My Blog in Review

favorite posts of 2012 I’ve been debating what I wanted my final post of 2012 to be about. In the spirit of the new year, I thought I’d take this time to look back at my blog and see just what I said in 47 posts. Here are some of my favorite posts:

  • Why Does College Cost ‘So Much’?  This post is a good one because it relies on data collected by national research institutions. It confirmed a lot of what I already thought about the rising tuition costs. I learned a lot doing this research and the data was a good confirmation of the ideas I expressed in a prior post, College is Not a Yard Sale.
  • A letter to College Students This is one the general public seemed to enjoy. In fact, it had the all time high viewership for my blog. I came up with this in jest, but apparently, many teachers feel the same.
  • Academia is a Lonely Place  This was one of my first posts and everything in it remains true. Academia is not what people think it is. Getting a PhD is not something to be taken lightly because in doing so, you are changing almost every facet of your future.
  • Professors’ Salaries Explained I like this post because this is something I have to explain all the time. I am a teacher, I am not wealthy.
  • Teach for America is the Bane of my Existence This post makes my favorites because there were such strong reactions to it (as I expected). The responses revealed just how critical it is for the general public to understand the big picture of education in order to understand the (in)effectiveness of reform programs.
  • Why the Achievement Gap has Little to do with Students  This post rounds out my list. The achievement gap will continue to be an issue, but few people understand what drives it. I am quite proud of my breakdown of variables contributing to the achievement gap.
  • Tick,Tock:  Love or Learning?  I like this post because it may be one of the most honest and emotional posts I wrote. The struggle to find love remains. So if you know anyone…

In reviewing these, I realized that keeping a blog is a great way to process my experiences as they occur. Writing these posts allows me the chance to voice my thoughts, pushes me to engage in educational current events, and challenges me to evaluate the origin and outcomes of my beliefs about issues of equity and equality in American education.

2012 was spent identifying the issues we face. I hope that in 2013 I can offer solutions, because what is very clear as I review my posts is that I continue to be worried about the Other Class and the Hidden Curriculum that engenders otherness.

Happy New Year!

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Why We Should Care About School Shootings

shootingWhile observing a Political Science class whose topic this morning was the role of media in politics, I thought about the role of media in education. During the election I wrote a post about what was not talked about in the election but I did not address why issues of education were overlooked.

In light of this morning’s terrible elementary school shooting in Connecticut, I can’t help but point out how the media continually dips in and out of educational issues with no real framework for the large problems with our school system. In other words, the media’s coverage of education in this country is largely episodic instead of thematic.

The school shooting coverage is the perfect example. For the next 2 or 3 days, news stations, online papers, and radios will express their outrage that 18 children are dead because of an unhinged adult who must have had psychological issues. As intended, these stories will evoke outrage, anger, and passion among parents, teachers, and the general public. But after a week, feelings will fade and those personally unaffected by this tragedy will go on with their lives with no more thought to the grieving families and devastated community. And certainly with no thought to the larger issue of school safety.

Like most other topics popular in education discourse, the media prefers to cover isolated incidents and tout them as ‘problems’ or ‘successes’. On the success side, there has been a lot of coverage on the recent performance of the United States on an international assessment of math and science performance. Apparently, the US has improved their scores, but still lags behind many Asian countries, especially in math. While this is a small step forward, I am troubled that this mini success is masking the larger issue of what constitutes academic achievement. Test scores across the board are not very impressive given the scoring range. The international average score is 500 on a 1000 point scale. Why is 50% an acceptable average? Why are we proud that on a single test we scored a 556? What’s more, why do we need to compare ourselves to other countries (whose education systems are vastly different than ours) to assess our progress? Are we incapable of setting our own educational goals and measuring our success by internal standards? It would appear we are.

A few weeks ago, I posted about race based education goals and was surprised that so few people commented on it. Like most seemingly drastic reform efforts in education, this one was largely ignored by media outlets beyond the affected state. No one is aware that Florida and Virginia have established achievement goals based on students’ race. This awful step backwards, and our recent self-congratulatory behavior is indicative of a larger issue in education of reliance on standardized tests as a measure of student learning.

