Why Curiosity in the Middle: Part II

Part II: Why Curiosity In the Middle -Becoming a Teacher

When I made the decision to make a career change and become a teacher, I decided to earn my Master’s in Teaching. I wanted to learn all I could about how other humans learn; I had become a relative expert on how my own brain works LOL. I was disappointed by how little neuroscience was incorporated into the coursework designed to teach us how humans learn; it didn’t seem that there was much progress in the ensuing decades between undergrad and this.

When I became a teacher, I anticipated focusing on teaching students to write well; I have always been a firm believer of the power of the written word. Then, I arrived to my first teaching job in a middle school in Chicago where 57 languages were spoken and was distressed at the high percentage of students who were not reading anywhere near grade level. I was immediately curious and began my journey down the rabbit hole of reading. I dug into reading research and spent lots of time with students, asking lots of questions about what was going on in their heads while they were reading. I asked myself and others lots of questions. I learned that reading proficiency is dramatically lower in English speaking countries – curious. I developed hypotheses (and instructional strategies), tried them, analyzed results with student reflection included, and repeated.

In 2006 my children were largely independent, I had survived cancer (the first of two times) and was curious about what I could learn about developing someone else’s reading abilities. It was my hope that based on legitimate neuroscience and cognitive science research, if I pursued my Ph.D., I would satisfy much of my curiosity. With the support of family and friends, I went for it. Through the process, I connected with the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society and some incredible scholars from Harvard; among these brilliant minds were Kurt Fischer, Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang, L.Todd Rose, and David H. Rose (more about them and their work in future posts). My curiosity fueled many long hours of doctoral work as I learned more and more about our marvelous, complex, dynamic and variable human brains and how we learn.

Along the way to earning my Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction focused on adolescent literacy, I was presented with an opportunity to move to Houston, Texas.  I was recruited to join the Monarch School and Institute, a place dedicated to serving individuals with neurological differences from Pre-K through adulthood. My curiosity won over my reluctance to move to Texas: I wondered what one could accomplish with and for some of the more neurologically complex people if one did not have to stay within the constraints of the state and public school bureaucracy. I was curious about which of those effective practices would be scalable and transferable to the public school domain, where most individuals with neurological differences are educated. I stayed five years, learning both from some incredible and fierce young adults about just how variable humans can be while still sharing so many basic human needs, and alongside other adults who were likewise fueled by curiosity about how best to serve these learners.

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