Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Teachers-to-be? 0r, Effort ≠ Achievement

Let me set the stage: taking two online grad courses right now, and taking a 3rd "in person." Have had three student teachers in as many years. I am concerned about what I see.

First, full disclosure: I am taking these classes to max out on my salary scale. Not that that changes my perceptions, but it might be useful to know that I am doing this for the money first, and for me second. (Hey, daddy-to-be is watching those future $$$ slip away to baby...). Second, because of all the crazed turnover in my department in the past 5 (ish) years, some consider me a veteran teacher. At 7 years in, this terrifies me. I still make rookie mistakes (I know, we all do), and do not necessarily feel "qualified" all the time to teach someone how to teach.

Now, the benefit of a hosting a student teacher is that it forces you to become more aware of what you actually do in the classroom; for those 7 or so weeks, the introspection-scope is turned up to 11. The "meta" level becomes really real, really quickly (thanks, literacy class!). And, hanging out in meta does provide opportunities for reflection that might have slipped on by otherwise (the ruts I think we all get into time and again).

Stop me if you've heard this one before: I'm sitting in class, and the prof hands back our first writing assignment. And, can you believe it? Some kids didn't do it right [sic]. But we get a chance to rewrite it, but only this once. Only one do-over in this class.

The comments from the prof astounded me. First (and let me remind you this is a grad class is literacy education, meant for future teachers-to-be): your tone is off, it's too conversational. "I don't want a conversation, I want a reflection." Second: many of you have comma issues, so I made a list of the 7 times you ever need to use a comma. Third: many of you didn't do the assignment, which was to reflect on literacy education (does anyone else see the irony here? They don't understand the work, in a class that deals with basic comprehension? Come on...you can't make this up). So, you can redo this one, because I don't want to give out 1 out 5's to anyone, I really don't.

Huh? Commas? Really?

Let's do the time warp, back to my previous "you've-hosted-a-student-teacher-so-we-give-you-a-voucher-for-a-free-grad-class" class...this one was about Technology in Education. Right up my alley, right? First day of class, prof tells the students to click in the upper right corner on something. A gentleman behind me raises his hand and says he doesn't understand. Prof replies pick up the mouse and move it to the upper right.

The gentleman grabs said mouse and lifts it off the desk. Vertically. Airborne mouse.

I sh*t you not.

(oddly, this is the second time I've seen this happen in my lifetime.)

And this man wants to be a Technology leader?

Back to my most recent student teacher. He had ideas. He had energy. He tried REALLY hard. And he fell apart.

I have never seen someone implode so quickly in one week. After 6 weeks of heartache (and him not listening to me or his advising teacher), he finally realized what teaching was like. This was an epiphany to him. This was borderline ridiculous to me.

His line in the classroom: My teaching is effort based. If you try hard, you will succeed with me. (My often-response: a student can try really hard and still be wrong - effort does not equal achievement.) The kids ate this up (of course) because, as we all know, they all try REALLY, REALLY HARD.

His line to me, at the end of his time with me: Thank you for the experience. I want you to know that I tried my best. My thought-response (not spoken): effort does not equal achievement.

And, if you want "data" to back up his effort-based teaching: on average, the individual student average dropped 5% from Q1 to Q2 (to be fair, that is a weighted stat, with some other factors I don't want to list here).

The sad part is that he was a former student of mine (granted, I was a leave replacement, he was a second semester senior in a digital video yearbook elective). A colleague of mine has been trying to work on a profile of our graduates...I pointed my colleague at my last student teacher. I think he is representative of what high school churns out.

We have created a generation of students who do not know how to take responsibility for their mistakes (emphasis on not knowing - I believe they could take responsibility, but they really, truly, do not KNOW how to. That toolbox is, sadly, defunct). And, as any teacher can tell you, this job requires the highest level of responsibility, as we are (literally and figuratively) prepping the minds of America's future. We cannot shirk this responsibility.

I know that we have all these debates about the future of education and un-motivated students, etc., and I know that it all is true. But with funding being cut from teacher ed programs, and more pressure being put on teachers to be more effective (student performance counting for 1/5 of teacher evals), this seems to be a losing situation for all. We call it a problem, and then we actively remove supports that can address the problem.

You want better educated students? Create better educated teachers.