Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Five Things...

Education Policymakers
Need To Know


This meme comes originally from Nancy Flanagan via the Science Goddess, and I'm very honored to be tagged, though I'm not sure it's fair of her to ask me to do extra thinking when we've only just gotten back to school!

Okay, so I started this the DAY I got it, and have barely touched it since. School is nuts! I'm giving myself 20 minutes to finish this and then I'm posting it no matter how dumb I sound.

5. Not all students need to go on to college; those who do not would probably not need most of the specific academic skills they practice in college preparatory courses, except that many of us who went through a four-year ordeal had a "liberal education" foisted on us (that's another soapbox, though). There SHOULD be separate curriculums that help to prepare students either for college, technical/vocational school, or the workforce. But they need to be introduced later, perhaps junior year, with sophomore students having the opportunity to sit in on classes during the spring. They should also be more intense. Vocational/workforce prep classes should not have the reputation of being the "easy" choice, and college prep classes need to PREPARE the students for college.

4. It is incredibly difficult to be a truly great teacher. Somewhere in Losing My Faculties, Brendan Halpin says something like "it is unbelievably easy to be a poor teacher, but it is unbelievably hard to be a good teacher." (Work with me - my dad's got the book at the moment!) Yes, we are professionals, but we are not miracle workers! Even doctors cannot keep their patients healthy when those patients ignore the doctor's advice (neglect exercise, smoke, eat too much junk food and not enough fruitsinveggies, etc.) or take the wrong medication.(Tangent: Do youuu have leftover prescription medicines in your cabinet?) Schools are not hospitals. We will always be dealing with outpatients - and stubborn ones, at that!

3. I have never seen the movie or read the book, but Erin Gruwell's story creeps me out! Do you really want some obsessively driven maniac instructing your kids? I wouldn't. Teachers have lives - or they should! As much as I love teaching, I would hate to be married to Rafe Esquith. (Plus the Hunk is way cuter.) Requiring - or even merely encouraging - teachers to be martyrs without a balanced life creates a poor model for students to follow.

2. In Shelley's response, she mentions a weak reader who is upset because of being transferred out of chorus and into another reading class. However, unless you're just going "la la la," singing involves reading! I have learned songs in French, German, Italian, Russian, Slovak, Latin, Swahili, and Spanish before I formally studied any of those languages, and my experiences with the languages I did get a chance to study were richer as a result. Plus, the intonation of the song really helps you understand words and phrases in ways you just don't get from memorizing definitions. We need to find a way to connect what students need to do with what they love to do.

1. LISTEN TO US! I'm not much of a fan of anecdotal evidence. I think that research, when done properly, is much more reliable (although it should be used as a guide, not a rule - there are always exceptions and complications). But listening to someone allows you to hear not only the text, but the subtext. A teacher who says "that won't work in my classroom!" may actually be concerned about a perceived loss of status as she fumbles through trying to learn a new skill, or that there won't be enough administrative support, or that there's been so much program turnover that the only way to provide stability for the students is to resist all of it - or any of a number of other alternatives. Or a combination!

More importantly, listening is an incredibly effective (and COST-effective!) way of showing people that they matter. And I know very few people who don't care about that.

Image thanks to http://www.homeroomteacher.com/suppliesforschool.html

8 comments:

HappyChyck said...

Well said!

I was just talking with two AP teachers yesterday about the idea that not all students are college-bound. In fact, I'd say in my district that a wide majority aren't! That doesn't mean that they won't be contributing members of society, but the focus isn't on preparing THOSE students for life after school, is it?

I also enjoy your thoughts on misconceptions of what teachers are and should be. Spot on!

The Science Goddess said...

See? I knew you could do it. :)

Lightly Seasoned said...

In my district, about 85% of the kids will go on and get a 4-year degree, but I still think we need vocational training. The shop teachers do a heroic unofficial job of it. I think we came up with very similar ideas:
http://lightlyseasonedteacher.blogspot.com/2008/08/five-things-i-wish-legislators-knew.html

Lightly Seasoned said...

oh, PS: Gruenell creeps me out, too!! 1. her relationship with that one kid is *totally* inappropriate and would have most teachers fired immediately (he apparently accompanies her on tour now) 2. If she wants my respect, she's going to have to teach for a lot longer than 3 years before hitting the lecture circuit.

Jim Burke is my English teacher hero.

Melissa B. said...

I'ma gonna do this *meme* over the weekend, after my Asbury Park contest is over. Hey--thanks for visiting & come back soon--we've got lots more groovy info, questions, and, of course, the neat prizes at the end of the week!

Nancy Flanagan said...

Yikes! You wrote these in 20 minutes?

Forget about those other guys...CLIX for PRESIDENT! Seriously.

My fav was #4, because I am a music teacher, and have had 30 years' experience in dealing with parents telling me that their child will never get a job playing music. In addition to learning to read--in many languages--kids are interfacing with other times and cultures when they sing. As in "globalism." Frequently, the parents then confess that Sister Mary Allegro asked them to just mouth the words back in the 4th grade, and so on.

But I'm digressing--thanks for playing "5 things."

Nancy Flanagan, Teacher in a Strange Land

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BeALight said...

I have enjoyed reading your blog for the past several months, and many times I have been compelled to respond but held back because I 1. have never done this before and am worried about sounding idiotic and 2. sometimes go for weeks without reading entries and don't want to appear as though I simply comment and disappear. But after reading about the first week of school year 2010 and everyone's general dislike/distrust of Erin Gruwell (which I know are two separate entries), I just can't help myself. THANK YOU so very much for noting that her story is unrealistic and a poor model. "The Freedom Writers" was hyped at my school big time a few years back and when I finally saw it, I couldn't believe teachers encouraged OTHER TEACHERS to watch and be inspired by her story. I spent my first year of teaching in my classroom, huddled behind ungraded papers and trying desperately (and futilely) to solve my kids' problems. When I woke up and realized that I had to change or burn out, I became a better teacher. How dare society expect teachers to fill so many voids at the cost of our own personal lives!

I also hope that my administration eventually wakes up to the fact that quality vocational education is just as valid and important as quality college prep. There's room for everyone...as long as they can do their job.

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