Nancy Broadley is a recently retired teacher who spent the last two years using the Reasoning Mind Foundations program at Ranson Elementary in West Virginia. Because Nancy was such a stellar educator, we sat down with her during her final semester to learn more about her thoughts on education and career as a teacher. What got her started in education? What are things she wishes more people understood about teaching? What are her plans for retirement?
You’ll find the answers to those questions and more in the interview below.
Why don’t you start by telling us about your background in education? When did you start teaching, and what made you decide to become a teacher?
I started teaching in 1980, when I was in high school. I was in the college prep path my senior year, but I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. My mother was teaching at a regional school for handicapped children, and there was a teacher there who was deaf, and he was offering a sign language course. My mother signed me up for the sign language course at the community college; I took that during my senior year. I still didn’t apply to college or anything, and at the end of the course, the teacher – his name was Fred – offered me a teacher’s aide position at the school. So I graduated high school, and I became a teacher’s aide for the deaf and hard of hearing.
One of the teachers I worked with – her name was Debbie Elliot – she saw that I had promise, and she told me I needed to go to college. So she and the other people at the school picked my college and got me there. (laughs) My undergraduate degree is in Elementary Education, and Sociology, and then I have a Master’s in Deaf Education. So I started teaching children with hearing losses in Pre-K through high school.
What are some things you wish more people understood about teaching?
I feel the general population doesn’t really know what a teacher’s job entails. You know, we don’t really get to just go home and enjoy our evening, because there’s always planning to do, and lessons to prepare, and papers to grade…there’s a lot of work that people don’t think of. A lot of people think teachers get summers off, but a teacher who’s worth her salt will go to classes and do workshops in the summer. Our day never ends and our year never ends, and I don’t think people really understand that. They don’t think there’s a lot of work that goes into it.
It’s sad that people feel that way about teachers. I like the concept that Finland has, because there, they think of teaching as the most important career. That’s the way they think as a nation. And I think we need to adopt that view to draw more great people into teaching. So many of our young people, they don’t want to be teachers, because…weeeeell, you don’t get paid much. “Why should I do that?” I think that’s really sad. We need to draw more skilled people into the profession. And then reward them financially for the work they do.
“A lot of people think teachers get summers off, but a teacher who’s worth her salt will go to classes and do workshops in the summer. Our day never ends and our year never ends, and I don’t think people really understand that. They don’t think there’s a lot of work that goes into it.”
Teaching definitely seems to be an under-respected profession in the U.S.
It really is. I saw something on Facebook recently that said something like, “Why as a nation should we be so surprised at our lack of educational progress, when we demonize teachers, and we don’t support them, and we’re always flipping what their goals should be?” You know, I think it starts with the attitude of the nation. Our attitude towards education needs to change if education is going to really do what it needs to do for students.
Because of the lack of respect there is for the teaching profession, do you think we sometimes don’t trust teachers on the issues we should?
Well, most state school systems are controlled by state legislatures. The people on those tend to be very intelligent, well-educated people, but they don’t have the experiences people need to understand how things will work in the classroom. So they might think something sounds great and say, “Oh, yeah, this would be really great for the kids in our state!” And then they mandate it – and sometimes it doesn’t get properly financed – and in the end we’re doing something when we really don’t know if it’s going to work or not.
You know, education is one area where we always do our trial testing live. It’s not like we can have a sample group of non-students and test on them. So we jump on bandwagons. We’ll say, “Let’s try this!” and four years down the road we say, “Well, that didn’t work out well.” We seem to do a lot of that in education. “Let’s try this, everybody!” Everyone tries it, and it doesn’t work. Meanwhile, you have four years of students at this grade level who don’t have the skills they need to succeed.
Do you have an idea of how many years it takes to really test whether something works in schools?
That’s what’s hard in education. I think a lot of people have great ideas, but I think we have to keep what works, and add things, instead of throwing things out and always starting with something totally new. Unfortunately, that’s what happens. A new thought comes through, someone develops it, the textbook companies grab onto it, and then you’re stuck with six years – or maybe twelve years if you don’t have any money for a new adoption series – you’re stuck with something that doesn’t help the children develop the skills they need. That’s actually one reason I like Reasoning Mind.
“I love how Reasoning Mind is so accepting of teachers’ suggestions. It’s always evolving, too, and I think that’s fabulous.”
Do you want to say more about that?
I love how Reasoning Mind is so accepting of teachers’ suggestions. It’s always evolving, too, and I think that’s fabulous. You know, we’re working with a math series now that was out-of-date with the testing cycles within a year of us adopting it. So we were grabbing at straws, trying to find something that would work for us – and Reasoning Mind was honestly one of those straws we grasped at. But I’m so glad we did. It really evolves with the kids, and it’s been absolutely amazing.
