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To Be a Professional.

Red Wasp Living the Life  11-11-08

By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Fayetteville, Arkansas

What does it mean to be a professional educator? The answer leads us immediately to the word “teacher” and the broad range of responsibilities most commonly associated with teachers, who profess their knowledge in settings varying from a first grade class that begins in the early hours of the day to an adult education class that ends in the late hours of the evening.

The Search for a Robust Definition
Takes Us to Every Aspect of a Career.

Professional educators may teach in a classroom, supervise teacher candidates, create curricula for a district, consult with state and federal departments of education, serve on foundations and boards, conduct workshops, and make presentations for their peers. Most of us over the course of a career satisfy all of these responsibilities at one time or another.

We are lifelong learners, a requirement for any profession. We seek out opportunities to share our own knowledge with others and gain new knowledge from others, too. These opportunities are found through professional development in our school districts and educational cooperatives; conferences at the local, state, and national levels; participation in national organizations; and in university classes and seminars.

We adhere to standards and ethical conduct. According to Principle II of the National Education Association Code of Ethics,

The education profession is vested by the public with a trust and responsibility requiring the highest ideals of professional service.

In the belief that the quality of the services of the education profession directly influences the nation and its citizens, the educator shall nea exert every effort to raise professional standards, to promote a climate that encourages the exercise of professional judgment, to achieve conditions that attract persons worthy of the trust to careers in education, and to assist in preventing the practice of the profession by unqualified persons
       (http://www.nea.org/index.html, 2008).

My own responsibilities can be viewed as a microcosm of the challenges that teachers and professors face as a matter of course ‎throughout the fall, spring, and summer semesters of an academic year seemingly without end. Follow me, then, for a glimpse into the life of one ‎professional educator, and imagine how your own teacher friends and colleagues follow ‎the call of an active life in academia.

Since August, I have participated in two conferences, a state professional meeting, and a state board meeting. I’ve sat on a book review panel for Indigenous People’s Day, and moderated a panel of professors discussing educational initiatives and collaborations with public schools. Later this week I will share my knowledge with other professional educators at our district foreign language conference. And last week I gave a co-presentation on rubrics for new university faculty at a professional development luncheon and also participated on a book panel for the Native American Symposium on our campus.

Squeezed between those challenging opportunities and others to come are meetings for student advisement, program development, supervising, and recruiting. Underpinning it all is the responsibility to continually plan and execute an array of research and writing projects, a requirement of all university faculty on the tenure track.

Too much?  Of course not! It’s an exciting position rich in opportunity and reward.

ate in dc

Let me start with August and one of my favorite professional organizations, the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE). I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., for ATE’s summer meeting. ATE is unique for many reasons. One positive attribute is our effort to be inclusive and model good practices for our membership. The summer meeting offers professional development and networking for the members.  Family members are also welcome, giving participants the chance to attend several historical and cultural events to promote lifelong learning and family harmony.

Arriving on Friday, August 1, I took the subway to the Capitol district. As it was my first trip to our nation’s capitol, I wanted to take public transportation to get a feel for the spirit of the local culture and have a look-see at the urban landscape. It was worth the nominal fare of a dollar and thirty-five cents.

When I emerged from the tunnel exit, I was astounded at the grandiose and regal architecture and the immensity of the Capitol complex. Unfortunately, the ease of access to our public officials and government offices has faded in a nation at war and seemingly under constant siege. Public accessibility to the institutions and symbols of government and nation disappears behind huge concrete planters, barricades, and armed guards prevalent at every corner.

A bit wary, I approached one guardhouse to ask directions and was met with courtesy and friendliness — and good directions, too. I set off to find the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill Hotel, taking the long route around the Capitol, pausing to watch the tourists, to catch a phrase or two of another tongue, and to catch my breath on a warm summer’s mid-day. I was exhilarated by the diversity and humbled by the thoughts that I was smack-dab in the middle of immense power and influence.

One hour and thirty minutes later, my “just down the street and around the corner” trek ended at the door of the conference hotel, which was under renovation to spruce up for the 2009 Presidential inauguration. My roommate, Dr. Cathy Pearman, showed up just a few minutes after I got to our room, so we had a joyful reunion. We quickly made plans to join Dr. Shirley LeFever-Davis at an ATE Leadership Academy workshop. I was guaranteed an afternoon of camaraderie and professional development.

The Leadership Academy is another unique aspect of ATE. Each year several members are nominated to take part. Participants arrive a day or two early to learn about the organization and its leadership expectations. The Academy also connects the location of the conference to an educational theme.

