After spending time teaching for the Department of Defense Schools on military bases overseas, Elisha Brookover, Ed.M.'09, wanted a deeper understanding of effective teaching in literacy. Whenever she had a struggling student, it only pushed her to try even harder. "I had to just keep trying keys until something worked. I came to the Ed School because I wanted to learn how the lock worked. I wanted to be able to use my keys better, and even craft my own keys when necessary," she says.
"Elisha respectfully listens to the opinions of others while contributing her own insightful comments in an understated yet engaging way," says Lecturer Pamela Mason, director of Language and Literacy Program (L&L). "Classmates appreciate Elisha's ability to push others' thinking by debating ideas and wrestling with difficult concepts, and her keen intellect always raises the level of the discussion. Elisha is a passionate educator, caring about the implications of instruction on her students and about the learning of her classmates."
Having spent most of her life overseas, Brookover hopes to return to teaching for the Department of Defense Schools, which she considers home. However, she would equally love to work as a literacy coach, run a schoolwide writing center, or develop a program to bring children's and young adult librarians to military bases. Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for L&L, Brookover answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.
What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education?
The fact that the answer is usually "both." Is reform best done grassroots or top-down? Both. Are unions a help or an obstacle? Both. Phonics or whole language? Both. Any time someone is too confident that one answer is absolutely correct, I get suspicious - it's always much more nuanced than the sound-bites would have you believe.
Is there any professor who significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?
Professor [Richard] Elmore's phrases seem to come up a lot when I'm thinking about my next moves. I'm much more conscious of "actionable data" and my "theory of action" and "coherence" now. After taking his class, I'm much less likely to say, "Teachers need to do X," and more likely to ask, "How will teachers learn to do X?" It's a more productive way of thinking about school improvement.
How did you stay inspired throughout the year?
My husband Jake is also getting his Ed.M. this year, which helped a lot. There were so many times one of us would come home and say, "guess what I learned about today," and talking about it would rejuvenate both of us. I feel so lucky to have a partner who shares my core interest in education, but also has amazing depth and passion in a field I don't know much about (technology in education). We're constantly teaching and learning from each other and batting around ideas. I also kept in touch with my teacher friends. Any day I was feeling stressed, chatting with them quickly reminded me - grad school is much easier than teaching!
What advice do you have for next year's students going through your program?
My advice for students in any program is not to be too tied to your program! If it seems interesting, even if it's not "useful" for your resume, or not what you thought you came here for, go for it. I loved working with people who were as passionate about their specialties as I am about mine; it's energizing to hear where tech is heading, or why arts are crucial, or what neuroscience has found. Taking classes with "those policy people" or "the leadership folks" gave me new perspectives on my own field, too. Get out of your comfort zone and see what everyone else is up to - it will make your time here even richer.
If you could change one thing about education today, what would it be and why?
I'd make teaching a real profession. There's never one answer or one solution that will "fix education," but improving teacher quality would be a great step in the right direction. If teachers were trained like professionals, expected to approach their practice like professionals, and paid like professionals, maybe the phrase "just a teacher" would no longer be part of our culture. More qualified people would be attracted to and willing to stay in teaching if it were more professionalized.
2009 Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award Recipients
Suzannah Holsenbeck, TEP
Elisha Brookover, L&L'09
Mangala Nanda, IEP'09
Andrew Cabot, SS'09
Nancy Schoolcraft, MBE'09
Joe Baker, EPM'09
Kathy Yang, L&T'09
Angelica Brisk, AIE'09
Melissa Mayes, R&P'09
Jerome "Jay" Green, HDP'09
Ashton Wheeler Clemmmons, SLP'09
Terri-Nicole Singleton, TIE'09
Emily Almas, HE'09