Teaching Statement

be something new

Statement of Purpose

explaining a personal desire to teach

My desire to teach dates back to volunteering as a tutor in elementary and high school. Though I attach several motivations to teaching, the excitement of shared discovery in the classroom inspires me. When students realize their capacities for creativity and discovery, the passion to learn that takes hold provides a reward beyond measure. Guiding future and current K-12 educators, my enthusiasm for learning and technology indirectly affects young students I might never meet. Ideally, my students learn to question assumptions about teaching, technology, and the future. If the educators I mentor approach technology with healthy skepticism, then I contributed something positive to the discipline of teaching.

Education and Poverty

As a student, I encountered economic and social biases. As a professor years later, I witness educators from a variety of backgrounds unconsciously express these same biases. My desire to teach embodies a response to these experiences. My family lives in Central California, a region the Brookings Institute described as “disconnected islands of concentrated poverty.” In a 2005 study, Katrina’s Window: Confronting Concentrated Poverty Across America, by Alan Berube and Bruce Katz, Fresno compared unfavorably to New Orleans.  Sadly, the report cited the Fresno region for higher income disparity and greater poverty than any U. S. metropolitan region. The student populations for which I advocate include large numbers of immigrants and children of immigrants, most from impoverished backgrounds. The demographics of Ivanhoe, the small town in which I attended elementary school, explain my sensitivity to issues of educational access:

Ivanhoe California
Census Data as of 2008

Population 5,100
Ethnicity Hispanic 72.6%
School Population Hispanic 98%
Poverty 40%
Individual Income (2000) $9,000
Household Income (2007) $30,000

As of 2004, a mere 12 percent of Tulare County residents earned a four-year college degree or better, compared to 27 percent of all Californians. In Ivanhoe, the number of college graduates measured “insignificant” according to state data. The only college graduates with whom students interact with daily might be their teachers.

Personal Experiences

My appreciation for the possibilities of computers and new media technologies to help marginalized students originates from personal experience. Raised in a low-income household, I struggled as a student. During my early years in elementary school, reading and writing presented obstacles. I received speech therapy and other supports, with little success.

We moved as I entered the second grade. At my new elementary school, the teacher referred me to an educational resource specialist. Fortuitously, this specialist’s passions included an interested in computers and their potential for personalized academic remediation. He used an Atari 800 computer to assist with my reading and writing development. My parents and grandparents became enthusiastic supporters of my newfound academic successes. By middle school, my extended family scraped together the money to buy one of the earliest home computers for me. Technology became the key to my academic success. I eventually took honors courses in high school and earned a university scholarship. Other marginalized students deserve similar opportunities.

Early experiences influenced my belief that technologies can enhance learning and ultimately enable upward mobility. Computers enabled my academic and professional success; technology can do the same for others. However, as an instructor and researcher, I remain wary of adopting technologies without first exploring the pedagogical implications.

In addition to the social and academic isolation they experience, first-generation university students face alienating technologies. Students often find technology and digital communities barriers to participation, instead of empowering tools for communication. The nature of student concerns became apparent to me as an instructor at California State University, Fresno. Three students in my First Year Composition course apologetically approached me with printed versions of papers they were asked to submit online. When I inquired about their struggles, one student said she had little experience with networks and found the language and layout too confusing to navigate. Because of poor technology implementation, this student was experiencing the alienation and isolation I endured before my introduction to computers.

These professional experiences compelled me to rethink assumptions about technology and its implementation in the university environment. I initiated ethnographic research designed to formulate strategies to reduce or remove the barriers presented by the situational interface of Blackboard. I learned from my students, as they learned from me. Conducting interviews with first-year university students, I discovered that situational user interfaces represent good theories in flawed practice. Situational interfaces deviate from standards in response to perceived “situational” needs. Unfortunately, such deviations from standards complicate learning—even when the standards are problematic.

Empowerment

I remain committed to teaching with technology, helping students develop a digital literacy that serves them well in our global society. My teaching expresses a belief in the essential roles of knowledge and creativity in overcoming poverty and social disparities. Teachers must believe their students possess limitless potential; students are sensitive to teacher attitudes. Not a naïve idealist, I appreciate barriers to class mobility exist. Education provides a necessary foundation for intellectual, social, and, yes, vocational self-improvement. I do not suggest that we promote materialism to motivate students. We must demonstrate to students that knowledge and creativity give them the tools to change both their personal situations and social conditions as a whole.

Links

One Class at a Time

Changing lives occurs one class at a time. I try to focus on the students in my classes at this moment because their needs and expectations are unique. Every class has its own dynamic, which I try to appreciate actively. Comparing classes can be useful in research, but that is not the best way to approach people.