D I G R E S S I O N :   My first academy in Bismarck, North Dakota, in the summer of 2005 focused on the theme of "Culturally Relevant Teaching for American Indian Children.” Participants were instructed in advance to read the first five chapters (or more) of Klug and Whitfield's Widening the Circle: Culturally Relevant Pedagogy for American Indian Children. One of the authors, Beverly Klug, is also an ATE member. We also visited the United Tribes Technical College. If you’d like to read more about a fabulous conference, here’s the link to my report: read it!

My participation in the Leadership Academy opened the door to my service on the membership committee, the Commission on American Indian Education, and the planning committee for the summer 2009 conference in Reno.

A Former Education Secretary
Provides Good Reason for Motivation.

At the Washington conference, guest speakers from the U.S. Department of Education addressed the theme of educational policy.  The morning session began at the Department of Education with a break for lunch followed by afternoon sessions in the Hyatt. Although I missed the morning sessions devoted to national governance and educational initiatives, I arrived just in time to attend the question-and-answer session with Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education (2001-2005). What an outstanding motivational speaker! Rod urged us to work with other educational organizations to combine our initiatives and lobby for change in Congress.

I learned that not one educational representative had been asked to participate in the governors’ commission on education. When our politicians make decisions without our input, should we wonder that our public education system is perceived as woefully inadequate? Thinker on a Rock Rod’s presentation was apropos for an election year charged with promises of change and reform.

The following three days melded committee meetings with special events and informal episodes of fellowship and camaraderie — opportunities to sightsee at the White House, lunch Old Dominion Brew Haouse, the oldest pub in D. C., dine at Union Station, stroll through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, and visit the National Museum of the American Indian.

A small group of ATE regulars are also gradually raising a tradition of listening to the blues at every new conference locale. Our fearless leader, Terrell, manages to find top performers in unique locations that are authentic and non touristy. The Washington conference was no exception! Even though Sunday found each of us attending commission meetings and planning sessions, we still found time to break away for an evening of hearing the Blues at Madam's Organ,  in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. We also have a motto: persistence, perseverance, and patience. One needs all three to keep up with our group of go-getters!

What 'Disposition' Works Best
For Rural, Urban, and Suburban?

Monday began early with Dr. LeFever Davis and I presenting on “Recognizing the Juxtaposition between Socio-Cultural Aspects of Teaching, Teacher Dispositions and Educational Outcomes.” Our presentation built upon information gathered during a round table session the previous year. Our purpose was and remains to identify the kinds of dispositions teachers need to be successful in rural, urban, or suburban settings.

Most current research focuses on urban settings and culturally relevant pedagogy, in which the teacher designs instruction around the cultural identities of students. We all make observations about others based on our own experiences and beliefs. We can point out teachers who seem “suited” to their school environment. However, it’s much more difficult to identify and describe the behaviors and beliefs that make a teacher successful in one environment and challenged in another.

For example, Teacher Bowles, a character in the ongoing narrative of Planet Gnosis, prefers practicing in a small rural or alternative education setting, even though he attended Central High School in Little Rock with a graduating class of over 700. In contrast, I taught at one of the largest public schools in Little Rock, even though I attended a small rural school in the Delta with a graduating class of twenty-one. What characteristics of our dispositions make us more “suitable” for one setting rather than another? Maybe we will have a definitive answer for you soon!

My second presentation followed immediately, so I had to rush to another floor in another part of the Hyatt to find my room. I joined several other presenters from the Commission on American Indian Education to discuss the topic, “What We Know about the Current State of Indian Education.” My presentation concerned the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s efforts to preserve their language. I had just enough time to listen to two other presentations: the first by Bill Young dealt with “Culturally Responsive Teaching;” the second by Donna Jurich concerned “Boarding School Narratives.” And just like that, I was on an airplane leaving Reagan Airport.

With 35 students at the University of Arkansas waiting for closure in the last week of our summer term, I had to leave early to satisfy the most important responsibility of a professional educator, that of teacher to student. We wrapped up the course work, and then turned immediately to the next semester rising fast on the horizon.


At Summer's End
We Were Ready to Go!

Mid-August heralds the start of public school in Arkansas. Our Master of Arts in Teaching interns finished class on Friday, the eighth of August, and immediately dispersed to their host schools on Monday, the eleventh of August. They came up for air, then plunged ahead. One week later I was joining my university colleagues for the endless round of meetings, meetings, and more meetings that accompany the beginning of an academic year.

During that first week, I was pleased to be able to attend three faculty meetings for the foreign language departments at public schools in our area and listen to the concerns of teachers. The proverbial “teacher’s summer” grows shorter and shorter as our education system grows more and more complicated and demanding. Family vacations and personal time for recharging the psychic battery are increasingly impinged by the demands of professional development. Regardless, the teachers I met were ready to go to work.

