A CONVERSATION WITH MONIQUE DATTA
Monique Datta EdD ’10, one of Rossier’s newest faculty members, is utilizing her 14 years of practical experience as a teacher and six years as a curriculum expert with the Hawaii Department of Education, to prepare the next generation of teachers. Through the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Rossier, she is helping make curriculum dynamic and applicable from the laptop to the blackboard.
We spoke to her at the beginning of this semester.
Can you share a little about the transition from being an EdD student, now teaching future educators? You have an extensive background in teaching, but how do you see your role now compared to other teaching experiences?
MD: For me, the transition seemed very natural. I have spent approximately 14 years in K-12 classrooms teaching a variety of student types; from at-risk students in a residential program to a Los Angeles private parochial school to urban students in a South Carolina public school for those who had been expelled from schools in their districts. My last classroom assignment here on Oahu was teaching 8th grade Language Arts to students on the fringes of urban Honolulu. From there, I transitioned to the state curriculum office as the Language Arts resource teacher, developing Common Core implementation plans and curriculum. But for the last six years of my time with the Hawaii DOE, I was also a part-time professor at a local university teaching undergraduate bachelors of education students. With the completion of my EdD, I joined USC Master of Arts in Teaching program. So really, my core mission has not really changed. That mission is to positively impact how students learn and are taught in the classroom. I see teaching K-12 students and teaching future K-12 teachers as two sides of the same coin.
How has your experience been teaching in the online MAT? Do you see the future of education going exclusively in that direction?
MD: There is a definite national trend toward online education in higher ed as well as in K-12. But I think we need to be careful. Asynchronous online education, which I have done at the undergrad level at another university, has its place. But it depends on the needs of the student, the type of curriculum and the values of the institution. That is one of the key strengths I see in the MAT. While everything is done online we still value the important role that face-to-face interaction plays in education, albeit virtually. This is one of the factors that attracted me to what the Rossier School is doing. For me, that interaction with my students is what I value most in teaching, whether it is in an 8th grade classroom or with a graduate or doctoral student.. It is partly a factor of how technology is changing the way we, as a society, gather information and communicate with each other rather than a change in how we learn. As long as we continue to value teaching and learning above a particular technology, I think that the innovative use of technology as a tool can be a positive thing. What technology lets us do is reach out to a wider range of students with educational needs that are different than those of 10 or 20 years ago. Equally important is the opportunity technology can give us to add different methods of teaching to our repertoire. It is multi-dimensional learning and instruction. It is a very exciting and innovative time in online education. I am eager to see what technology has in store for us next!
Another thing I love about the online MAT program is the diversity of our students. Right now in my online classes I have students from across the U.S. but also students in China, Sweden, and Costa Rica.
What experiences in and out of the EdD program have shaped your teaching philosophy?
MD: The Rossier EdD program taught me to view issues from a wide array of lenses. I went into the program with my own perceptions and experiences, but came out with a much broader understanding of the K-16 pipeline. Listening and discussing the experiences of others with the reading, writing, and research required in the program truly expanded my philosophy of education especially in terms of the importance of diversity, equity, and access. Prior to the EdD program I had a rather linear view of education, but the EdD program made me realize that education is a multi-faceted institution and that a “one size fits all approach” is limiting and inappropriate.
What motivates you to get up each day and engage your students? What do you see as your life mission?
MD: As a former secondary teacher, I remember the challenges I faced in the classroom on a daily basis. What motivates me is knowing that through my own experiences and knowledge I can help my teacher candidates be prepared, confident and excited about becoming a teacher. I want them to have the skills and resources needed to not only be an effective teacher, but a teacher that will make a positive difference in the lives of all of their students. Teaching is the most important job on the planet and I feel honored to be given this opportunity to help support our teacher candidates.
Educators are constantly inundated with research data, often left to their own interpretation and application. How do you bridge research to practice?
MD: I get this question from my higher education students all the time. When I was pursuing my master’s I was already in the K-12 classroom and I admit to asking myself this same question. Sometimes it just felt that we were learning theories and evaluating research that was somehow not really related to the practicalities of teaching six classes a day with 30 or more students in each. Add to that the requirements placed on the teachers by the state and federal government, in addition to the practical necessities of classroom management, and it could seem like there was no time to directly apply what I was learning to what felt like my daily chaos. But what I learned, often through my mentor teachers and professors, was that this is really not the case. What research teaches us is that amidst that chaos there are always opportunities to apply theory and data-backed research to everyday practice. But when you have a moment to step back and reflect on what is or is not working in your classroom through the lens of research and theory, it is amazing how you can see the relationships and inform your own practice.
New teachers often learn by trial and error. We get our teaching credentials and step into a room full of children of different skill levels, backgrounds, fears and aspirations. And our first instinct is to just try and survive the first term. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I would be willing to guess that every mistake and success I had was made by each of my colleagues at some point in time. It is the research into these practices that we teach to aspiring teachers. This is what I try to share with my MAT students.
Tell us about some of the professors at the Rossier School of Education who have impacted you?
MD: All of my Rossier professors impacted me but those who really made a difference for me academically and professionally were Dr. Melora Sundt, Dr. Dominic Brewer, who were also my disseration committee chairs along with Dr. Mary Andres. Dr. Larry Picus, and Dr. Paula Carbone gave me lots of formative feedback when I was a student and provided support throughout my journey as a student and teacher. I remember contacting Dr. Picus a month before class started because I was worried about taking the quantitative methods course. He responded immediately and gave me the guidance I needed to be confident and successful in the course.
Dr. Sundt is definitely my mentor. She continues to direct me as a full-time faculty member. I admire her teaching style and I’m thrilled to remain her student even now as a colleague. Dr. Carbone has also been instrumental in helping me transition into the demands of a faculty position.