But discussing such big picture issues is unpopular because who wants to hear about our failing education system day after day? No one. And the media corporations know that. For them, news is a profit-driven industry wherein their goal is to increase viewership. You don’t do that by telling the public things they don’t want to hear.

The public chooses to ignore recurring themes of inequality and school failure because frankly, these problems seem too large to fix. The intersectional nature of educational issues points to the complexity of truly reforming education, because to do that, we’d have to reform societal values. And to reform societal values, individual people would have to evaluate and reform themselves. It is human nature to not want to view yourself negatively or to want to feel connected to saddening, angering, or frustrating events. So we divorce ourselves from the issues. And in doing so, we divorce ourselves from the consequences. Hey, no one shot up my child’s school, so I don’t have to be concerned about school safety. I don’t know how to interpret standardized test scores so their meaning is irrelevant to me. My child is doing well in school, so why should I care about the achievement gap?

Because despite what the media may suggest by their determination to ignore—or even suppress—education discourse, these issues are real. Just ask the parents of 18 dead children in Newton, Connecticut.

Top 10 Hate Crimes Against Professors

I was chatting with my best friend about how much I detest grading papers that are overwritten. I shared an example of a student’s paper whose first sentence was 3 lines long and contained 4 words with 5 syllables and 3 words with 4 syllables. What I actually said to her was: ‘It’s like she took an idea and beat it to death for the next 10 pages.’ My friend responded: ‘that’s a hate crime against professors.’  And it is. So I thought of other things students do that constitute hate crimes (because we hate it).

10. Saying you will come to office hours and then not showing. We have office hours because we are supposed to. BUT if we know students are not going to come to office hours, we spend that time working on other things. If a student happens to come, then we stop and speak with the student. If you tell me you are coming, I plan my office hours accordingly. When you don’t show, I want to require you to attend an event I know was canceled.

9. Using a laptop or cell phone during class. Uhmm hello…I have eyes. I can see that you are off task because you are staring at your crotch or smiling at your computer screen. Nothing about self-efficacy theory evokes thoughts of masturbation or girlish giggles. Put that crap away.

8. Being sick and touching everything in my office. Look, you’re lucky I let you come into my office with your hacking, sniffling, sneezing, heavy breathing self. Please do me the courtesy of NOT touching every item within reach. Just sit there—preferably while wearing a mask and gloves—and listen to what I’m saying. Then leave promptly so I can disinfect everything before the germs take root.

7.  Asking for extra credit. This is not middle school. You don’t have get out of jail free cards in college. If you didn’t do the assignment correctly the first time, why would you magically be able to do it now? No. I am not grading extra work because you chose not to follow directions. Please move on. And don’t pass Go, and don’t collect $200.

6. Sending emails after 8pm and expecting a response. You don’t respond to ANY email I send no matter what the time so why should I be expected to respond to your 11.29pm request for help with the paper due in 8 hours? If you send me another email that late at night, I’m going to send you a virus.

5. Plagiarism. This is just plain foolhardy. The same way you searched the internet for terrible things to copy, we can search the internet and find what awful document you copied. But most of the time, we don’t even have to do that. When you include sentences like ‘I use this term in the sense in which it is used in cybernetics, that is, in the sense of processes with feedback and with feedforward, of processes which regulate themselves by a progressive compensations of systems.”, I know you are plagiarizing Piaget. What the hell is cybernetics? You don’t know do you? Because you aren’t an engineer. And neither am I. The jig is up.

4. Asking for handouts for missed classes. YOU missed class. I was there. Why should I go out of my way to catch you up because you decided to go to your cousin’s best friend’s brother’s wedding in Oregon? I didn’t get an invitation to the wedding and you aren’t getting the handouts from class. See how it feels to be left out?

3. Unprofessional emails. If we have never met, please don’t address me by my first name. Because you are not my personal friend, you have no clue if I am married or not. Please do not default to Mrs. because I am a woman.  Though you don’t know my age, it is safe to assume that I am not your peer; therefore, please do not type your email as if I am your bff and we lol 2gether. I don’t care if YOLO. This is a place of business. Use proper diction and complete sentences.  Which leads me to….

