Wednesday, October 12, 2005

a book for young readers

I would like someone to guess the approximate grade level of the book the 11th graders in my school's humanities class are reading.

No, guess lower.

Barnes and Noble dubs it a "book for young readers," appropriate for 3rd-6th graders.

I wonder: are there colleges nowadays that use books for young readers, or in the case of the more academic colleges, books written for grades 7 and 8? We should look into that.

I feel like I'm in some kind of absurdist play, and the joke's on me. Or maybe it's a Truman-show like situation, and we're waiting to see when I finally explode and start "throwing personal invectives around like Rudy Giuliani on a bad day." (That was from a NY Times book review article. The book is '1491,' by Charles Mann. Looks to be awesome, I would check it out.) I imagine the situation would be quite humorous to viewers. Although, I guess a reality show for which a city and a fake ocean had to be created would not be constructed around the life of an education grad student. And if that is the case, somebody should really be fired, because the most exciting thing I've done this week is paint my living room an unfortunate shade of pink. We were going for warm country homestead, but instead it ended up more like warm country Pepto-bismol. (By the way, never, ever go to bed right after eating or drinking Pepto-bismol. The ingredient 'bismuth' reacts with your spit enzymes to produce this black coating on your tongue. Then you wake up in the morning, freak out when black stuff comes off on your toothbrush, wonder if someone stuffed your mouth full of dirt, reject that possibility because your door is locked and your roommate is a tiny Asian girl, consider what having mouth cancer will be like, consult the Mayo Clinic online, and learn about your condition: "hairy tongue." It's better just to circumvent the entire process).

Anyway, back to this book business. Last year at MATCH, the first thing the ninth graders read was Roots! They almost died, but they got through it. When the teacher asked them about it at the end of the year, many of them said they liked having that challenge right at the beginning, that it helped them gear up for the rest of the year. And they were proud of themselves for getting through the whole thing. I don't know that these 11th grade kids will be proud of themselves for reading an elementary school book.

This whole thing is such a moral dilemma. What is going on at this school is just plainly wrong. Should I quit, then? Refuse to student teach? Quit grad school? Switch grad schools? I want to become a teacher as soon as I can, and I don't want to waste the time (one month) and money (I'm not even going to say because it makes me want to eviscerate myself or someone in the student accounts department) I've spent here. But I also hate having to endure this situation and, worse yet, be a party to it. I'm not even allowed to criticize it openly to the people there, not that it would do any good. I feel like I'm an enabler or something. I'm going to try and switch my student teaching placement, but it might not be possible. If any of you out there have advice or words of wisdom, they would be appreciated.


At October 12, 2005 2:13 PM, Anonymous Dana Huff said...

I can offer you this encouragement. Stick it out. It will end. You can find a job at a school with your teaching outlook and move on. Don't quit now! Student teaching is frustrating even if you agree with your supervising teacher/school's educational philosophy.

At October 12, 2005 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

New Old School Teacher,

Your posts absolutely crack me up. Please keep writing--it's quality stuff.

As I see it, you have a few options here. 1) you can stick with the student teaching placement, quietly do their bidding, and take all this as "what not to do". 2) you can try to switch to another student teaching placement, in the process, complaining mightily and articulately to your advisor about this bizarro school you're currently with. 3) you can find some kindred spirits at your current placement and foment a rebellion (risky).

It sounds to me like you're going to be an excellent teacher, so please don't get too discouraged. You'll find your "home" and things will fall into place.

Keep up the good work (and the blogging!) :)

At October 12, 2005 3:39 PM, Anonymous Claire said...

Hang in there hon, we miss you here. Do what's right for you, because you have so much to offer so many kids.

At October 12, 2005 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't change. All edu schools are much the same - I'm in Australia and even there its full of constructivist methods of teaching and general complaining about how we are always keeping the poor down. Stick it out, and occasionally point out the flaws in the teachers' 'logic'. Occasionally it gets through to the other students, and it starts them questioning the teachers and doing their own research.

Good luck,


At October 12, 2005 9:39 PM, Blogger Ms. M said...

What's the book and what is the reasoning behind reading such a low level book? Is that the hardest level that the students can decode?

At October 13, 2005 6:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the Pepto-Bismol: been there, done that. Freshman year of college - ate something in the dorm cafeteria that didn't sit well, took the Pepto before bed, didn't adequately brush teeth.

