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Shin Ji Kang serves as associate professor in the Department of Early, Elementary, and Reading Education and fellow of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Terrorism and Peace at James Madison University. She is a critical praxis researcher attempting to bridge the divide between practice and research. She has two major foci in her educational research: teacher beliefs and refugee education. While learning about teacher spirituality and efficacy beliefs, Shin Ji Kang has endeavored to better understand teachers’ lives. Another thread of her scholarship on refugee education emerged from critical and spiritual consciousness on her identity in relation to the global society. She is currently working with North Korean refugee students and South Korean service providers to address diversity and justice.
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Keri Bethune is an Associate Professor at JMU in the Department of Educational, Foundations, and Exceptionalities. She holds a Ph.D. in in Special Education from University of North Carolina Charlotte and focused her dissertation on coaching teachers to use Applied Behavior Analytic techniques in their classrooms. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst – Doctoral, Licensed Behavior Analyst, and is the Chair of the Behavior Analyst Advisory Board for the state of Virginia. At JMU, she coordinates the Behavior Specialist Concentration for the M.Ed. Program, the Adapted Curriculum Concentration, and the Visual Impairments Concentration. She teaches courses in teacher preparation in the areas of behavior, classroom management, and adapted curriculum in EXED and IECE programs.
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Dr. John Almarode is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Early, Elementary, and Reading Education. John is also the Co-Director of James Madison University’s Center for STEM Education and Outreach and co-editor of the Teacher Educator’s Journal. He began his career in Augusta County, Virginia, teaching mathematics and science to a wide‑range of students. At James Madison University, he works with pre‑service teachers in elementary science methods, and actively pursues his research interests including the science of learning, the design and measurement of classroom environments that promote student engagement and learning, interest and engagement in STEM disciplines, specialized STEM high schools, and college and university laboratory schools. The work of John and his colleagues has been presented to the United States Congress, Virginia Senate, at the United States Department of Education as well as the Office of Science and Technology Policy at The White House. John has presented locally, nationally, and internationally on the application of the science of learning to the classroom, school, and home environments. He has worked with hundreds of school districts and thousands of teachers in countries as far away as Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and South Korea. John has authored multiple articles, reports, book chapters, and two books including Captivate, Activate, and Invigorate the Student Brain in Science and Math, Grades 6 – 12 (Corwin Press, 2013). He is currently working on the K – 5 version of the same book as well as a book on teacher clarity, both with Corwin Press.
What really sustains John, and his greatest accomplishment is his family. John lives in Waynsboro, Virginia with his wife Danielle, a fellow educator, their two children, Tessa and Jackson, and labrador retreivers, Angel and Forest.
Bright Days – Dark Days
Click the play button below to stream a video created by Susan Miller entitled “Bright Days – Dark Days”.
Susan Miller has been an English teacher for the past forty-one years. She has taught in Illinois (9 years); Florida (13 Years);and Virginia (19 years). She has retired this school year from Fort Defiance High School in Augusta County. Susan was chairman of the English Department and the Forensics Coach. In 2011 she received the prestigious Dawbarn Award and was teacher of the year in 2009. While teaching in Florida, she was teacher of the year in 1992 at Oviedo High School in Seminole County. She has supervised numerous practicums and student teachers from James Madison University. Susan is married and lives in Stuarts Draft with her husband, Rod. They have three daughters and six grandchildren and three dogs. Her advice to teachers is the following: “If you want it, teach it; if you assign it, grade it!”
What Sustains Me
Click the play button below to hear Dr. Jane Thall’s essay in her own voice
Jane Thall is the Academic Unit Head for Learning, Technology and Leadership Education in the College of Education. Dr. Thall is an associate professor in the Adult Education/Human Resource Development Program where she teaches courses in Needs Assessment and Performance Analysis, Program Evaluation, Thesis Research, Reading and Research, AHRD Foundations, Research Methods and Consulting. Before coming to JMU in 2006, she spent 32 years working in the federal government. Dr. Thall graduated from the University of Mary Washington with degrees in Spanish and International Relations, received a Master of Science Degree in Applied Behavioral Science from Johns Hopkins University and completed her Doctorate in Education, Adult Education and Human Resource Development at George Washington University. She is married and the mother of two grown sons.