2. Poorly written papers. This includes lack of organization, poor grammar, awful spelling, too short and too long papers, incorrectly formatted papers, off topic papers, papers you submitted in your last class with me, papers you submitted in my colleague’s class, hastily written, and poorly researched papers. If I have to read one more essay that begins ‘Since the beginning of time, man has…’ I am going to drop kick someone in the throat.

And the most offensive hate crime is….

1. Asking questions whose answers are ON THE SYLLABUS! I didn’t write that for my health. I wrote it so I wouldn’t have to tell 20 students individually where my office is, my office hours, when assignments are due, how many points assignments are worth, what the required texts are, the grading scale, attendance policy, or that I don’t accept late work. For the love of God, READ THE SYLLABUS!

 

hate crimes

A Bar Exam for Teachers?

bar examThe latest piece of news on the teacher preparation front is talks of a bar exam for new teachers. As a part of the movement to professionalize teaching, the American Federation of Teachers (a teachers’ union organization) has proposed the use of a new teacher entry exam. Here is why:

With the exception of a handful of states with more rigorous custom-designed exams, most examinations required for initial licensure have been widely considered to be insufficiently rigorous, limited in scope and unconnected to practice—usually covering basic skills and subject-matter knowledge—and measuring different knowledge and skills depending on grade level and content area (pp. 12).

Frankly, I think this is necessary. Once again, we are living the consequences of allowing states to decide their own teaching licensure requirements. We have some states that require the Praxis I and II in addition to a state-developed exam, some states that require neither Praxis and just a state exam, some that require one Praxis and a state exam, others that only require one Praxis. Essentially, teachers in Nevada are assessed three times prior to gaining licensure, whereas teachers in Texas and Missouri are assessed only once.

Now, the number of times you are assessed bears little relation to how effective a teacher you will be. I could test you 8 times, but if the tests all tested the same thing or did not test certain things, I would have no indication of your future performance as a teacher.

So the issue for me is not about testing teachers more. Teachers are tested enough. I would like to see us test teachers better. In other words, I want an assessment that has a good level of predictive validity. I want an assessment that measures content knowledge AND pedagogical knowledge. I want all teachers to have at least 800 hours of teaching experience before they can get a license. I also would like to see teachers participate in a mentoring program during their first year. In other words, I’d like to see teachers given the depth and breadth of training we require of our medical doctors, college professors, and attorneys.

I think a universal entrance exam is a good first step. But for this to work, we’d have to first ensure it is useful in assessing what we think teachers should know and do at multiple grade levels for diverse students (damn near impossible in a single assessment). We’d then have to do away with the dozens of tests we already have. Lastly, and perhaps most of all, we would have to PREPARE our teachers to take this test.

This means actually requiring teachers to learn how to teach, not to just know their content. This alone would do away with alternative licensure programs that bypass student teaching hours and formal learning in favor of getting a warm body in a classroom as quickly as possible. Instead, we would have to require teachers to get a Master’s degree in teaching, in addition to a Bachelor’s degree in their content area (if they are a secondary teacher). Our teacher candidates would have to take rigorous courses covering issues of child development, assessment, statistics, educational psychology, and education policy. Like in law schools, we perhaps need to design teacher preparation courses to be so tough, many people fail. Maybe we should raise the bar on admission requirements instead of taking whoever can pay for a teacher preparation program. Perhaps only those who score in the top 20th percentile on this new exam should be hired as teachers. Maybe we should pay teachers accordingly for the time and effort they put into training for their career and improving their practice. This might possibly yield teacher candidates who actually want to teach, who believe all students can achieve, who are committed to their own professional growth as a teacher, and who see value in educating the next generation.

Maybe, just maybe, we should invest in our teachers if we are to demand so much of them.

 

Teach For America is the Bane of My Existence

No, I do not support TFA.

Because I work at a private liberal arts college, I must say this sentence at least once every 2 weeks. Especially during the fall semester, I find myself explaining my opposition to what many of my students see as a progressively apropos program. I, in turn, view it as another example of what I call pimping the system. In the ‘pimping’ of any system, there is a pimp and a pimpee. The pimpee is almost always at the losing end of the bargain. The pimp, on the other hand, reaps all the rewards.

When it comes to Teach for America, our children are being pimped.