And yes, it freaks you out. The fact that I remember it well 15+ years later is testimony to that.

As for the book: fight the good fight. I'd recommend standing up for more challenging work, and when you get out of there, go somewhere where they expect the students to be challenged. (I'm a college prof and it frustrates me to see students coming in who don't/won't read at a college level.)

At October 13, 2005 7:27 AM, Blogger lenie said...

Sorry for the long post!
Get out of my head :) I share so many of your observations and experiences about student teaching and the education of teachers that it is eerie. I am finishing my master’s degree in secondary education social studies concentration … same as you! I am currently student teaching in a high needs district. My advisor’s politics are somewhere to the left of Fidel Castro. Your post, “Throwing down the Gauntlet” I could just quote verbatim as being my identical experience. I wish I had dollar for every ridiculous irrelevant classroom discussion I had to endure over the past year. Sitting in those evening classes and listening to all those political opinions was particularly painful. Furthermore, what I find truly annoying are all those supposed radicals who are nothing more than teacher’s pet who parrot the professor. I do believe many of these students’ heads would explode if they had an original thought. Fortunately the program I am enrolled had several working teachers finishing their graduate degrees. They were extremely frustrated and shared that they have used very little from their education training in an actually classroom. This reality was brought home my first week of full time student teaching. Many of my student’s basic skills are so weak that I could not imagine having “deep” intellectual conversation about how “evil” da man is. Call me old fashioned but you need to know the basics before the deep analysis. I have come to the conclusion if I was crowned “Queen of Education” I would abolish education colleges and after a rigorous application process accept student teachers into two year apprentice program in a actual school with real live children.

So let me now share last week’s seminar discussion. (This for once was an on topic discussion) My professor shared an email from a former student. The student is now a full time teacher in an inter-city school. He is having a great deal of problems with discipline. His email was a lament about how his education did not prepare him for the reality of dealing with problems of this population. He ended by sharing, “the other day a girl got up on a desk and began stripping.” So my professor in that annoying nonjudgmental way come to your own conclusion voice asked, “How would we resolve this situation.” I quickly responded, “This is anarchy and strict order had to be restored. Furthermore that girl and her patrons needed to be thrown out of class.” One of my fellow classmates looked aghast at me and said, “Strict discipline never works with inter-city students and as a teacher we must get those students on our side.” However another student quickly countered, “What are we suppose to do go with it and start throwing dollar bills at her.” I chuckled and wished I had said that.

At October 13, 2005 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leave! Get out while you're still smart! Get a MA in history (use the James Madison Program) and teach. Get a MA in Math and teach. Just don't get an Ed degree! Save yourself and your future students!

At October 13, 2005 8:38 AM, Blogger LKK said...

MATCH is an amazing school, with incredible teachers and resources. I envy you in being able to experience some of that.

But unfortunately, most schools aren't anything like MATCH.

Maybe the standards in that humanities class are too low. But on the flip side, maybe the teacher is using a book with a lower reading level to "meet the kids where they're at" - to access the content without frustrating them by words they don't know.

I encourage you to probe a little deeper into why the teacher chose that book, and the ways in which the school is (or isn't) setting challenging expectations for students.

And as a side note, I'm enjoying reading your blog. Your writing style is immensely enjoyable. If this education thing gets to you, you obviously have a career in writing open to you. :)

At October 13, 2005 11:17 AM, Blogger lenie said...

I am sorry I didn’t answer the question of your post. The truth is I have suffered many crisis moments during my graduate education and questioned my career choice on several occasions. However, this is a second career so I already understand that with any career you must suffer through a lot of unnecessary BS. Since I am at the end of graduate education I now have a great deal of freedom. My cooperating teacher and I have similar perspective. At this point she pretty much is leaving me on my own with the class which is fine by me. I have two more observations and then I am done except for some paperwork. The school district I am currently in does test children and expects them to behave and dress properly. I believe once you find the school which reflects your personality and teaching philosophy you will be much happier. Suffer through it and someday soon you will have your own class which you can instruct in manner that works for you and your students.

At October 13, 2005 11:55 AM, Blogger PrajK said...

I am sorry you have to go through all this. My advice is to stick it out--we need people like you to remain in teaching. A question I have is: why do you even need to go to ed school? Is there a law that says all teachers must have a masters? Why can't we repeal that law?

