Wednesday, February 09, 2011

teaching teachers and schools

I saw some interesting links on GothamSchool's round-up, and I have some thoughts to share...

First, the former First W Lady is starting a school initiative! It's targeting middle school, because "research has shown that ...6th through 8th a crucial time in determining future success" as well as high school success/dropouts.

So this program wants to improve middle school classrooms: "The program focuses on 11 elements for success, including school leadership, reading interventions, effective teachers, dropout prevention and school, student, family and community support."

I think this is great. Middle school has long been the redheaded, defiant stepchild of the school system. (There are some AMAZING teachers accomplishing AMAZING things with twelve and thirteen year olds year after year--I say give them Wall Street-level bonuses! They EARN IT.) It's where kids start to question academics and self-worth more in terms of social level. It's where many kids experience some nasty bullying. So the more programs on helping kids do better at a difficult age and be in a position to achieve more later in the life, the better.

But reading this article felt like deja vu to me. Is this really news, that middle school is where things fall apart?

And then I remembered. That's what charter schools are. This entire article is saying exactly what charter schools want to do and what they're for.

I think this is completely hilarious. Is George W Bush and his institute still so blind to the world that he's twenty years behind in education news? Tee hee.

But sure, really, the point is, more focus on helping kids = good news!


Also, someone wants to grade the schools who make teachers! I say full steam ahead! My teacher ed experience was underwhelming to say the least. In my elementary ed program, I had a fantastic literacy teacher, a completely useless social studies teacher, and pretty good math and science teachers. But we had ZERO class about discipline or management. We had to take a child development course, which interestingly enough, completely nullifies the idea of standard achievement on tests on children below 13, as according to some development theories, kids don't develop those kinds of skills until that age. Anyway.

On a basic level, I think it's pretty silly that education programs don't think they should get graded. After all, students get grades, schools themselves get grades, and we've all heard that now teachers get grades! Hell, even restaurants get graded!

"They [education programs] are faulted by a recent wave of education advocates as emphasizing education theory over hands-on classroom training, and as graduating teachers with weak academic skills."

If we do want to produce intelligent, thoughtful citizens through schools, it stands to reason that education programs are supposed to put the right kind of teachers in place to achieve that. I have worked with many intelligent, driven, and determined teachers who are doing the right things and getting good results. However, I've also worked with teachers who can't spell very well on their posted charts [and let me be clear--if you're not the best speller, fine! But take your time and carefully prepare anything written for your students to see! Shouldn't they learn by example in the right way?], or who focus on coloring instead of learning (there was a science teacher like that in my high school! I was really glad that I'd taken that class at another school and that I'd actually learned stuff instead of just coloring things.), or who generally don't seem as, well, smart.

Teaching is HARD, and you have to know a LOT of things about many different subjects, not to mention actually being able to control your class well enough to teach them those things that you know.

Throw your stupid theory out the window. Theories don't teach kids, especially not in New York City. Why on earth is there not a multi-course discipline/management curriculum? Or is there? If so, please enlighten me and let me know if it's effective.

Now, is it an ed program's job to give someone a complete education? No, the teacher has to bring something to the table. But there needs to be some accountability, some competition or selectivity.

"To arrive at its ratings, for example, the group has requested detailed information about courses, textbooks and admissions selectivity."

That sounds like a good start.

"An alliance of organizations representing education schools said in a statement at the time that grading them based on textbooks and course descriptions was like 'evaluating the quality of restaurants by only requesting that menus be mailed to the evaluator — without sampling the food or visiting the site.'"

Oh snap! Good rebuttal!

Surely there must be more to it, though? The group's founder "said that short of sitting in on a college’s classes for a year, her evaluation methods are sound." This article doesn't elaborate on what those methods might be.

Another opponent "said the ratings were focusing on superficial “inputs” rather than “outcomes,” like how well teacher graduates perform in the classroom." Hmm, interesting! How does one test an education program? How do you 'evaluate' teachers on a broad scale and then link it back to their graduate programs?

I don't know. I'm not sure if there really is a way to do that. I still don't believe that there's any concrete way to evaluate teachers at all, actually. There's so much give and take beyond just academics in the classroom. But that's a whole different can of worms and we won't get into that here. :)


Ms M. said...

"Why on earth is there not a multi-course discipline/management curriculum? "

THIS!!!! I was stunned my first year teaching at how little I was prepared to deal with management. I now adjunct for the program I earned my MA through, and I focus a ton on management because really, I don't care how great your lesson plan is because if your class is out of control they won't learn a thing.

I agree 100% that Ed programs need to be graded. I went to a big fancy school and learned squat that was useful in the real world.

Dr. G said...

As I read your blogging on education, I can't help but believe that you were and are a good teacher. You certainly understand the issues facing the classroom teacher and the falseness of trying to assess what teachers do with a rubric. And classroom discipline is a major factor, perhaps half of the battle, and I'd say that is the case in schools everywhere, not just in NYC.

And how were we prepared for this by the education faculty in our college programs? I'd rate their coverage of this between very little and none at all. Not knowing how to manage the people in the classroom creates so much stress on the teacher that it is difficult to teach. This stress is augmented by administrators, who often criticize classroom management without offering a strategic plan for discipline. We should write a book.

Thanks for continuing to share yourself by blogging. My wife and I came to NYC on vacation last summer, but I felt that it would be a little too creepy to try to meet you and Andy. However, we'll certainly be back in a year or two and I think I'll offer to buy lunch for you and Andy and perhaps we can talk about teaching and photography some. Check out some of my photos on my Facebook page.