You know, when you adopt a textbook, you go through this process where you listen to the vendors and they talk about their programs and what they have available, and then you vote as a school to get a certain program. And then you have one big meeting at the beginning of the year to learn everything (which isn’t nearly enough time). Well, Jacob – the Reasoning Mind Implementation Coordinator we had for our school – he really helped us succeed during that beginning stage. I love, love Jacob. I love that Reasoning Mind has that person you can rely on. For a while I thought Jacob might have been the exception, he was so responsive to us, and so supportive. But then I went to Reasoning Mind’s conference, GenieCon, in October, and I saw that there were other school districts that had their version of Jacob, and they had that great relationship with their Implementation Coordinator, too, and I thought, “Wow. If textbook companies could do this, that would be really nice!” I love that about Reasoning Mind, that we’re not just given a program and told, “Okay, make it work, people!” and if you have a problem you get an, “Oh…sorry!”
Can you give another example of something Jacob has done that’s been really helpful?
Well, you know, I’m not a tech person. In the training session with Jacob and Michaela (another Reasoning Mind Implementation Coordinator), I started out thinking, “What have I gotten myself into.” Because my tech skills are so poor, I was lagging behind everyone else. But I started working on it, and with Jacob there, I never felt like I could fail at this, because of the support Reasoning Mind had in place for the program.
And you know, like I said, we started out thinking of this as a straw we were grasping at, because our scores had dropped so horribly the previous year. But with Reasoning Mind our students kept getting better and better. The best thing was like the first day of the test. One student said, “I can do this! This is just like Reasoning Mind!” And then when we got our scores, it was like, “Oh, yes!” And this year we know more, we’re delving into more, and we’ve been working with Jacob to help give kids more preparation with some of the earlier material and learning how to set up their math journals.
And man, the kids are flying. I have one who’s going to finish the entire curriculum probably this week, and Beth has two students who have finished with the third grade curriculum. So you know we’re really soaring this year. More kids are trying more advanced problems – sometimes they’ll still get the C-level problems wrong, but they’ll try. I’m really excited and I really can’t wait for testing to start. Well…okay, that’s a lie. (laughs) But I feel like the kids have a bit more practice with the test this year; the state’s provided more practice. And the kids are saying, “Okay, yeah, I’ve got this.” I’m really hoping with everything we’ve done, it’s going to make a difference on the tests. And it’s made a difference with the kids. They’re amazing, with the things they say and do. It’s been really fun.
Students studying with Reasoning Mind programs keep detailed and organized notes.
Are there any other things of value that Reasoning Mind has added to the day-to-day life in your classroom?
Having to keep a notebook or a journal makes the kids much more thoughtful about whether they write things down and how they figure things out. Are their journals perfect? No. But they’re doing better, and they realize the importance of being able to look back through their notes for information. And you know, that’s a skill that they need. The new testing cycle has them note-taking and drawing on what they have down, and I think that’s really valuable.
My kids love getting points, they love shopping, they love the games. And I love rewarding them for doing the right thing. The Wall of Mastery is good – having my students get that exposure to more advanced problems, even if they don’t get them in the regular lesson, is great. I love that even when students get those problems wrong, Reasoning Mind teaches them what the process they should use is. And then they give them a similar problem, so they can try out that process right away. It really makes students learn from their mistakes.
This year, I had a child who was struggling in a concept, and eventually he said, “Ms. Broadley, this stuff isn’t in my notebook.” And I realized that Reasoning Mind had moved him back to a second grade skill and was walking him through that process. And after he’d gotten that skill, it sent him back to the third grade level and let him try that material again. After that happened, that kid has just taken off. Reasoning Mind took a gap he had in his learning and filled it so that he could succeed at his grade level. As a teacher, I kind of knew he was lacking there, but I didn’t know exactly where to take him. And Reasoning Mind took him there. I love that Reasoning Mind has the ability to do that.
“Reasoning Mind took a gap [my student] had in his learning and filled it so that he could succeed at his grade level. As a teacher, I kind of knew he was lacking there, but I didn’t know exactly where to take him. And Reasoning Mind took him there. I love that Reasoning Mind has the ability to do that.”
Is Reasoning Mind something you would recommend to other districts?
Actually, I already have. I did that when our school met with the Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools. I was the spokesperson at that time, and I talked a lot about it and the board members asked a lot of questions. You know, we’re in a budget crunch right now, but our superintendent says if the data supports it we’ll always try to do it. A lot of other schools are interested, we just live in a world where there are budget constraints. I would definitely tell people that it is meeting the needs of kids and it really does help them develop mathematically.
So, retirement. What are your plans?
Well, I would really like to spend more time with my mother, so I’ll be visiting her in New Jersey. Besides that…I used to paint a lot, and I’d love to start again. I belong to a book club, and I’m a bit behind in my reading for that, so I plan to finish all of my required books. I’ll do some traveling. I’m not really worried about what I’m going to do – there’s a lot of stuff I’m looking forward to having more time for. And you know, I still have some great friends here at Ranson, so I’ll probably come back here and volunteer some. I’ll miss Ranson. And Reasoning Mind will be something I’ll miss, too, because I’ve loved the experience of using it so much.
We’ll miss you too, Nancy! Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed, and on behalf of the entire Reasoning Mind team: best wishes on your retirement!