Oh, yeah: keep blogging!!!

At October 13, 2005 12:36 PM, Blogger lenie said...

It depends on what state you reside and the demand for teachers. NYC has a high demand for teachers and has allowed for programs that bypass the education college step. However NY State has all sorts of requirements in order to get state certification. For example education course work, liberal arts course work, classroom observation hours, student teaching hours and certification examinations. I am guessing here but I bet those city teachers who bypass the education college must go back and fill many of these requirements after they are already teaching in order to get their permanent certification.
It is racket and you do feel stuck. I do not know for certain but I would guess those who create these requirements are also deans and professors in education colleges. What a great way to keep enrollment high just make it law that everyone must take your course.

At October 13, 2005 4:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz here from I Speak of Dreams There's always teaching in private schools, which usually do not require a teaching credential, but do require post-graduate study (MS, MA, or Ph.D) Many private schools now have a much more diverse student body, and can require much higher standards of engagement from the students.

At October 13, 2005 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get a real MA degree. More than one study purports to show that students who learns from teachers with academic graduate degrees perfom better than those taught by those with Ed degrees.

Lord knows opinions will like this will piss off my colleagues at the ed school where I teach, but they've educated hundreds of the mediocrities who've goten the educatios system to this low point. Things have got to change!

At October 13, 2005 8:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know that it will get better when you are out. Social Studies seems to stand out as the core subject that actively encourages doltish thinking. Until we demand that Social Studies teachers know more about their content than they do about coaching or social inequality we are going to have these problems.

I am currently the only member of my department who has a degree in something other than “Social Studies Education.” I am also the only member who wasn’t hired to fill a coaching vacancy that existed at the same time as the teaching position. I participated in the last round of interviews; we gave the job to the former quarter back at the local teachers college rather than the former Dade County Teacher of the Year.

I hate, hate, hate, the world history book we have. Not one topic is treated in anything longer than a paragraph. It has some great visual features though. The MTV-ifcation of textbooks has gone on way too long and it is time to take back education from the touchy-feely, cult of self-esteem, “constructivists.”

At October 13, 2005 11:21 PM, Blogger Suzi said...

I am not sure how much better it will be out in the full-time world. I expect that, if you have time and money, you can find a school that has a philosophy with which you agree. Most people have to take what's available in the place or field in which they want to teach.

However, unless you get in a place where all the texts are chosen by committee, you will be able to use your own text choices. You must be prepared to deal with the attendant criticisms; they may be many and varied. But you can choose your own.

If you're almost out, stay at your ed school. If you're not and you don't live in a state that requires a M.Ed., switch to a master's in your field. You'll be better educated and beter able to fill in the gaps, when your students are only reading paragraphs on centuries of information.

I teach at a community college, usually where people expect non-academic folks to start college. Our remedial English class required reading that I didn't have until upper division classes. They only required you read portions, maybe twenty or so pages, but reading that much in 18th century English in a remedial course is impressive.

None of my regular freshmen admit to having a problem with reading and I haven't seen one in their papers. Some teachers are using Bronte, Shelley, and Hawthorne as their required novels. Not a modern eighth grade book in the bunch.

At October 13, 2005 11:23 PM, Blogger Suzi said...

better, with two "t's"

At October 14, 2005 8:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your site
I have a story to share with the group. When I was a young teacher I felt I was on a mission. I had a lot of similar education school experiences you describe, but like an idiot I soldiered on. I was placed in a middle school with a high ESL student population. I would constantly remind the kids of how they could speak two languages already and how I expect more from such bright people.
I worked their tails off. I gave them homework every night. They had a quiz every day. They told me I was the hardest teacher they ever had but they loved my class. One memory still makes me cry when I remember a kid showing me his "smart card" for getting a 3.00 or above GPA. He told me he was failing in his old school. He looked so proud.
I felt like super-teach! My first two classes had a 3+ average, the lowest grade was a C. My other three classes were a 2.5 or more class GPA.
I was told by the administration that I must be inflating grades, because these kids aren't that smart. I quit. I am currently a partner in a CPA firm making six figures. I should be grateful, if the school wasn't so racist I'd be a teacher today.
I still have the cards and letters from the kids, but I find it hard to read them because it still hurts.


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