What Sustains Me – The Colors of Belonging
Click the play button to hear Dr. Ruthie Bosch essay on “The Colors of Belonging”.
Dr. Ruthie Bosch is an Associate Professor in the EFEX department. She teaches Foundations of Education and Multicultural Education. She is originally from Puerto Rico, but lived in Michigan for 30 years. She earned her Ph.D. in Bicultural-Bilingual Education at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She was a high school Spanish teacher for 18 years in the Detroit metropolitan area. She has lived in Harrisonburg since 2009 with her husband Hector and her two sons, José and Matthew. – See more at: http://www.jmu.edu/coe/deansoffice/sustains-me/bosch-ruth.shtml#sthash.vVlZusOi.dpuf
The Hornet Battle
Click to hear this essay in Dr. Bodle’s voice.
Cornfields are hourglasses for kids on summer vacation in rural Indiana. Though the old saying insists the corn should be, “knee high by the fourth of July,” the fourth of June may provide a more accurate yardstick. When the green floods of corn crest around 7 feet in August it is time to head back to school. The night before the hornet battle I had noticed, while trying to survive the desolation of another Little League inning in right field, the corn behind the outfield fence was already knee-high. Summer had just begun and I was ready for August, ready to head back to the hustle and bustle, the energy of the school day.
Geneva, like many small towns, is the kind of place where everyone is your neighbor but that doesn’t mean everyone is neighborly. My closest friends at the time were scattered across the countryside at hopeless distances for a fourth grader on his BMX. To make matters worse, new neighbors had arrived that spring, hornets. Their hulking grey nest was only visible because its weight made the arborvitae bush that housed it lean out of line with rest of the row that skirted our backyard.
Despite constant harassment from the hornets and isolation from my friends, I was determined to regain the camaraderie I missed from my fourth grade classroom. In the past, our backyard had been the site of spirited wiffle ball games between my older brothers and their friends. Perhaps I could organize a similar event. But who would play? I knocked on doors I never thought I would in my life. Some doors sat at the apex of wobbly metal framed steps attached to the mobile homes across the highway, some to large brick homes down the street, and others led to the small quarters of migrants who lived in the camp on the edge of town. Before long a rag-tag group of kids was assembled in the backyard. Together we wove a weird tapestry of stereotypes and clichés, with the only threads holding us together the desperation and monotony of a rural Indiana summer. It seemed we were all in the same position; doing anything was better than staying home with nothing to do.
A small Ginko tree served as first base, a cement sidewalk slab, slightly larger than those next to it was second base, and a towering black walnut tree served as third base. Home plate sat just a few feet out from the center bush in the line of arborvitaes not far from the precariously leaning hornet bush. A rather quiet and pedestrian game ensued for several innings. No one was sure who to turn to for celebrations or disagreements. All of that awkward uncertainty changed when an arrant pitch flew over the shoulder of Brad, the batter and a known bully, and made a direct hit on the buzzing grey bulb within the leaning bush. I’ll never forget watching the fear flood over Brad’s face as he watched the eyes of each fielder trained on the darkening, buzzing cloud forming just behind him. Brad dropped his bat and ran terrified toward the pitcher’s mound. Soon his arms stiffened and a high-pitched scream shot from his mouth. He grabbed at his hind end as he fell to the ground. Seeing him fall, we hastily armed ourselves with wiffle ball bats, rocks, sticks, anything that could swat a hornet out of the sky. Side by side we crept toward the nest, hornets swirling. It was us against the hornets and over the course of the next 10 minutes our barrage of hastily gathered artillery reduced the nest to scraps of grey paper clinging to the thin branches where a home used to be.
