‘Thank you for your service’

I still haven’t gotten used to hearing it.

Thank you,” people tell me when I mention that I left a 30-plus year career in journalism to become a public school teacher.

They say it in a tone typically used when thanking armed services members for their sacrifices.

But don’t feel like I’m making a sacrifice. I’m excited. It’s the kind of excitement that college students feel when they finally discover their heart’s desire and start planning a new life direction.

I am following my own heart’s desire. I hope to be in a public school classroom – teaching secondary Spanish – by August.

I loved my long career as a newspaper reporter and editor at The Arizona Republic. I won awards, traveled, met fascinating people and, at times, helped readers solve problems or better understand our complicated world. But it’s time to do something new.

Education has always been my topic

Education is a topic I have written about on and off since my days as a student journalist at Ohio State. But while it was my topic, but it was not my favorite until a few years ago.

Like many newspaper reporters I attended countless state and local school board meetings and listened to discussions student discipline policies and the latest standardized test scores. I know. Yawn.

But then, about four years ago, Common Core began to come up at board meetings.  Although reading about new academic standards was a bit dry, Common Core itself was revolutionary – and controversial.  The plan was to replace old academic guidelines that the Arizona’s old AIMS multiple-guess test was based on. And that made traditionalists nervous and angry. Some fascinating meetings ensued.

The core of my decision

I got even more interested in teaching after visiting some Common Core classrooms to see new brain-based ways of teaching.

In Kyrene de la Esperanza Elementary School teacher Marcia Middleton’s class, I watched second graders learn division by playing with coins and making change. Not a dull moment at the white board all morning.

In Mesa Red Mountain High School teacher Keiko Dilbeck’s class, I watched ninth grade English students flip through magazines to figure out whether ads for pet treats or cereal were meant to appeal emotion, authority or logic — pathos, ethos and logos. Again, not a second of boring lecture.

And, although, Spanish is not what educators refer to as a “core” subject, I also was impressed by something called “flipped instruction” in Mesa Mountain View High School teacher Ryan Norton’s second-year Spanish class. I have a BA and an MA in Spanish and have had some pretty great instructors along the way.

But I had never seen any high school Spanish class as fun and fast-paced as Norton’s. Students prepare the night before by watching 10-minute videos that introduce new vocabulary or grammar. Then in class, students play games, sing songs and compete in contests to practice what they have learned.

A buy-out helped me take the plunge

The more new teaching methods I observed, the more interested I was. Interested, that is, in trying teaching myself. I longed to join this new movement of teachers who do more than just stand in front of a white board and hope kids absorb 10 or 20 percent of a lecture.  I spent a few months researching what it would take. And when the newspaper offered buyouts to long-term staffers last fall, I was prepared to take the plunge.

I’ve enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teacher education program at Rio Salado College. So far, the classes have been fascinating. This term, one of my textbooks is titled Brain-Based Learning: The New Paradigm of Teaching.

“The brain does not learn on demand by a school’s rigid, inflexible schedule,” author Eric Jensen writes. “It has its own rhythms. If you want to maximize learning, you first need to understand how nature’s engine runs.”

Please follow my blog

I’ve launched The Classroom Scoop to share information I am learning about the latest in education science – as well as my personal journey from the newsroom to the classroom. Along the way, I will also share links to what I am reading about education news and policy – and more.

I hope you will join me by following The Classroom Scoop. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please email me at cathryncreno@gmail.com .

— Cathryn Creno

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