Friday, January 28, 2011

A long rant on education classes and other things

Having just about finished my "education" classes for my teaching credential, I feel qualified to say that it is no wonder that education in this country is so fucked up.

Of the five classes I took, I felt that two of the teachers we had were well qualified and motivated, one was middling, and one--who we had for two of the five classes--was just awful.What the hell? Are there not enough teachers out there who are motivated and skilled teachers who are willing to pass on their methods to the next generation of teachers, or did I just get extra unlucky? Of the good teachers, one ended class halfway early every time, which is great one the one hand (yay, going home early!), but on the other hand, we could have actually learned something from that guy, so that's fairly disappointing.

We have had a number of textbooks, maybe one of which was really useful. The rest seem to create some pedagogical echo chamber reiterating the importance of vocabulary acquisition and the use of graphic organizers. As a whole, they had very little to do with my field: applied linguistics/language acquisition. The only good thing about having such mediocre texts is that it did inspire me to go off on my own and find things that I think are useful. But you know, the majority of people don't think that way. Most people, when presented with this situation just say, "This is easier than I thought it was going to be!" and move on. And I get that attitude, I do. Everyone is busy, you have a job, some of the people in my class have kids. But if you're going to be there, spending the time and money to start a new career, don't you want to start it with as much knowledge as possible? Nothing is going to be as good as classroom experience, but don't you want to at least know what is happening in your field? I think that teachers have a personal responsibility to keep current with the research of their discipline, even if only a little bit. My master teacher was telling me that a lot of the teachers at her school with masters degrees have them from education programs. I'm assuming that's because it's so easy. I wonder if they are better teachers for it? I wonder if teachers who have a masters/Ph.D. in their field of teaching are better teachers than those with a masters in education? Granted, there are a lot of people who are highly educated and terrible instructors (just look at any college campus), but I'd be interested to know if there are any statistics on that.

I was talking about this with my dad and it was his view that having high standards is great because it makes you want to be good at things, but shitty because it mostly just makes you go insane since you can't do much about it. He also gave me a few "that's just how the world works," which is extremely depressing. People have low/zero motivation--even about the things that they are most interested in--and there is nothing you can do about it so just roll with it and pick your battles. That was his message. I told him that this message was "the most depressing thing ever," but he just came back with "that's reality." I'm far from an optimist, but damn. I haven't even started yet and he's already telling me that no one can accomplish anything. Apparently, the only way to get things done is to be in it for the long game. My dad also told me that when he was working as an electrician 25 years ago at the same hospital he is now the facilities manager of, he would see things that need fixing and his boss would just tell him no, that it was someone else's problem. Now, he is the boss and he says he is fixing some of the things that were problems 25 years ago. Holy shit! Conclusion: my dad's version of reality is pretty sad.

Since classes have been so understimulating, I feel like I've been way more of an obnoxious asshole than I typically am. It's expensive and I have to sit there for long classes and we have basically nothing to do, so I mostly heckle the professor. That's something I kind of hate about myself, but I think goes back to the high expectations. I have high expectations for myself and the people around me. I expect to learn something from going to classes designed to make me into an educator. I expect to do something other than jigsaws every day. And honestly, I expect to have to do work once in a while. And not bullshit work that is just because someone said that we should all do it, but work that actually teaches me something. Here are some examples of total bullshit work.

  1. TPAs. I totally forget what this stands for, but we have to do four of them throughout the credential program. They are long, repetitive case-study assignments wherein one must select teaching strategies for hypothetical students and justify their use. It's completely pointless. It takes me around six hours to do, so I know it's taking other people even longer than that.  You know what would actually be useful instead? Selecting teaching strategies, perhaps writing a brief justification for their use, actually using them in the classroom, and then thinking about how it went and what one could do better or differently next time. Bam, done! I just made the education world better.
  2. This fucking presentation that we have to do for class next week. We have group presentation, the content of which is so prescribed, it reads like an assignment for fifth graders. The syllabus lays out the assignment stating how many slides to do of each topic and provides links for where to find this information. Everyone in the class has already read these and submitted the compulsory notes on the topics. Now, every group is going to give the same presentation. In a graduate level class? Are you fucking kidding me? I told my professor that I would be going "off book" in my presentation regarding the topics of content area literacy and language acquisition. Why? Because I have something more useful to add. My professor keeps chiding me for not making the material relevant to my teaching practice, but at least he's been cool when I say "I think this is stupid and I'm going to do something I find useful." 
I am just so sick of laziness and mediocrity. Laziness is the new normal. My classmates keep calling me an overachiever, but I've mostly been retorting to that with "I just achieved ahead of the deadline," but you know, I'd rather be an overachiever if regular achieving doesn't do anything. It makes me think of the conversations I have with people when I say that I am a language person and I speak a few languages. People always say "oh, you must just have a natural (or god-given, if they're really trying to irritate me) talent for languages!" And I say, "No, I am good at languages because I have made the effort and spent a huge amount of time on it. Anyone who spent as much time as I did on this would be at least pretty decent as well," but no one wants to hear that because it is easier to believe that some people are just good at things. People, you are good at the things that you make an effort in! So make an effort once in a while! Ultimately, I think that's what our teaching system is lacking: effort.


  1. The fact that you're out there is heartening at least.

    I don't know if I've mentioned this book to you, but Teach Like a Champion is a great book. These guys from a charter school went and identified who they thought their greatest teachers were and took video of hours and hours of video to try to figure out what practices made them great. Then they made a book, and they have a website with some of the video illustrating the techniques.

    It's all very general purpose, not specific to language acquisition, but I think it's a great (as a non-teacher).

  2. Thanks!

    I've been recommended that book before and it's been languishing in my Amazon wishlist for a while. Maybe I'll pick it up and read it before student teaching starts.

  3. In the nursing education sector the explanation for why nursing schools are so bad is that nurses go to school to be nurses, not nursing teachers.
    Why don't good teachers want to teach people how to be teachers?

  4. Since when do you have a blog? haha
    But it's so true, you'd think teachers would be all for you know, teaching? What the hell.

    Jonathan: I started reading Teach like a Champion and it is fucking amazing. I'm only 5 techniques in but I am kindle-highlighting the hell out of them and going "I'm going to use this everyday!" Way more useful and cost-effective than the last 6 months of school =/