For the foreign language teachers in Northwest Arkansas (NWAR), summer professional development centered on new state frameworks and an initiative by area administrators for all content areas to revise their curricula based on Total Instructional Alignment (TIA). With student mobility an issue in NWAR, administrators and faculty believe that the TIA approach will alleviate content inequities between schools so that students who take Spanish One in School A, for example, will be able to enter School B prepared and ready to learn the same information in the new school.

Many of the NWAR schools have already initiated the TIA program. Foreign language teachers in NWAR began working on this process back in the winter and spring. I participated in one of the workshops last April, and the knowledge I gained helped me implement techniques for writing learning objectives in my summer methods class, Special Methods of Teaching Foreign Language.

Possibility and Potential
Are Tempered by Apprehension.

Reflecting on my colleagues and their students during that first week, I began to hear the call of unlimited possibility and potential — feelings that were tempered by a touch of apprehension brought on by the responsibilities inherent in any profession.

Because another of my responsibilities is Chair of District III, one of five districts in the Arkansas Foreign Language Teachers Association (AFLTA), the beginning of the school year means planning for the Fall Conference and Spring Festival. Our team of organizers meets every two or three weeks to plan the program and menus, organize presenters, contact our teachers with registration and proposal information, update the website, contact sponsors for donations, and purchase materials and supplies.

This year’s conference is Friday, November 14, at the Jones Center for Families in Springdale. Our keynote speaker is Associate Professor Emerita, Dr. Margaret Clark, a prominent supporter of world languages in our state. We expect close to 100 participants for this one-day event. We also have eight concurrent sessions planned, including separate immersion sessions for French, German, and Spanish. Conference attendees receive six hours of professional development and the chance to meet and visit with other language teachers in our 33 county districts.

At the state level of AFLTA, we attend two board meetings a year, one in September and one in April, to address concerns and issues related to our profession. The board consists of all state officers, five district chairs, and the presidents of the national language associations:   the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF), the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG), the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP), and the American Classical League (ACL). Meetings are held in Little Rock at the University of Arkansas Little Rock.

Always Looking for Ways
To Be a Better Classroom Teacher.

Each of the national language associations holds their annual meeting at various times of the year, often in association with the state or district conferences. I belong to the AATG, whose president, Shelley Lumpkin, happens to be one of my mentor teachers. The state meeting, held in September at her school in Springdale, featured a two-hour presentation by Tam Stassen and President Lumpkin on “Effective Strategies for the German Classroom.” We weren’t allowed to sit still, practicing the strategies with one another to further understanding of how and why they will be effective in the classroom. I’ve already taken two of their ideas and practiced them with my students. What a productive morning!

After an immersion luncheon in German, Professor Elizabeth Bridges from Hendrix College in Conway and Professor Jennifer Hoyer from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville guided us through a fascinating session about how to use art and music in the German classroom with a connection to German text and culture. We were given art materials to share with a partner. As we listened to three different selections of music, we painted impressions on our “canvas.” We chose our best example to share with our partner, using targeted vocabulary from five thematic groups: shapes, colors, emotions, objects, and associations.

grammar Our next assignment involved cultural expectations and assumptions. We listened to a musical selection and had to identify its country of origin. This led to discussion of a short text on multiculturalism in Germany and how we could use the text to teach grammar. I love grammar — grammar in any language — because it relates to the fascinating concept of fluency versus form. I also realize that students won't share that appreciation if grammar is presented with drills and worksheets. But they do appreciate it when they can engage grammar in a meaningful way. Dr. Hoyer’s presentation gave us the opportunity to discuss our opinions on a sometimes arcane topic toward the goal of fluid conversation.

German is the third most popular world language offered in Arkansas public schools in terms of student enrollment. We currently have 26 AATG members in Arkansas, down from 43 in 2001. At the national level, AATG has lost one-third of its membership since 1993-94. The remaining few of us continue to promote the study of German and urge our undergraduates to consider teaching German as a rewarding profession. The challenge to inspire students to study languages, especially less commonly taught languages, calls all language professionals to be vigilant in promoting the benefits of learning a second language, which include higher scores on standardized tests and increased awareness and understanding of other cultural beliefs and practices.

Although German has a limited following in Arkansas, Spanish is increasingly popular. Public schools have seen an unprecedented rise in students whose first language is not English – and in most cases, that first language is Spanish. In Northwest Arkansas, many elementary schools have over 60 per cent of students who are English language learners. In this setting, teachers are responsible for teaching content — math, science, social studies, language arts — in addition to helping their students learn to speak, read, and write in English.