Despite countless close calls only a few stings were reported. The hornets were gone, and in their place was a strange sense of togetherness amongst us in the silence. Brad thanked us for saving him from the onslaught, but there was something else that was unsaid. “I feel kinda bad for the hornets,” I risked. To my surprise, Brad nodded his head in agreement. “Me too,” said Carlos, Brad’s even-meaner little brother. We talked about how hard they must have worked to build the nest. We laughed about the unfortunate placement of Brad’s injury, and partially wished we could put the nest back together. A sense of kinship fell over the group for a good while. By and by, we gathered ourselves and went back to our game. I don’t remember the score from the afternoon, or even how the day ended. We went our separate ways and we didn’t meet up for another game that summer.
The same old dividing lines still that kept us from solidifying lasting friendships existed long after the corn reached its peak and began to wither into crisp golden locks, waiting for the combines and gravity wagons to reveal the horizon line once again. Another school year came and went and before long Spring returned to Geneva. The corn, as if animated by some invisible underground crank, began again, its yearly ascent. That summer, a year removed from the hornet battle, Carlos and I played on rival little league teams. One afternoon after baseball practice we exchanged some choice words, the kinds of words sports rivals are used to exchanging. This time, however, a scuffle ensued. We ended up pushing and shoving each other inside the dugout, calling each other names, and things began to escalate into a fist-fight. Carlos grabbed me by the shirt and forced me against the hot, dusty dugout wall. He pulled his arm back, breathed a deep breath, and I closed my eyes preparing for his closed fist to land on my cheek. Nothing happened. The grip on my shirt loosened and we looked each other in the eyes. I thought of the hornet battle and realized the hands forcing me to the wall belonged to another person, someone capable of feeling empathy for hornets, capable of laughing with me, capable of being my friend. Maybe it was the same recognition that stopped him from punching me in the face that afternoon. I never asked him.
Sometimes now, as I work with future teachers, I think about Brad, Carlos, and the rest of the group involved in the hornet battle. I invite my students to think about ways their classrooms are similar to my small but complicated Indiana town, how we’re all thrown together in the same place, how difficult that can feel, but how much we can learn from one another if we we’re willing to risk being vulnerable. Our classrooms, much like our communities, can be places for discovering our common humanity, or they can be places that reinforce social divisions. I tell the story of the hornet battle to encourage my students to rethink the same deficit models I attached to the kids from the parts of town I rarely visited before the hornet battle. I ask them to imagine their future classroom as a place where community can flourish through taking the risk of accepting each other as equals. It wasn’t easy for my fourth grade self to admit that I felt sorry for the hornets, that’s not what a “guy” was supposed to do in that place, at that time. It was probably harder for Brad and Carlos to take the risk of acknowledging my regret and validating my words. But, through those little ventures in vulnerability, Carlos and I unknowingly stopped each other from physical violence against one another. If only short-lived, we had cultivated a bit of humanity in the midst of the inhumanity of our middle school years.
Lastly, by sharing the lessons of the hornet battle, I try to offer my students opportunities to think about the hourglasses built into their lives as teachers, those little reminders of their own fragile temporality, and just how little time we each have to make a difference in the lives of others, and for others to make a difference on ours.
Aaron Bodle is an Assistant Professor at James Madison University where he teaches social studies methods and qualitative inquiry to beginning elementary educators. Using film, animation, and performance as methods of data generation and (re)presentation, his ethnographic and autoethnographic research explores changing conceptions of citizenship in relationship to place, students’ perceptions of their connections to global, national, and local contexts, and links between multicultural and global education in theory and practice.
Moments of Joy
When you ask a teacher what they enjoy most about teaching, a large percentage will mention something about the “ah ha” moment when a student understands a concept the teacher has been trying to teach. I have to say that I agree that those moments are very special and there is little else that helps to assure a teacher that they are in the best profession. Those are the moments that make all the hardships of teaching seem worthwhile. I am fortunate to say that I have experienced a great number of these moments, and on several occasions they came at a time when I was frustrated with the other things that take the time of a teacher away from actually teaching students. Those moments helped me remember why I chose to be an educator.
