Taylor Burke is mom to a two-year-old boy and nine-month-old twin girls, all of whom were born while she was completing her research and writing her thesis.
As a new teacher trying to cope with teaching outside her major at a small rural school, Taylor Burke (BA/BEd '14, MA '22) attended a professional development (PD) session that put the wheels in motion toward the pursuit of her master's degree. As she prepares to graduate with a Master of Arts degree in Education, she hopes to use her training not only in her own teaching but in mentoring other teachers as well.
Growing up on a farm south of Medicine Hat, Taylor went on to attend the University of Lethbridge, where she obtained an education degree and met her husband, who was also attending the U of L. A social studies major, she landed a teaching job at Lomond Community School where her duties included teaching English to Grade 9-12 students. Feeling overwhelmed, she enrolled in a PD session led by U of L Faculty of Education professor Dr. David Slomp. "I learned a way to teach writing that focused on treating writing tasks as challenging problems to solve using a variety of analysis and critical thinking skills,” Taylor recalls.
This PD session led to me joining a research project with Dr. Slomp where a group of teachers implemented writing-as-problem-solving pedagogy in their classrooms for a full school year. Participating in this research project helped me realized how much I love academic research and ultimately led to me applying to complete of Master of Arts degree in education.”
With her MA, her goals include continuing to explore a move away from template-based instruction in writing toward writing-as-problem-solving in her own teaching “and hopefully having opportunities to mentor other teachers in making this shift as well. I love working with pre-service teachers, so I am hoping to have an opportunity to teach at the post-secondary level at some point in the future.”
Taylor's children were born while she was completing her research and writing her thesis. The twins arrived a month early, forcing Taylor to juggle two babies and a toddler while defending her thesis. “Having young children while completing a master’s degree was incredibly challenging, but such a good reminder of why the work I was doing was important as it was a connection to who I am outside of being a mom,” she says.
Why did you choose to become a teacher?
I decided to become a teacher because I’ve always loved the academic world. I love learning and have come to love helping my students appreciate learning as well. Working with high school students as they hit an age where they develop greater awareness of the world around them is incredibly rewarding as a teacher because I have the privilege of watching my students seek opportunities to engage with the world in ways they often haven’t before. I love playing a role in challenging their worldviews and expanding their perspectives as they develop into young adults on the verge of choosing their futures beyond high school.
What was your most memorable experience in the Master of Arts program?
Participating in the oral examination to defend my thesis was by far one of the most memorable experiences of my program. Having the opportunity to discuss the research I love with other people who also love to talk about improving education was so valuable and inspiring. It is easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind of being a teacher where our ideas for improving education are often vague “what ifs” that are hard to bring to life in the whirlwind of responsibilities that take up our time, so having the opportunity to have an in-depth conversation about the field of education with experts in the field was a fulfilling culmination of all the work I had done.
What is the most important lesson you learned from your MA experience?
I learned so many things from this experience, but I think the most important lesson I learned is the value of prioritizing the things that inspire curiosity and excitement and that encourage us to pursue our passions. As many people can no doubt relate, becoming a mom can make it very challenging to maintain a sense of self outside of all of the roles and responsibilities we inhabit as parents. For me, continuing with my graduate studies while having children, although challenging, allowed me to have an escape from parenting and a reminder of what was important to me before I became a parent. Now that I’ve finished my degree, I want to carry this lesson with me as I prioritize my own interests and passions in this very busy season of life.
Is there someone specific who had an important influence on your graduate studies experience?
Dr. David Slomp has been a constant source of support and encouragement throughout the completion of my degree, beginning with my participation in what ended up being a paradigm-shifting PD session in my first year of teaching, through working as part of his research team, and at every step of my journey through my Master's degree. I have no doubt that I would be a very different teacher had I not had the opportunities and encouragement he provided throughout this process.
What advice would you give to those who are about to begin their graduate studies journey?
Graduate work can be so valuable for professional and personal growth, so my advice to people who are about to begin this journey is to think about the aspects of our field that spark a desire for change or a problem that inspires curiosity as a starting place when considering the topics that will become their final topic for a thesis or capstone project. I think that if we work toward progress with the challenges we feel personally connected to in our graduate work, then it is more likely we will have opportunities for the personal and professional growth that makes teaching such a rewarding career choice.
How did you arrive at your thesis topic, and what drew you to that particular type of research?
I struggled a great deal in my first year of teaching with feeling under-prepared to teach writing in a way that I felt was valuable to my students and that served them beyond their high school English classes. I have been fortunate to work with a variety of colleagues who have helped me better understand what it is about traditional writing instruction that didn’t seem to fit what my goals were for my students, but it was my participation in a research project in my second year of teaching that focused on a new way to teach writing that led to what ultimately became my thesis topic. While the research project focused on a wide variety of skills related to helping students improve as writers, I found the idea of incorporating metacognition as a foundational skill for student writers particularly interesting. My research very much feels like a continuation of the “writing-as-problem-solving” project that was so important to the formulation of my perspectives on teaching writing.
Writer: Dave Sulz | Photo courtesy of La Di Da Lane Photography
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Becoming a Teacher series:
• Taylor Burke (BEd '14, MA '22)
• Naoko Masuda (MEd '22)
• Kennedy Dery (BEd, BSc '22)
• Karl Hanson (BEd '22)
• Vivianna Lee (BSc/BEd '22)
• Jenn Biglin (BEd '22)
• Eve Buk (Class of '22, BEd)
• Brad Aldridge (BSc '18, BEd '21)
• Sara Bieniada (BMgt/BEd ‘21)
• Ashley Hoisington (BA/BEd ‘21)
• Dominique Point du Jour (BEd '21)
For more information please contact:
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University of Lethbridge
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