Internet Explorer

I don’t use Internet Explorer, so I didn’t realize my template had gone all wonky.  I opened up my blog in Maxthon, a browser my husband favors (it was open on the desktop when I sat down) and discovered that my CSS in the sidebar was a mess.  I tried to validate it, and sure enough, it didn’t work.  I narrowed the culprit down to the bit of text that diplays what I’m reading, so I took it out.  If I figure out how to fix it, I’ll put it back, but the fact is, I don’t read much professional literature, so who knows how useful it even is to have that.  Got it to work again.

If you ever notice something weird with my template, please don’t hesitate to let me know.  Firefox wasn’t rendering this problem, so I had no idea it was going on.

Technology and Teacher Ed

I stumbled upon a new blog by JJ called Teachable Moments. She mentioned in a recent post that she felt her own preparation for teaching was lacking the technology department and advocated the following requirements:

  • A BLOG — We certainly did our share of reflections. We posted information that we obtained from various sources on tools like blackboard, yet we never shared them. (Why? I don’t think my professors realized the possibility, plus encouraging honest reflection through confidentiality seemed more important than learning from each other) In the short time that I have been lurking around the blogosphere, I have learned more than I did in any of those required journal letters to my professors. This in mind, I will most definitely be blogging with my students from now on.
  • A DIGITAL PRESENTATION — Although I did take the initiative to do this myself, during my four years in the School of Ed I was never required to do much of anything with technology. I suppose that part of this was due to the fact that our placements in the city schools were, for the most part, tech-less. However, when our school decided that all exit portfolios needed to be in digital format (i.e. powerpoint or html) we actually had to have an emergency computer lab refresher course so that we could all (re)learn how to properly insert information into powerpoint.
  • A WEB-BASED ASSIGNMENT OR LESSON — Again, although I was able to create my own webquests during my preservice teaching, this was not a requirement. Many of my colleagues have graduated without any knowledge or first hand experience with any kind of internet tool.

I think all of these have a lot of potential. Imagine how much we all might have learned from each other if we had a blogosphere when we were student teaching (or perhaps I should speak for myself — I student taught in 1996-97). I am pretty much self-taught with regards to using technology.

What do you think of these requirements? What would you add or change?

Schools Attuned Workshop, Part Two

I spent one week in Charlotte, five full days, in the Schools Attuned Subject Specialist course.  I need to complete a practicum and portfolio in order to earn CEU credit, which will be quite a few credits.  Plus, I can do this online, so that works out great.

My first thought on completing the course is that I wish I’d had it as part of my teacher ed training or had taken it earlier.  Some of my peers were somewhat daunted by the terminology that Dr. Levine uses, but it didn’t really bother me much.  Basically, Levine breaks down learning, or neurodevelopment into the following constructs:

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Language
  • Social Cognition
  • Spatial Ordering
  • Temporal/Sequential Ordering
  • Higher Order Cognition
  • Neuromotor Functions

The first thing I wanted to do after completing the workshop was “attune” (evaluate, figure out areas of strenth and weakness) myself and my daughter.  It was kind of like after I took psychology and wanted to figure out what my loved ones’ mental issues were.

I noted that all of the participants were from private schools.  Most taught at schools that specialized in students with learning disabilities.  It seems to me that it would be easier for a private school to implement the Schools Attuned program across the board, but I don’t think that individual public school teachers would have much of a problem trying it in their own classrooms.

One of the things I really liked about the program is that you have a handy glossary that gives examples of what students who have strengths or weaknesses in each neurodevelopmental construct look like.  It’s like having a mini-rubric.  I think it will help me pinpoint students’ strengths and weaknesses much more quickly.  I also think it will help me better help students, as I can locate management strategies in my notebook that will work with students’ specific weaknesses.

I should back up and say that a lot of the strategies are things that good teachers already do.  However, I think it is handy to have the notebook of management strategies anyway.  For one thing, it will save a lot of time.

One of the things our facilitator said is that most teachers don’t learn how people learn in ed schools; rather, they learn theory.  She’s partly right about that, I think.  This class would have been great to have in ed schools.

I know that Levine’s non-labeling approach is not exactly practical in a school system that requires labels in order to help students; however, in my school, I can very well see how a smaller private school could make this work.  I do think Levine’s system makes sense.  Often times, a student’s problems are much more complex than ADD.  If you used Schools Attuned to evaluate a student, you might learn more about his/her strengths and weaknesses and be better able to help him/her.

Frankly, if I may level with you, I think it will be extremely helpful in terms of talking with parents.  I can foresee being able to use the information I learned to explain what students’ particular problems are.  I will admit to not always being able to do that.  I can tell, for instance, that there is an attention problem, but not necessarily what kind or where the breakdown occurs.

The course’s pricetag is quite hefty.  I do not know that it is practical for most people to take it for that reason alone.  However, if the tuition is not too daunting, I have to say I recommend it highly.