Opportunities Abound
To Learn ESL Methodology.

This is problematic because most teachers have not had training in teaching English as a second language (ESL). To help overcome this problem, classes in ESL methodology for in-service teachers and pre-service teacher candidates are provided through Project Teach Them All, the ESL Academy, and the ESL endorsement courses at the University.

At the state level, the Arkansas chapter of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ARKTESOL) holds a conference each fall. I attended the conference at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro on October 10. Over 200 teachers from Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri attended the one-day event.

The plenary speaker, Dr. Pattie Davis-Wiley, professor of World Languages and ESL Education at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, provided three hours of professional development that included second language acquisition, cultural awareness models, and techniques and strategies for teaching ESL in the classroom. The afternoon sessions targeted differentiated instruction, vocabulary acquisition, literacy and assessment concerns, technology, student placement, endorsement opportunities, and concerns for teaching ESL at the tertiary level.

After the plenary session, participants adjourned for a catered lunch of delicious Delta-style barbecue. I sat with my former colleagues in ESL from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. The program there has grown to over 150 students and 20 faculty. My former director, Lynn Ramage Schaefer, introduced me to the new director, Cecelia Hitte, and several new instructors. It was a joy to catch up with old friends Lisa Carmack, Meredith Kemper, and Sera Streiff-Vena. They were enthusiastic about the expansion of their Intensive English Program.

Lynn and Meredith led the afternoon session, “ARKTESOL: What’s in It for Higher Education?” When ARKTESOL was revived in 1995, the impetus came from tertiary educators. In the last few years, the focus has shifted to elementary educators, who have been inundated with English language learners. Those of us in higher education remain committed to sharing our challenges and successes with our peers at the state level, too, so the session discussion revolved around how we could become more active in ARKTESOL.

The success of Lynn and Meredith’s session, the camaraderie found in greeting many colleagues across the state, including a surprise encounter with Maureen Harness, my Praxis III trainer in 2005, who is now working as a textbook representative, cheered my spirits for the hour’s drive from Jonesboro back to Brandywine Island on the Mississippi River. I was back on home turf.

first grade

Researching School Language
In the Land of My Upbringing.

I grew up in Mississippi County a few miles from the Great River on the Arkansas side of Memphis. My trip to the Jonesboro conference also opened an opportunity to further my research into academic, or school language. What better place to gather data than in the land of my upbringing. I arranged a visit to Wilson Elementary School for two days while staying with family on Brandywine Island.

Being a professional also includes contributions to the knowledge base of my content area. One of my research projects is focused on how first-grade teachers use the language of school. The project began when I found abundant evidence for use of this special discourse by observing a master teacher in action at a Fayetteville Elementary School. Next I traveled to Broken Bow, Oklahoma, to observe another first grade class, where I charted how school language was employed there.

The first grade class at Wilson provided another opportunity to find evidence that school language is used extensively, even in the earliest grades of instruction. Exciting stuff! Why? I posit that teachers can be given strategies to help students acquire this special discourse at an early age. Learning the language of school as early as the first grade can help students from culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) backgrounds improve their literacy skills. In the long run, test scores improve and retention increases. It’s a winning formula for everyone.


Professionalism requires service to your community, too. I serve as co-counselor for Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), a national educational honor society for students, and first Vice-President of Delta Kappa Gamma (DKG), an international women’s educational honor society. Both organizations meet monthly to offer professional development and service opportunities for members. In October, KDP members participated in a literacy event by reading Halloween stories at the Farmington Public Library. Delta Kappa Gamma hosted a public event, “Educational Actions,” at the Fayetteville Public Library, which brought together university professors and community leaders to inform the public about their research to improve public school education.

I am very fortunate to be so actively involved in a profession that serves others. My students teach me as much or more than I teach them. We learn from one another, and we strive to pass on our knowledge to those who follow us.

From pre-school classrooms to doctoral seminars, my colleagues are committed and passionate about education, learning, and teaching. The gift of public education cannot be underestimated. Without an educated populace, a nation is doomed to struggle for parity in all aspects of existence.

Living life as a professional educator is a grave responsibility with immeasurable rewards. The timeless flow of teaching, meeting, presenting, organizing, research, and writing creates a link between the professional educator and representatives from every sector of our culture. We are the conduit uniting an audience of diverse backgrounds with one common goal: education for everybody. We share a spirit of altruism reflecting who we are as a nation — E pluribus Unum — out of many, one — one educated populace.

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