As my career progressed and I moved into the realm of school administration, I began to realize that there were other moments that also gave me joy and helped me feel certain that I was doing what I was meant to do in life. I realized how wonderful it is to watch a student who struggles academically achieve success in the athletic arena. That athletic success filled the student with belief that he or she was able to achieve and that hard work and practice can produce results. It was something they could hold onto when the academic struggle felt so difficult. I also found joy when I watched a student read the posted list of names of students who had earned a spot on a particular team or a part in the school drama production and found his or her name listed. Oh, the joy and excitement on that student’s face! It was also special to me to read one of those lists and find the name of a student that I knew was particularly hoping to make that team or be in the production. I couldn’t wait for the student to find his name on the posted list!
During my career, I have attended a tremendous number of fine arts events like art shows, choral concerts, and band and orchestra concerts. How joyful it is to see students after the concert who feel so good about their performance that they are smiling from ear to ear, and to be able to tell them how much I had enjoyed the concert. It is equally wonderful to be able to compliment a student on an art project that has been displayed and see that student stand a little taller and smile a little brighter.
As a school administrator, I visited many classrooms and observed many teachers involved in the business of educating students. These classroom visits also afforded me moments of joy. It is wonderful to observe a teacher doing an excellent job of instructing students and seeing that teacher feel joy as they watch a student feel that “ah ha” moment. In our current test-driven environment in education, it is also very rewarding as a school administrator to see a teacher feel a sense of accomplishment when her students’ test scores on state mandated tests are as good as or better than she expected them to be. I also experienced joy when a teacher came to show me a project that a student had completed particularly well or to tell me about a student who had excelled on a test or classwork activity after having had difficulty in that class. To see teachers so excited about helping students succeed is amazing.
As I have moved into the most recent phase of my career which involves supervising student teachers and facilitating for career switcher teachers, I have again expanded the moments that bring me joy as an educator. When I talk with a student teacher after an observation and point out all of the things the student teacher did well, the attitude of improving confidence in his or her ability as an educator is a wonderful thing to see. It is also great to hear the student teacher or the career switcher teacher tell me about a strategy they tried that worked particularly well or even a lesson they learned after trying a classroom management technique or instructional strategy that didn’t work so well. It is a special joy to be able to observe the growing ability and confidence of these new educators as they gain experience in the classroom. I also still enjoy being there to observe the students who experience the light bulb going on as they grasp a new concept or idea. Their excitement when this happens, and the excitement of the teacher, certainly produce joy for any educator who witnesses these moments.
After almost four decades in the field of education, I can certainly create a list of the frustrations of being a classroom teacher or school administrator. The list would be long and sometimes would seem to grow by the minute. That being said, as I reflect on why I continue to work in education, I realize that the many and varied moments of joy far outweigh the frustrations and continue to make me sure that I chose the perfect profession. Education is certainly about instructional strategies and classroom management, but more than that, it is about the people involved in the educational process and the joys of accomplishment they share with me. On days when I was totally frustrated by mandates from the central school administration, or dealing with angry unreasonable parents, or trying to sort out a myriad of administrative issues, I often left my office to visit classrooms. Interacting with students and teachers and experiencing moments of success is a tremendous salve for frustration. It serves as a reminder of why I chose the field of education. It is the moments of joy that I continue to experience that sustain me.
Mary Trimmer Robinson graduated from Madison College with a B.A. in English and minors in education and psychology. She received her M.Ed. in Reading from James Madison University and her certification in School Administration and Supervision from Virginia Commonwealth University. During her 35 year tenure in public education, she taught middle school English and reading and high school English, developed and administered an alternative program for overage underachieving middle school students, was a high school administrator and a middle school principal. Mrs. Robinson has been recognized as a Principal of Distinction by the Virginia Department of Education. She is a member of several organizations that support education and educational administration. Currently Mrs. Robinson is working as a University Supervisor for student teachers from JMU and the University of Richmond. She is also working in JMU’s Middle Matters program to support career switcher teachers and serves as a Regional Coordinator for the Hanover Cohort of the JMU Educational Leadership Master’s and Certificate Program. In addition, Mrs. Robinson is a member of the Executive Advisory Council for the JMU College of Education and currently serves as the president of this group.
