Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Teaching Programs

I was reading the CTEN newsletter (http://www.ctenteachers.blogspot.com/) and reading about Larry Sand's experiences in teaching colleges (http://www.nationalreview.com/phi-beta-cons/287144/are-education-schools-our-weakest-link-george-leef)  and began to reflect on my own. What did I learn? Having taken a one year program for my K-8 credential, plus some courses to clear it, plus a few courses for my English credential, and then a two year MA and credential program for Administration, I've spent a good amount of my adult life at the same university in teacher prep programs.

The courses I took varied in decency. Many courses were theory, or even worse, "fluff". Sure, theory has its place, you need to know it somewhat as it applies to how and why things are done, but too much focus on theory takes away from applicable learning. "Fluff" courses were "fun" and a breeze to pass, ones where you were to be "reflective" and write about self-exploration, your experiences, analyzing your self and part in this world....classes such as Educational Pluralism and Interpersonal Relationships. I enjoy fluff classes for some odd reason, but they have little value; what I learned in those courses has barely been applied to my practice as a teacher. After filling one's schedule with theory and fluff, there were few courses that were applicable, including practice of teaching, tools, tips, tricks of the trade.

Of the applicable courses, some only seemed applicable; I think of a curriculum course where we were to develop a unit- 10-12 lessons, recognizing all learning modalities, major minority cultures, "level" of learner (i.e. English Learner, Special Ed, Gifted) and bringing in an interdisciplinary flair (i.e. a math lesson which includes history and science), all with to no use of a textbook. Another course had us create something like 50 cards that each represented a different elementary level book/novel/picture book that "met" diversity- i.e. a book about immigrants, homosexuality, Native American culture, dyslexia, or even "problems" i.e. divorce, adoption, bullying.... all through a positive light.  Now, I love creating curriculum and deviating from a prescribed lesson, but, well, this is not reality. I waltzed into my first teaching position with these aforementioned lessons and the like, ready to take on the world, only to encounter an opposing reality, a place with 100% scripted, nothing else, curriculum, and testing/assessment gone wild. Everything I'd learned, created, presented, is still collecting dust in my bookshelf.

I did take one class that was exceptionally, gasp, useful. We did case studies of what would you do if.... (real life cases, too) and we practiced contacting superintendents, citing ed code, analyzing curriculum, etc.... things that were applicable! In fact, I used what I learned during an expulsion case at work- having never expelled students but suddenly facing 5 cases with stakeholder pull, we needed a streamlined process and paper trail RIGHT THEN and guess what? I had it handled. Such stories are far and few between.

Also, while a few courses had challenging professors (and add in that you work at a charter school, when having to do coursework regarding union policies or other non-charter thing....a challenge), many were easy...in fact, probably half were as easy if not easier than my BA courses! So, if the rumor is correct that the bottom third of college grads go on to be teachers, and those teachers receive an education not pertinent to the job, then...wow...no wonder our education is abysmal, but who knows, maybe it is on purpose. Oh, but to be fair I did have a huge challenge when obtaining my MA - my lit review/white paper. I worked and worked and worked at that thing, with nearly 30 pages of cited, double cited, et al.... it was a challenge, but I am also proud to say my lit review was "exemplary, what a MA level paper should attain to be". 

Back to the notion of not learning much from my coursework... not only did we not really learn much applicable to today's educational climate, but we also learned nothing about classroom management which is a HUGE part of teaching these days. Gone are the days where Billy and Susie behaved in school because mommy and daddy wanted them to, or because mommy and daddy and the whole town would know Billy tripped Susie, right after it happened. Now, kids are the "teacher's problem", but with so many procedures and laws (many which are indeed necessarry), a teacher cannot reprimand a student. I heard of a special ed student who had caught his classroom on fire...twice...in a year, slugged students, threatened the lives of school personnel, brought a knife to school.....but because he was on an IEP, the school didn't want to do anything about it because it could go against his IEP. He'd been suspended 15 times in not-quite-a-school year, and the staff and especially students feared school because of him.

Classroom management, when barely brushed over in school, supports Skinner-style positive reinforcement, you know, gold stars and candies for being a good little boy or girl. Never do they mention that this may not work for all students (and besides, is rewarding a child, always, for what is expected- kindness- good for society or detrimental?). Never do you learn what to do when a child breaks into your classroom and urinates and defecates all over the furniture. Never do you learn how to deal with hard-core gang members dealing drugs in the classroom. Never do you learn what to do when a child calls you a BIT _ _ and throws things at you and then runs out of the school building. You do not learn what to do when a child threatens suicide in front of you, or when a child says, during a 9-11 ceremony, that he'd like to do what they did but blow up the school with everyone in it....given in explicit detail. What do you do when a brawl breaks out in the classroom? When a knife is shown in class? When a child is absent more than present, failing, and the parent never gets involved, or tells you to FU_ _ off, the kid's your problem? Or how about when a parent defends their child and calls you a liar, that you cannot teach (I mean, surely their snowflake turned in every assignment, and it was 100% perfect, right?), and threatens to take it to the superintendent? What do you do when your class refuses to do work for an entire week because other staff members, who are losing their jobs, have bribed them with pizza parties if they can "shake things up a little and make the teachers keeping their jobs, lose them too?" What do you do when a child bites himself so bad he is gushing blood all over the classroom? Do education courses cover these things? Can I just promise gold stars if the kids stop dealing drugs, give children a lollipop if they promise not to pee on my chair? No. Education courses exist in a vacuum, another world where children are perfect little innocent robotic angels.

Oh. And my image here, is a word cloud of the key terms used in course descriptions for an MA in Curriculum and Instruction, which is by far the most popular MA for teachers in my area, as it is the closest to a "general education" MA and is "the easiest program". So instead of learning how to apply rigor and relevance, how to help children grow academically, be all that they can be, embrace an educational enlightenment much like our Founding Fathers, we're instead training teachers to...well....not do all that. We focus too much on culture. I am not the least bit racist or against other cultures- heck, I majored in Sociology/Anthropology and "culture" is something I find fascinating. I do think we need to realize we're not 1600 colonial America where we're all from the same place, same religion, same ancestry. We are a global world now. But when this replaces learning, facts, building blocks...or even just becomes the main focus, "more important", we lose out. Sure, our textbooks may be culturally sensitive and not portray elderly with walking canes, or Hispanic people working, or a mom staying at home. Sure, our textbooks may include problems like, "D'Andre and Ranjith are making Tres Leches. They have to double the recipe....." or what have you. But this does not stand for multicultural appreciation or recognition. If suddenly your child decides not to be a criminal, and rather a neurosurgeon because the textbook once recognized his culture, then we have deeper societal problems. If children are taught a non-offensive, politically correct world where women can't wear skirts and a Black person cannot live in an apartment, or the Holocaust must be skipped over for fear of offense, what kind of world are we creating? And why are teaching colleges promoting it?

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