Profile of Catherine Box, Instructor for Arts and Humanities ☆

What brought you to TC? Why did you want to study here?

Catherine Box with her children

Before TC, I had been teaching English at a high school in Paris. The school I was working in considered me an expert on teaching English simply because I was a native English speaker. In fact, as time went on, I realized that I knew nothing about teaching English to students who did not speak English as a first language. Because I loved what I did, I wanted to go back to school so that I could better serve this type of student. Also, I worked in an urban school that was viewed asunderperforming, in which many students did not speak French as their first language, which led to obstacles in performing well on exit examinations. There was also considerable resistance on the part of the teachers– who were French, of European heritage– to the cultural values of the students, many of whom were from North Africa. For example, because French public school are secular, girls were required by law to remove head scarves before entering the school, which caused quite a bit of tension between parents, students, and teachers. I came to TC to learn more about language pedagogy, as well as issues of cultural and linguistic diversity.

What was your experience before becoming an EdD student? Why did you choose Applied Linguistics? Did you jump right into your graduate studies after undergrad?

I did jump into a graduate degree after undergrad, so I hold an M.A. in English literature in addition to my Ed.M. in Applied Linguistics. I came to TESOL/AL much later, though, after spending time in the field, both in the U.S. and in France. I decided to do my doctoral degree for one reason– Professor Leslie Beebe. I took her Discourse Analysis class in the spring of 2007 as a Master’s student, and I was hooked on studying interaction for the rest of my life!  That was one of the most exciting classes I had taken, at TC or anywhere else. The following semester, Sarah Creider (a fellow AL doctoral student) and I met with Leslie every week at her home or at her gym to discuss issues surrounding Discourse Analysis, not as an independent study, but just on our own time. Many years later, I am still hooked!

Tell us about your experience as an instructor, has it been hard balancing life as a student and an employee at TC?

I have taught quite a number of classes at TC, from ESL and French in the Community Language Program, to Academic Speaking for graduate students wishing to hone their speaking skills, to Discourse Analysis, and TESOL Classroom Practices and Integrated Skills Practicum for TESOL/AL students. It is quite difficult balancing it all– I wish I could lighten my load and move more quickly through the doctoral program. It would be nice to have increased funding opportunities, not just for new students, but for those who have given quite a lot to TC. In addition, I am the edTPA graduate assistant and have served as a supervisor in the TESOL K-12 Master’s Program. All of the experiences have been wonderful, but it has slowed me down as far as advancing in my research is concerned. Plus, I am raising two children in NYC, which is a job unto itself!

Tell us about your research

My research encompasses two strands: I study pedagogical interactions between English Language Learners (ELLs) and teachers. I have been interested in the many resources students use– their words, their bodies, and the materials in the environment– to express their engagement in the unfolding lesson.  My most recent work is centered around TESOL teacher training. My dissertation will be using discourse analysis to focus on the student teaching experience of the student, particularly in light of edTPA. I hope to explore how student teachers and their supervisors manage the competing demands of mentorship and evaluation, an agenda that has become more salient with the implementation of edTPA. I should say that I work with Hansun Waring in answering my research questions, with the hope that some of her brilliance will rub off on me!

What excites you about the field of education in our time? What concerns you?

At this point, the evaluations imposed on teachers– pre-service and in-service– has reached a tipping point. My pre-service teachers are extremely concerned about ‘passing’ edTPA, to the point that other conversations are taking back seats. My son’s wonderful preschool teacher, who has been teaching for 40 years, is lamenting that she feels she no longer has the time to crack open an acorn that the 4-year olds find on the way home from the park, because she is accountable to Common Core Standards. One of the wonderful cooperating teachers I met last year spoke about having to eliminate staging a mock trial for President Truman with regards to the decision to drop the atomic bombs in WWII– an innovative, creative, cross-disciplinary lesson plan she developed in collaboration with her English Language Learners, because she felt pressure to do more test preparation. These are the stories from the field, and they are discounted. Testing has always had its place, even the notion that we should have common standards across schools has its place, but we have gone way, way too far.

On the other hand, I see the M.A. students who are ready to tackle the challenges. I saw fabulous lesson plans from my students this year, despite the pressure to meet standards. I see my son’s preschool teacher who still manages to crack open that acorn, even if she knows she may meet disapproval. I see parents beginning to sound their voice. I am hopeful that the pendulum will swing back to center!

What are your goals for after-graduation?

Please. I am just trying to cobble together enough money to pay for next semester!