If you have questions about it (and I am able to answer — I did sign an agreement with regards to copyrighted information), then please leave them in the comments and I’ll respond.

My Thoughts on Teacher Education

I have been reading a lot negative opinion about teacher education lately. In fact, critics have gone so far as to say it needs to be abolished in favor of hiring candidates who major strictly in the subject (math, history, English, etc.) that they intend to teach. Criticism seems to center around the following themes:

  • Teachers are not well-versed in their subject matter and waste time in courses on theory, pedagogy, and methodology.
  • Teachers are stupid; most of the time, education majors are at the bottom in terms of SAT scores. They also score poorly on other assessments designed to measure intelligence or competence.
  • Restrictions, such as teacher certification and licensure, keep out good candidates.
  • Even poor teachers get tenure and sit back, coasting on their mediocrity until they retire with fat pensions. There isn’t much that can be done about mediocre teaching under our current systems.

I will admit that I can’t address all of these issues objectively, using statistics and data, but I do have some of my subjective experience upon which to draw. However, where possible, I will attempt to use other evidence.

First, many critics say that teachers are not well-versed in their subject matter and waste time in courses on theory, pedagogy, and methodology. I can speak from my own experience as an English Education major; however, other majors have different requirements, and I’m sure that my university, the University of Georgia, has different requirements from other institutions, also. In order to earn my B.S.Ed., I was required to take six junior/senior level English classes (not English Education, English). It has been a few years, but if I remember correctly, I was required to take a Shakespeare course, a 20th century course, an American literature course, a British literature course, a language course, and an elective. Looking at the current requirements, I see that the elective course is no longer required. At the time, UGA offered two Shakespeare courses, divided into early plays and later plays. I took the one on later plays. To meet my American literature requirement, I took American Realism and Naturalism. To meet my British literature requirement, I took Late Romantic Poetry. To meet my language requirement, I took Dialectology, which was the study of different dialects of English. To meet my 20th century requirement, I took 20th Century American Literature. My elective was a Topics in English course on Celtic Literature. In addition, I took a non-required course on Medieval literature and a course in Southern literature (American). At the time when I was enrolled, English majors in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at UGA were required to take eight classes. That happens to be the same number of classes I took! It looks as if this has changed, but then I was also on the quarter system, and UGA switched to the semester system after I graduated. In my particular case, I don’t think one can say that I was not well-versed in my subject matter. In fact, I also took extra sophomore level classes in English. I took the required freshman English courses in rhetoric and literature. I was required to take two courses in British (pre-1700 and post 1700) or American literature, but I took all three. I have also continued my education in this area, albeit on my own. I do try to stay current on literature.

Another criticism leveled at education majors is poor performance in tests, such as the SAT. Education is considered the major for the average intellect, the lazy student, the student who couldn’t cut it somewhere else. Again, in my own experience, I can tell you I personally only ever went through school with one education major I felt should not teach because she wasn’t intelligent enough. Aside from that, I mostly had confidence in the competence and intelligence of the classmates I knew. I will admit, however, that in my Foundations of Education course, I was disappointed when my classmates complained about the workload. When my professor relented and shortened an assignment, I wrote him an anonymous note and told him he should not relax his standards as we were to be teachers and needed to be challenged and meet requirements. He figured out I did it and tried to reassure me that he was not relaxing his standards. That was a large class with education majors of every stripe from subject specialists like me to middle grades majors to elementary majors. Once I began working within my major level, with few exceptions, I found my English Education classmates to be very bright and hard-working students. I am not sure they were much different from students in other disciplines. I knew plenty of students in other disciplines, especially during my early college years, who drank too much, never studied, and burned out early. Students who were left in senior year were there, for the most part, because they balanced work and play and studied hard. I will cop to having a low SAT score. Here’s why. I took it exactly once, not realizing that I might be able to combine good math and verbal scores. I also had heard that guessing was penalized in that incorrect questions counted against you more than leaving questions blank, but I couldn’t bring myself to completely believe it, so I filled in every bubble, even when I wasn’t sure. In 1990 terms, my SAT score was certainly OK. In today’s terms, even correcting for the new scoring system, it would be considered low. It was a 1080. I suppose that if I am trying to prove a point, I shouldn’t be coy about my score. I was told by one guidance counselor that “anything over 1000 is OK,” so I wasn’t too worried. At the time I attended UGA, I discovered that freshmen applying to the university had to have a minimum of 1200. I believe this is higher today, even correcting for the new system. I transferred to UGA after my freshman year at a community college. My problem when applying to colleges was that I didn’t really know how to do it, nor did I have guidance from parents, teachers, or my college counselor at school. I didn’t know what to do, so I applied to the community college, thinking I would have another year to sort out where to go. I was embarrassed by my score once I found out UGA’s requirement. I felt kind of stupid. However, once I began attending UGA, I never earned less than a B. I actually earned two C’s at the community college. One could argue that the colleges inflate grades, but I do feel I worked hard for my grades, and I graduated magna cum laude. Looking around at graduation, I noticed that not everyone was able to wear that red and gray tassel that signified this achievement, nor did they all have summa cum laude or cum laude tassels. I didn’t do as well as I should have on the SAT, but it was one test on one day that I didn’t do anything to prepare for. Each year, I take a practice Verbal PSAT. I have not scored a perfect 80 (out of 80) on these practices, but I never score less than 70. I scored in the 97th percentile when I took the Miller Analogies Test, but wound up letting the score expire before I could go to grad school. I am preparing to take the GRE this summer in anticipation of going to grad school for my Master’s degree. I’ll let you know how I do. In terms of statistics regarding the SAT, I found a study that stated the average combined math and verbal SAT score for intended education majors was 964 as compared with 1016 for all college-bound seniors from 1994-1997. You can make of that what you will, I suppose, as the data is older. It does, however, cover a period of time only a few years after I took the SAT in 1989.

