You Oughta Be in Pixels!
An electronic portfolio can capture the many facets of you
For all its bullet points and single-sentence descriptions, an old-fashioned paper resumé can only go so far in summing up the skills you possess and all you’ve accomplished so far. Don’t you wish you could show potential employers an archive of the work you’re most proud of, and even narrate your experiences to explain how they’ve changed you?
Many of your peers are choosing the second option, making education professionals early adaptors when it comes to creating electronic portfolios, a.k.a. e-portfolios or online portfolios.“It’s the new standard in education,” says Dr. Linda Hughes, Associate Professor of Teacher Education at Georgia Perimeter College.
Though many programs do not list the creation of an online portfolio as a course requirement (and Georgia Perimeter College does not), it is becoming increasingly popular, Hughes says.
If you’re thinking, “Isn’t an online portfolio just posting my cover letter and resumé online?,” the answer is no. First, an electronic portfolio may or may not be posted online; it could also be burned to a disc or simply live on your computer hard drive until you’re ready to share it.
But the crucial defining feature of an electronic portfolio is its content. Hughes says that at a minimum an e-portfolio should include an always-updated resumé, a teaching philosophy, education-related coursework, and a sample of other documents or artifacts, including notes from students, letters of recommendation from instructors and fieldwork supervisors, and any certificates earned.
And that’s just the minimum! Many students apply their technology skills to add appropriate graphics, narration, video, tags, and links.
Don’t wait until you’re about to start your job search to begin an e-portfolio. Hughes suggests that students start one as soon as they begin teacher education courses, so they don’t have to sift through old coursework later.
Knowing what not to include is as important as knowing what you should. “This isn’t the place to tell your personal life story,” Hughes says. Anything that’s not related to your career is better reserved for your Facebook or MySpace pages.
Dr. Kelly Russell, Assistant Professor of Education at Birmingham-Southern College, agrees: “Going too far would be including anything you wouldn’t tell an employer in a job interview,” she says.
Still, an e-portfolio should do something to communicate your personality to a potential employer. Both Russell and Hughes say including a professional picture can make your portfolio more memorable, “just make sure you have permission [in writing] if you’re including pictures of children from field work,” Russell warns.
Electronic portfolios are a curriculum requirement in Russell’s Introduction to Elementary Education course, which is mandatory for all education majors. Creating a portfolio at the beginning of students’ coursework gives them something to look back at and build on over their four years in the program, Russell says.
Russell emphasizes the same essential components that Hughes identifies. She also suggests that students include a reading log, listing books they’ve read for professional learning, pleasure, and any children’s books they have read recently.
The two professors offered several other tips to keep in mind as you build your portfolio:
- Be savvy if you’re looking for a company to design and host your portfolio. While there are plenty of reputable portfolio-building sites, some ensnare students in confusing schemes that charge hundreds of dollars. Check with an advisor or professor for recommendations.
- Presentation counts just as it would in a print portfolio; an e-portfolio should be visually clean, well-organized, and free of spelling and grammar errors.
- The time you invest in your portfolio is always worth it, since you’re reflecting on your school experience, your teaching philosophy, and your goals.
Classroom Connection: Excellence for All!
Some new teachers say their calling is in the country’s high-needs schools. Are you one of them?
By Nina Sears and Verania HammondEvery morning, third-year science teacher Ryan Massey (pictured below) looks forward to another invigorating day in the classroom--but first he stops by his mailbox, which some days he calls his “bad-news box.”
In addition to teaching an advanced-level science curriculum, Massey’s duties at McCluer South-Berkeley High School in Ferguson, Missouri, include monitoring reports of student fights, detentions, and suspensions.
While many of his students are extremely bright, they all attend a school that has been labeled “high-needs.”
High-needs schools are where the hardest battle to educate every student is fought, Massey notes, and these schools can be found anywhere--from rural towns to inner cities and yes, even in suburbs like Ferguson, which is only 12 miles from St. Louis.
