will it affect their interactions with others? I feel that my students will remember more what unique interactions we had as a class than how many geometry problems they could solve in one period. Also, I know that in order for my students to be good members of society, I need to provide many opportunities for positive interactions in which mutual respect and understanding are modeled. Lastly, I believe that their personal growth will evolve as they are engage in a classroom where academic learning and social interactions are embedded in everyday experiences. It is my desire that my students become well rounded individuals who feel and believe that their education is one of the most important parts of their lives.

  6. Andrea Hasuo on 9/25/11 7:30 PM US/Eastern

    I’m a huge proponent of read alouds to kids of any age. My fondest memories of my elementary years, was the time of the day when my teacher would read to the class. Her animated voice brought life to the characters and a deeper perspective of the story. I recently had a conversation about read alouds with a colleague who teaches elementary students with moderate and severe disabilities just like me. She said she’d like to read to her students but can never find the time, and she didn’t think it would make much difference since they would have difficulty understanding a story to begin with. I have found that read alouds have enabled me to connect directly with my students. They are instantly engaged, mesmerized by pictures, eager to share what they know about the theme or mimic familiar lines of a story. They even request readings of their favorite books from the class library. It’s an opportunity to learn about their learning styles, interests, and their experiences outside of the classroom. I also use it to assess their comprehension in retelling parts of the story. Even though most of my students can’t read the words, it doesn’t detract from the fact that I’m instilling a love of books and of learning.

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