A third criticism leveled at the certification process is that it keeps out good candidates who either can’t or are unwilling to jump through the hoops necessary to obtain teaching certificates. A good example I can think of was a story that circulated about 10 years or so ago concerning a retired NASA scientist who was unable to teach math in Georgia because he didn’t have the proper certification. No one denies that a NASA scientist knows his math well enough. Folks were up in arms over that one, and I can see their point. I have known plenty of really bright folks, however, who can’t explain what they know in a way that others who don’t grasp their subject as well can understand. A case in point might be my dad tutoring my mother in algebra when both of them were getting their college educations in the 1990’s. I myself had a math professor who understood his subject, but talked to the black board, barely aware there were students behind him. I earned an A in the course due to the excellent preparation I received from my high school math teachers, who had covered all of the course material in College Algebra up until the last week, which was a bit of calculus. I only made it to pre-calculus in high school, and I didn’t understand the new material introduced. I failed that quiz and only that quiz. The professor was unable to convey the material. I wish I’d had Robert, who sounds like he does a lot to help his college students understand, but my professor was awful. Does this mean I think teachers have to go through teacher education schools in order to be any good? Nah. I work at a private school. We have some uncertified teachers. They are also good teachers. I do, however, think my own particular ed school experience was invaluable for helping me figure out how to teach. Since then I have taken some professional development that was even more valuable still. In order to be certified in Georgia, teachers have to take the Praxis (I took the old Teacher Candidate Test before they phased it out in favor of the Praxis) and take certain required courses. It helps to major in education, because the required courses are part of the curriculum. However, nothing is stopping folks who desire it to major in whatever subject they want to teach — English, math, Spanish, whatever — and getting a Master’s in education, which would not only enable them to earn more money, but also to trot out the belief that they have more understanding of and preparation for their particular subject. Most educators are strongly advised to earn a Master’s anyway, so why not? My argument, however, is that if you don’t feel like taking the education classes, perhaps you can find a private school that is willing to hire you despite not having a certificate. My pay is comparable to those of public school teachers in my area. My benefits are not as good, however, so there is a trade-off. The requirements for a certificate are not terribly onerous, and many systems are willing to hire teachers with provisional certificates, especially in areas of high need, such as math and science. Georgia also has an alternate teacher preparation path that does not involve education schools at all allowing candidates to take a four-week blitz if they want to teach in a critical area. A lot of these folks don’t make it because they don’t have adequate preparation for teaching (despite their Bachelor’s in whatever subject area they want to teach in).

The final accusation I often see leveled at educators is that they earn tenure and wallow in their mediocrity for the remainder of their careers. For that reason, I suppose, Georgia no longer has tenure. I think teachers who began teaching before it was eliminated are grandfathered in and keep their tenure. I know that the rule used to be that teachers acquired tenure after teaching for three years and having their fourth contract offered to them. This is no longer the case. Teachers cannot be fired for no reason, but documentation of incompetence must be presented. I think the due process is fair. Now that I’m at a private school, I don’t really even have that. I can be fired at any time. My school does not need to present evidence that I fail to meet standards as shown on evaluations in order to send me packing. There may be plenty of states and school systems that still have tenure, but I don’t think one can argue with certainty that it is a cause for mediocrity, at least among newer teachers, when it is on the way out.

This has been a really long post, and the gist of it is this: I think it is dangerous to make broad generalizations about education schools and education majors. Because some education major are lazy does not mean all are. Because some don’t know their subject matter does not mean this is true of all. When I see screeds written against education schools, it makes me angry, because I feel the authors prefer to categorize all teacher education programs as utter wastes of time and their graduates as lackluster intellects. People are clearly angry about the state of our schools today. They want to blame the problems on someone, so it’s easy to say our ed schools must not be preparing teachers appropriately. Other factors, such as the influence of the students’ families (to name just one) are not considered by critics of ed schools. It is so much easier to say that our students aren’t learning because they have poorly trained teachers. There is a complex array of reasons why students have difficulty learning, and I don’t think all of the blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of education schools.

Further reading for other perspectives:

Feel free to suggest others in the comments.