Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Classes loom. My first is on Thursday. Alternative Methods. No one seems to know what that means, really. We already seem to have had Alternative Methods. It was called Methods. So I'm not sure where that leaves us.

Before the new semester starts, a short recap on my fall classes:
1. Methods.
A class on designing social studies lessons. We learned about fishbowl discussion groups, panel discussions, WebQuests (don't even ask--they're horrifying), simulations/acting out of historical events, diversity, and...I'm not sure what else. I gained some good tips on the details of lesson planning, but the rest was not very helpful for actually teaching in an actual school, or at least, an urban school. Lecturing was very frowned upon, so we didn't even discuss the most effective ways to lecture if we had to do it (overhead? discussion w/notes? powerpoint?). I would venture to guess that most high school teachers, particularly social studies teachers, are pushed by standardized tests and lack of time to lecture almost every single day. So a little help in that area would have been nice. In addition, we didn't talk at all about how to use social studies to teach key literacy skills--decoding, reading comprehension, reading for deeper analysis, writing, etc. These are the skills that kids will need their whole lives. Basically, I'm going to have to come up with how to do these things myself. Based on the fact that I have spent most of this evening watching 24 and eating cheese crackers, and the fact that I have 1.5 years of experience in an actual school, that is somewhat of a scary prospect.

In fact, terrifying. I suppose the entire point of writing this blog is to express the fact that I'm absolutely terrified of what I'm getting myself into: a chaotic, mediocre, unpleasant public school system with no sense of accountability, excellence, ethical duty, or responsibility towards children. I'm sure individuals within the system are different, but the system itself is
terribly, terribly broken. And who am I to think I can make any difference, when generations of earnest, smart, enthusiastic educators really haven't? (I'm talking about the stagnation of school performance in the U.S. over the last 30 years, especially among minorities). What can I possibly contribute? Couldn't I have a more productive, happy life in some other field, a field in which good work is rewarded, rather than punished? One with a more tangible sense of accomplishment? These are the questions I have to ask myself every day. I keep re-committing myself only because I know that things can be different. I have seen them be different. And it's great.

2. Student teaching seminar.
Ostensibly about discussing our student teaching experiences. Actually about our instructor preaching to us that schools are useless in the face of poverty, crime, racism, drug abuse, health problems, and broken families. When we did our oral evaluations of the class, most kids thought maybe it would have been better to talk more about student teaching.

In this class, I asked my instructor what he thought about the charter systems like KIPP and Achievement First that are resoundingly not useless in the face of all these problems. He said that those schools make kids spend too much time in school. It really makes you want to weep, doesn't it?

3. World History
Quality content course. Learned lots of new info on global history. Taught by a real history professor, not a professor of "the teaching of social studies." And much better than any classes with the latter types. Coincidence? You decide.

4. Educational Psychology
Interesting course, but basically could be summed up with: in almost every educational issue, there is data to support both opposing sides. And there is not enough research. Ever. We should have co-ed classrooms because the research suggests that it's better, and we should have single-sex classrooms because the research suggests that it's better. Pick one and run with it.

5. Special Education
No real techniques given for how to deal with a child in your particular classroom. No special attention given to the higher incidence disabilities, like language processing disorders (ie dyslexia) and emotional/behavioral disorders. Some nice speakers, but no actual special ed or general ed teachers to talk about their experiences. Have no idea what to do with children with disabilities, except what I have gleaned on my own and from last year at MATCH. Seems to me that, in many/most cases, they just need more help and time to learn things. Usually not given to them.

That's the breakdown. I won't go back into my student teaching experience because it was a train wreck in which most of my dignity and faith in our educational system died horrible deaths. Looking forward to fewer classes this semester. Only have Economics, Alternative Methods (discussed above), and student teaching seminar (new instructor, less crazy, more bald).


At January 17, 2006 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I---n this class, I asked my instructor what he thought about the charter systems like KIPP and Achievement First that are resoundingly not useless in the face of all these problems. He said that those schools make kids spend too much time in school. It really makes you want to weep, doesn't it?

It makes me remember why I quit being involved in teaching at any level. Are you sure you want to continue? Why?

At January 18, 2006 6:28 AM, Blogger Phyllis S said...

Per the reading skills, I'd encourage you to get copies of Chris Tovanni's' books--I Read It But I Don't Get It and .Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?. She is a middle school teacher in Colorado (I think) and she gets it. Also, Janet Allen and Tim Razynski are great resources. If you have a chance to attend any conferences where any of them are speaking, jump on it.

At January 19, 2006 4:36 PM, Anonymous elisabeth said...

Not much to offer but sympathy, but I can give you a couple of hints on lecturing, especially for students with poor notetaking skills. If my first-year college students don't have them, I can't imagine your students are much better! I have become expert at ignoring the "education" experts, and use lecture a lot.

While I teach chemistry rather than social science, a lot of the issues aren't too different. If your school will let you do the copying, handing out an outline to help them organize their notes isn't a bad way to go. Giving them everything (like your powerpoint slides) doesn't work -- they just lean back and let the lecture wash over them.

I find that powerpoint or too many overheads just encourages me to go too fast, so I write everything on the board (actually in outline form, since again they don't know how to organize their notes but they do know how to copy from the board). This amuses my colleagues, as I'm one of the youngest faculty in my department but use less classroom technology than most of the others.

The other problem with powerpoint, in particular, is that it encourages you to "can" your lectures -- if you've already listed your causes of the civil war, you can't write them in the order that students suggest them, which makes it harder to engage them (which is tricky enough!).

Having said that, powerpoint or overheads are good if you want to show a lot of pictures, graphs, or maps. One good strategy is to have the overhead or computer projector on one side while you keep part of the board clear to write on.

Good luck. Teaching can be rewarding, but can also certainly feel like you're banging your head into a wall!

At January 19, 2006 9:15 PM, Blogger newoldschoolteacher said...

The only reason I want to continue is because there are islands of hope, like KIPP. We need to keep them safe while they're being attacked, and then when the public finally gets it, take all those people and let them repopulate the mainland!

At January 20, 2006 9:20 AM, Anonymous Dave said...

Regarding your comments on whether you'll make a difference compared to some other field in which you may achieve a more tangible sense of accomplishment. I've career swapped my entire life and never could bear the frustration of ed classes. Had I, I think I would've found bliss. The majority of jobs simply offer pay for production. Even if you help just a handful of kids, it'd be worth more than anything you could get from most jobs. I wish you the best and admire your persistence in this effort.

I have a phd in chemistry and simply couldn't tolerate shitheads flicking lights on and off and telling me that was a critical component of classroom management and telling me how little I knew.

Good luck.


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