Stories that Sustain Me
I look out over a sea of students, and all I see are stories. That student over there has taken 21 hours of classes from me, and in that whole time I don’t think she’s ever gotten a grade lower than a B+ on any single assignment. I doubt she’s gotten more than one A- or B+ as a final grade from any professor in any department, and I wish I had EVER had that level of academic brilliance. The student over there, in the back corner, got off to a slow start. But she listened, very carefully, to every single suggestion I made about writing and studying starting with the first of four classes she took from me, and now she’s among the top students in the communication major. And that student, close to the front, has an amazing future ahead of her as a graduate student in a top program. I look at her, and maybe I’m just a little bit jealous as I think about the challenges and successes she’ll face in the next six years. She’ll encounter challenging new ideas, teach her very own class for the first time, and start her own career as a professor – she’ll be a great one. The student in the back, who doesn’t always get the highest test grades but is one of the most impressive, polished, energetic speakers I’ve ever seen. In addition to her speaking skills, she’s a really hard worker, and I would not be at all surprised to hear that she ends up being one of the most “successful” members of the class of 2013. And here they all are, waiting for me to get started. So, why don’t I get started. . .
Despite the occasional bad day that anyone has in any organizational setting, I remain firmly convinced that I have the single best job in the world. I love my job because of the academic stimulation, because of the variety of tasks (lecturing, grading, writing, leading discussions) that I enjoy on a daily basis, because I have great colleagues, and wonderful students, and work at a school with a unique, charmed environment – but at the end of the day, what really sustains me as a teacher are my students’ stories. Every single student has his or her own unique story; some of their stories I am privileged to share, while at some I can only guess. To extent that their narratives intersect with my own, most of their stories play out over the course of a single class – like the GCOM student who is transformed from quiet, tentative speaker to eloquent, passionate advocate. Some of their stories develop over multiple classes, like the student who really struggles with multiple choice tests in an interpersonal course but demonstrates an amazing ability to recount poignant personal experiences in the family communication class. I’m impressed by the ones who dazzle me with their writing ability, like the student who went to a top arts journalism program and now has a wonderful life both reviewing and performing music, sharing her own stories; I’m equally impressed by the compelling speakers, the thoughtful scholars, the insightful critics of the communication around them and in the world at large.
For most of these students, graduation is the happy ending to the college story, and the beginning of a new adventure, but for me it is effectively the end of the story. It is impossible to count the number of times I sit in my office and wonder, “Whatever happened to so-and-so? Has she started to realize her dream?” Very, very few stories continue past graduation, but it is perhaps those I treasure the most. One of my favorite alumnae struggled in the advanced research methods course she took from me; this is not uncommon, as many students struggle in the class. At the time, her college story was one of having a great time with the social aspects of JMU, and not being too concerned about the academics. Since graduating, her story has taken several fascinating twists, from highly successful human resources manager to content stay-at-home mother.
These stories which evolve over the course of a semester, or the course of a college career, or the course of a lifetime inspire me to try to become a minor character in those stories – a person who can make at least some small difference in that ongoing narrative. During those times when my job does get particularly difficult – when I find myself frustrated by trying to meet a research deadline, or bogged down in service responsibilities, or just wondering how I can possibly get everything done by the end of the week – reflecting on those stories provides me with the greatest source of inspiration.
In one of my favorite ongoing narratives, I encouraged one of my superbly talented former students to consider applying to the top programs in my discipline for graduate school, and had no doubt she would have succeeded. Instead, she chose to focus her efforts on being the best elementary school teacher she could possibly be. She is already an award-winning teacher, and I could not possibly be more proud of her. From our conversations, I suspect that she, like I, is sustained by the stories of HER students.
Eric Fife is Professor and Director of the School of Communication Studies. Originally from Waynesboro, Virginia, he received a BS in Journalism and English from James Madison University, an MA in Communication from the University of Maryland, and a Ph.D. in Communication from Purdue University. He taught at the College of Charleston in South Carolina for five years before returning to JMU in 2001. He teaches classes in family communication, interpersonal communication and research methods, as well as general education courses. His most recent publications are in the areas of family communication, interpersonal communication and pedagogy.