The summation of my beef with TFA is that it systematically exacerbates the same problems it claims to help. Allow me to offer some examples:

1)      Increases teacher turnover rates. Everyone knows (and data demonstrates) that low income, low achieving schools have extremely high teacher turnover rates. That is to say, teachers do not stay long at these schools because frankly, they are very difficult environments in which to succeed and feel rewarded. TFA requires corps members to sign a 2 year contract, and most corps members leave the classroom (not the field of education) after their 2 year contract expires. Such low teacher retention quickens the already present revolving door in these schools. TFA is not putting teachers in the classroom; it is putting substitutes in the classrooms.

2)      Increases the number of uncommitted teachers. Teaching is a thankless profession. You work 50-60 hours a week for 32k and are held accountable for the overall performance of 175 students, though you may only see them for a total of 4 hours a week for 15 weeks. TFA has become a stopgap for college graduates who haven’t decided what they want to do or who need to improve their resume before they apply to graduate school. Others join due to the appeal of getting $10,000 toward your considerable loan debt after attending a pricy private undergraduate institution. These are not reasons to walk into the classroom and be responsible for educating our youth. These are reasons to volunteer at a summer camp. If you aren’t committed to the long-term well-being of our children, you don’t belong in the classroom.

3)      Increases the number of undertrained and unqualified teachers. Another common data point is that low income schools get the most inexperienced and undertrained teachers. This means first year teachers and teachers with alternative teaching licenses. This means teachers who may have a lot of content knowledge, but little pedagogical training. TFA requires its corps members to have Bachelor’s degrees, and to attend a five week institute( TFA Summer Institute ). They have ‘coaches’ during the academic year meant to provide support and constant feedback. Having dated one of these coaches, I know personally that they are not experienced teachers. In fact, many of them are prior corps members who have just 2 years of teaching experience. In what world do 5 weeks and a peer coach make you qualified? A Bachelor’s degree from a liberal arts college means you know how to think; it does not mean you can teach others to think.

4)      Increases the number of overwhelmed teachers. If you know anyone who has done TFA, you know that one of the most common critiques about their experience is that they were not prepared for the social and emotional issues students bring to class. TFA takes (primarily) middle and upper middle class White young adults (because this is who attends private colleges) and places them in urban or rural schools in impoverished areas with majority African American and Latino students. This is culture shock for corps members. Never before have they been confronted with the reality of drug addiction, prostitution, gang violence, homelessness, and mental illness. It is unfair to the teachers and the students to expect people with little life experience in this realm and 5 weeks of lesson-planning with a ‘multiculturalism’ seminar thrown in to be equipped to manage not only their students’ problems, but their own reactions when a students’ older brother pulls a knife on you as you get out of your car because you sent his brother to detention (true story).

5)      Deprofressionalizes the career. For some reason, people think teaching is easy and anyone can do it; therefore, it doesn’t require extensive study or training like a true profession (a la medicine). Let me disillusion you. Great teachers have content expertise and pedagogical expertise garnered from coursework and hundreds of hours observing and training in classrooms. They know the difference between learning and memorizing because they know theory behind how people learn. They know the developmental abilities and needs of all ages of students, and they adjust their teaching methods and classroom climate accordingly. These teachers design, implement, and evaluate formative and summative assessments wherein they assess to learn instead of merely learning to assess. Great teachers divulge from a scripted lesson plan and curriculum when they recognize a comprehension gap or new student interest. They use technology as a means to enhance learning, not to entertain. They build relationships with students’ families, other teachers, and community members to get the big picture of students’ life contexts. They occupy the role of teacher, mentor, friend, parent, counselor, and coach. They recognize the value of continuing education and attend conferences and workshops, and take courses as the federal and state standards evolve. They are professionals, committed to the constant revision of their craft.  They are not 2 year stand-ins hoping to get by.

6)      Increases the presence of private corporations in schools. I’ve discussed my issues with the privatization of education at length so I won’t do so here. I will ask this though: In what world does the pimp have the best interests of the pimpee in mind?

 

Teach For America was borne of a Master’s thesis. Like many such manuscripts, it should’ve stayed bound in print in the archives of the library.

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