Meet Tyler Ellis, Baylor Teaching Fellow

July 17, 2014

During the month of June, iCivics welcomed Baylor Teaching Fellow, Tyler Ellis an Ed D candidate at Baylor University and 6th grade reading teacher at Rapoport Academy (Waco, TX).  Tyler spent his time with the curriculum team working on DB Quest, Drafting Board 2.0 and other parts of the iCivics curriculum.  As an educator, Tyler is part of a long tradition of teachers.  He doesn’t take this responsibility lightly and finds teaching to be challenging, enjoyable and a natural fit for his personality. When asked to describe himself in ten words or less he said, “I am an optimistic pragmatist”.  Here is Tyler’s recap about his fellowship experience:

iCivics: Tell us about your thesis and the degree you are pursuing?

TE: I’m currently pursuing my PhD in curriculum and teaching.  I’m interested in teacher leadership, critical pedagogy and critical theory. Good teaching is about helping all students have a voice in their learning.  So I’m most preoccupied with how we help all students by using their own heritage, experiences and respective backgrounds as a platform for learning.   

iCivics: You reach a wide range of students from 6th graders to college students.  Can you share any of the similar rewards and challenges you’ve faced?

TE: There’s definitely overlap and similarities at both levels.  Witnessing the path any student takes toward understanding a concept is rewarding on all fronts.  There exists a conflict that students experience as they grapple with understanding something.  Then the “ah-ha” moment arrives.  You witness that student move toward understanding; this moment is rewarding for me.  Conversely, teaching is hard.  You must meet every student where they are, knowing that each student will not grow at the same rate.

iCivics: What interested you most about this opportunity?

TE: I was most excited about connecting the social studies/civics content with my reading and language arts background.  iCivics as an organizations gets that relationship and knows that these subject must work together.  My mentor Dr. Brooke Blevins (Baylor University), works in research in social studies education.  She connected me with this opportunity.  She helped to cater the experience to my english language arts background to specifically focus my efforts on the iCivics reading and writing related curriculum.  

iCivics: What are your thoughts about our mission?

TE: I’ve been extremely impressed with how teacher needs are at the epicenter of all iCivics learning materials and resources. iCivics continually asks “How can teachers best use these materials? What is going to be the best way to get this in the hands of our teachers? What is the best way that this will help teachers do their job well?”. This company isn’t just filled with grand ideas but they put their mission to work here.

iCivics: What did you know about iCivics before this fellowship and how has that changed?

TE: I knew about the gaming aspect of iCivics and was familiar with Justice O’Connor’s role in the organization.  I knew that the purpose of the games were to create civic curriculum that would re-educate or better educate students on civics and government.  It’s funny but I did not know about the things that would help me as a reading teacher; the learning tools like Drafting Board.  

I’m walking away seeing the wonderful resources that are available to me and my colleagues that connect social studies/history classrooms with reading/language arts classrooms. There are tons and tons of resources for teachers through iCivics that are really carefully developed and connected to one another.

iCivics: What is your typical iCivics day like?  What has surprised you most?

TE: The day is filled with LOTS of reading and research on historical and contemporary topics for Drafting Board.  I’m constantly reading the Constitution and other historical text. I’ve joined programming calls and have been behind the scenes on technical calls. It’s a challenge creating curriculum for 40,000 teachers.  There’s a wide range in classroom resources, student ability and teacher needs being taken into consideration with each learning material. Our programming team handles these challenges like champs.

iCivics: You went on an in depth tour of the National Archives.  What was that like?

TE: Besides learning about the cool documents, treasures and artifacts that are preserved by the National Archives… the passion that the archivists have for their work and their vault is very impressive.  We met with Tina Ligon whose work with digitizing the deck logs was estimated to be a 150 year job!

iCivics: What fun excursions and sites have you and your wife experienced while in DC?

TE: We’ve really taken advantage of being in the nation’s capital. We saw all the monuments and walked the mall during the day and at night… there’s a difference.  My coworkers gave me a really awesome list of places to eat.  We listened to Jazz in the Sculpture Garden, and visited the Spy Museum, the American History Museum, and the Museum of Natural History.  We also went to a Nats game.  We saw the Lion King and went to the Fords Theatre.  We toured Eastern Market and watched fireworks on the Mall.  I’ve walked my pregnant wife around so much and there are still things we both would like to see- the National Cathedral, the Newseum, Gravely Point, Boat Rides in Georgetown- there’s just so much stuff to do here!

iCivics: Is there anything else you want to share?

TE: This has been an amazing experience and I’ve had a lot of fun.  I’m not just saying this for iCivics but I’m really excited to go back and tell my fellow teachers about the great resources that iCivics has for all of us to use.