High-needs schools don’t all have the same issues, but many have a student body with high percentages of: students who come from low-income families and single-parent households; students who are English Language Learners; and students testing below grade level.
In 2007 at McCluer South-Berkeley, 72 percent of its 726 students were eligible for discounted/free lunch.
In terms of test scores, last year only 8 percent of the students scored at or above proficiency in math, and only 12 percent scored at or above proficiency in communication arts.
To get a clearer picture of what these scores mean, the 2008 state average was 46 percent for math and 39 percent for communication arts.
Massey, who previously taught at an archdiocese, is wary of the label “high-needs,” noting that a lot of pejorative ideas about schools like his come from unfair stereotyping. He argues, “People tend to have misconceptions about schools like ours. . . just because there’s an extra one or two fights per year. My students are as good as, or better than, students I had before.”
Still, the school has reason to be concerned about students dealing with conflict at home or living in foster care, and that’s why it provides two counselors and two assistant principals (in addition to the head principal) for the relatively small student body.
Engaging the Challenge
Ryan Massey’s day immediately picks up with his energetic first-period physics class and ends on a high note with his advanced chemistry students. When he looks across his classroom, he sees intelligent, motivated, and enthusiastic learners.
Because Massey teaches more advanced subjects, he has smaller classes, which makes them, by definition, more manageable.
He knows he’s lucky. But Massey isn’t here just to teach magnetic field formulas and thermodynamics potentials; he’s an active member of his community.
Massey answered a calling to teach in a high-needs school, and he enthusiastically encourages future teachers who have similar aspirations.
It is crucial, he says, to maintain a commitment to excellence in everything you (the new teacher) do daily--both inside and outside the classroom. This internal resolve, he notes, will carry you from one success to the next.
Every day, Massey says, he sees potential in his students, and their desire to succeed keeps him motivated. Massey explains, “If a teacher feels confident and has a plan, there’s no reason to not go right in and teach.”
New teachers can also better tackle the challenges of working in a high-needs school by learning the environment. Sherick Hughes, a professor of curriculum and development at the University of Maryland’s College of Education, believes it “is really important for new teachers to spend some time getting to know the community, so that they can at least begin to validate [their students’] experiences.”
Understanding where students live--both literally and figuratively--can help new teachers create the most productive learning environments.
The Bottom Line
Experts and teachers alike say persistence, flexibility, and resourcefulness are critical traits for new teachers looking to work in high-needs schools. They must also believe in the capacity of all children to meet high standards.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the paperwork, resources, and whatever else needs to be done,” Massey says. “The main thing is to focus on the kids as individuals and understand where they’re coming from. That’s really what teaching is.”
A few words of wisdom …
Still considering working in a high-needs school? Here are some tips from those who were in your place not too long ago!
Stand tall at the head of the class
“I was terrified of students walking all over me,” says Becky Schubkegel, a second-year teacher who spent her first year teaching highest-needs students in Columbia, Missouri. She suggests establishing specific boundaries and outlining unambiguous consequences for unacceptable behavior--whether that’s fighting in class or failing to turn in homework--right away.
In establishing her own status quo, she was able to take “emotions out of the picture and forge a contract.”
Establish a rapport (while maintaining your professionalism!)Ryan Massey knows how to balance professionalism with camaraderie, and establishing a rapport with even the most overbearing of students can be a major plus. Massey plays to their strengths. “They’re going to help you control the class,” Massey says. “The kids with reputations [for being alpha dogs] will tell everyone else to be quiet without me asking them to do that. Bring them on board, and pretty much everyone else will follow.” Of course, an atmosphere of mutual respect is key.
Ask for help
If there is something you don’t know or understand, be proactive and ask for help from someone with more experience. Although fifth-year teacher Ariel Sacks had a formal mentorship program at her first school, she sought extra help from her college mentor.
“Try to watch how good teachers teach and pick their brains,” Sacks says. “Teaching is a career that takes a lifetime to master. Be hungry for things that work for other people.”