Thursday, July 26, 2012

This is for Arne Duncan

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a Facebook update of a former student. The update read,
"Have you ever had a moment, three years after Graduate School, when you FINALLY understand what your genius professor was talking about in class? 'Without active reflection, every Educator teaches like his/her worst teacher.' I GET IT NOW! Thank you Karen LaBonte!" 
I'm no genius, and reading this makes me feel like a million bucks. The point I want to make here, though, is about teacher ed programs. In a blog post, Wes Fryer quotes Arne Duncan:
. . .  ”Districts currently pay about $8 billion each year to teachers because they have masters’ degrees, even though there is little evidence teachers with masters degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers — with the possible exception of teachers who earn masters in math and science.” 
First off, I don't give a crap about Duncan's version of "student achievement;" standardized tests measure only how skilled students are at taking standardized tests.

Second, Duncan's focus on math & science reveals his underlying assumption that content trumps all. This assumption never fails to amuse me: the discussion of what English is and what its content should be has been a brutal battle since 1898, when the professors who comprised The Committee of Ten determined which academic subjects should be part of an American high school curriculum, how much time should be devoted to each course, and what each course should cover.

The battle rages today. Should kids read only the canon of classic texts? (Whose classics?) Are young adult books OK? What about writing? Shouldn't literary analysis be the focus, with five-paragraph essay as the foundation? What about other forms? How much say should students have in what they write? Thank goodness the Common Core Standards have arrived to clarify these questions for us. Nonfiction texts, writing that focuses on analysis and argument-- that's what kids need to be "successful in college and career."

Me, I also want teachers to be able to think. That way, when the pendulum of public opinion swings from one set of "best" ideas to another, usually opposing, set of ideas, teachers will be able to peer through the rhetoric to study the "reformed" objectives and think about why these matter-- or, in many cases, why they don't.

I've noticed that education students who expect to graduate with a secret manual of tricks and catchy lessons have a different level of professional stamina than those who are willing to ponder as they write lesson plans, go to student teaching sites, meet with supervisors. The students who learn strategies for classroom management and content sequencing while they seek to understand and apply educational theories generally turn into classroom rock stars.

That doesn't happen overnight. My student learned something from graduate school three years after she graduated.

I hope she's in a setting where she's getting mentored, where she has opportunities to keep growing professionally. If she's not, I believe she still has something to draw from.

Because she went to graduate school, Arne. She learned not only to teach, she learned to think.

Which seems, to me, to be the point of education.

Exam Time by Cocoen used under Creative Commons license AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved

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