Cuthbert Hutton ’08, Michaela Curtis ’08, and Amy McMurry ’08 stand in front of the Sewanee poster being presented at Peabody’s Department of Teaching and Learning poster session.
Undergrad Sewanee Students Presenting at Peabody
Katie Pigg ’08 explains the findings from the Education 402 research class on the South Cumberland Rural Teacher Network to an administrator and a doctoral student at Peabody.
Elizabeth Bradley ’07 and Sandra Kern ’07 explain what the process of and what was found during the Independent study done on high school Cafeteria culture to a Peabody professor.
Year One: Sharing our Best
South Cumberland Rural Teacher Network
Teacher In-service Conference: Year 1,
“Sharing Our Best”
This conference focused on teachers sharing their most effective lesson plans. The day started off with registration and a keynote presentation from Tennessee poet-laureate Maggie Vaughn. The teachers then split off into groups with other teachers in their subject area. They spent the remainder of the morning getting to know each other and sharing some of their lesson plans. They went to lunch in our beautiful dining hall, and then returned for an afternoon session of sharing lesson plans, or attending workshops. An exhibit hall was set up in another part of the building, displaying some of the work their students had done. The group gathered together again at the end of the afternoon to win door prizes and wrap up the day.
A Sewanee student was assigned to each group of teachers in order to act as an aid, a recorder, and a moderator. We guided the teachers around campus and observed their reactions and conversations. Through our observations and interactions with the teachers, we discovered that teacher motivation was a major focus within all the groups.
"Where do we go from here?”
In the following weeks “we met as a class and reviewed our observations, focusing on teacher motivation. We decided that we needed to talk to the teachers personally and find out what motivated them.
Here are some of the questions we asked:
How long have you been teaching, where, what subjects?
Tell me about your classes this semester.
What are your favorite topics to teach? Why?
How has teaching changed during your career?
What are the most rewarding things about being a teacher?
What are the least rewarding things about being a teacher?
If you could change teaching and school, what would you change? Why?
What do you think I should know as a future teacher?
What we found:
– Student Achievement
– Student – Teacher Relationships
– Feeling respected by students, administrators, system
– Working hard and making a difference
– Having a passion for subject matter
– Failing students
– Lack of respect from students, administrators, system
– Lack of parental involvement
– Unmotivated students
South Cumberland Rural Teacher Network
Teacher In-service Conference: Year 2,
“Making the Pieces Fit”
This conference was again centered on teachers sharing the best lesson plans, but also left room for flexibility within the discussion topics. The workshops were more varied, including grant-writing sessions, a discussion of teacher burnout, and a lesson on using the Tennessee Electronic Library. Dr. Lana Seivers, the Tennessee Commissioner of Education, gave an inspiring keynote speech that rallied the teachers and set an upbeat tone for the conference. Sewanee students once again observed teacher groups, writing down their impressions and thoughts about the day.
Overall, we felt as though this conference was more successful and meaningful than last year. The teachers were more focused, the exhibits were more throughout, and the keynote speaker’s talk was geared towards the theme of the conference. It seemed like, well, all of the pieces fit. The teachers’ interactions were so improved and meaningful, we decided as a class to shift our focus to increasing networking throughout the system.
We’ll be asking them:
Did the conferences give you opportunities to meet and talk with colleagues from other schools in the network?
Have you been in touch with any teachers from other network schools?
Did you learn anything during either of the conferences that you have used in your classroom?
How can the network better meet your needs?
Teachers and Students
We saw student motivation as a major component as teacher motivation. We saw that teacher motivation was affected by the students’ motivation, or lack thereof. Wanting to focus more on this topic, an independent study group was formed. We looked at the ways that students interact with each other as a means as unveiling what motivates them.
“Where do we go from here?”
We found that student motivation was a major component to teacher motivation.
We decided we needed to look at this connection, starting with a study on student motivation.
A small independent study group broke off to study student motivation.
We hypothesized from the beginning that there would be differing sources of motivation between classes of different levels (ie. English 4 AP, honors, or regular)
Hoping to control as many variables as possible, the team concentrated on the English department of Lowmot High. One team member observed in the AP English classroom, one in the college Prep English classroom, and one in the regular English classroom.
Initially, data was collected strictly through weekly observation. The team members gradually grew acquainted with the students through informal interaction and built a rapport through casual and frequent presence.
Eventually, the team administered the first interview to a random sample of 50 students in the classes being observed. Although it was a small sample, the results obtained were extremely helpful in providing further direction for the project.
We found that students are driven by social situations, and therefore downplay the importance of academics and its role in their plans for the future.
Wanting to study the students in a purely social setting, two members of our team went to the cafeteria during lunch to talk to the students. We talked to many different groups of students from all walks of life to uncover the ways they identified other groups.
These interviews and observations led us to….
The relatively large 1,615 student body population at Lowmot High School, located in rural Poe County Tennessee, represents the socioeconomic stratification of the surrounding county.
After a few class observations we decided that, due to lack of time, we needed to get to know the students better and therefore decided to conduct informal interviews where we asked the students to come up with pseudo names and to describe a typical day, what they do on the weekends, who they live with, if they work, and other interests the students might have, as well as, plans for their futures.
The cafeteria is the universe of the students. Almost all of their non-classroom interactions occur within the dining hall: breakfast (loading zone), lunch, tests, meetings and even the prom this year will be held in the cafeteria.
In the lines to get food who you are standing with does not represent who you sit with, because at the tale tat is where the social lines are drawn, the fences are put up, and the distinct groups are made and seen by all.
The teachers and faculty just overlook the students to make sure they do not get into trouble; there is very little physical interaction of faculty and students.
The teachers seem to view the students as less then human; the old colonial ideas are still here today.
Athletes, rednecks, punks, blacks and the middle grounds.
The cafeteria shows the sharp distinctions between class and gender.
The cafeteria is a place where style is displayed; a place where everyone can see what you are wearing, you are on stage.
When we asked the students to draw all the tables in the dinning hall and map it out all of them left out the faculty table – even the most detailed map drawn by a sophomore girl.
Although some groups are consistently mentioned and even affirmed by the group members themselves, we have found through our observations and informal interviews that such bold distinctions are difficult to make. One group can be defined in many different ways, depending on whom you ask.
Groups intermingle through sports, mutual friends, families, and couples. It is not possible, therefore, to create some master group that categorizes all students. The fact that all students were able to quickly identify other groups, though based on varying criterion and perspectives, speaks volumes about the youth culture as a whole and the significant role that identity plays in their lives.
What is motivating the students? We believe students are motivated by “youth culture”. Students uninterested in being accepted into the social hierarchy are still a part of the system, whether or not they actively seek participation. A majority of the students with whom we interacted appeared to be far more concerned with friends, gossip, fitting in, sports, or even future plans. For many students, school is a stepping stone for future plans; however, academics often take a back seat to social concerns.
Issues to be looked into as the research project continues:
- Are there race issues at play?
- Role of socioeconomic status – Is there a correlation with motivation?
- Is motivation correlated with grades?
- What is the role of teachers? Some upper-level classes really like one teacher who comes off as challenging and tough, but the students in the lower-level class did not like the way she taught them. Students say that this teacher teaches different classes differently. Why? Because of their abilities? Or because of her expectations?