Education Schools-- Are They Relevant?
Over at Jenny D's place there have been a few people trying to have a discussion about the efficacy as well as the relevance of education schools, plus a lot of other people trying to call each other names. Nonetheless, a commenter named Elizabeth posted the following question/comment:
Help me with something. What makes ed schools so special? In all seriousness are ed schools truly needed and if so, why? Why can students not have a liberal arts major and an education minor, student teach and then go into the classroom with full knowledge of the subject they are teaching. I guess a better question might be if I were to be a teacher what classes do I take as an undergrad and how many (and which) of those classes are truly meaningful and challenging? Which of the classes truly prepare me to teach?
...Just something I have wondered about -- Today, it might help more people want to become teachers if they could teach something they were passionate about. Again, I do not know what classes education majors are required to take.
This is a serious question that deserves careful consideration, by people who have been in education schools and then tested out the theories taught there in the classroom. Unfortunately, serious and civil discussion is all too lacking. So let's try. Here's an expanded version of a comment I made:
The program that I went through lo, many years ago, had education as a minor. I had the equivalent of a full bachelor's in English. I graduated with 145 credit hours.
Nonetheless, precious little in many of my education classes addressed the real nuts and bolts of teaching as it really is. I thought I had been prepared. I hadn't.
It took experience for me to become a good teacher. For instance, I saw that my students had little of what Robert Marzano calls Background Knowledge but I called Frame of Reference-- a common language of ideas, concepts and vocabulary to help make sense of allusions in both fictional and non-fictional reading selections.
My students didn't understand terms such as "Achilles' heel," "having a cross to bear," or "Eureka," -- they thought that last one was a nearby town. They didn't know that Snow White had a sister named Rose Red and that there was one dwarf and he was mean. They didn't know what "indivisible" meant although they said it every day. They didn't know that Wednesday is spelled weird because it's named after Wodin. I was told that students should only read out of their basal reader, (like many of the people who now drone on and on about Direct Instruction insist will work.) I made sure the kids read that and that we discussed it, but I also slipped in fairy tales, mythology, poetry, drama, Bible stories-- this was a Catholic school. I taught them their disjointed spelling words but also Greek and Latin roots and affixes so that they could decode words for themselves in the sciences, in mathematics, in music. You get the idea, and I don't want to go on and on and on. It was teaching as a subversive activity! When the principal saw the improved test scores, she thought it was due to the basal reader, but oh, well. The scores might have been even better if school discipline had been predicated upon something other than an inverse relation between family income and consistent behavioral expectations, too, but that's another topic.
I saw that there is a place for memorization as well as a place for creativity in a child's education. I saw that moderation in educational trends is key. It doesn't have to be "whole language" versus "hooked on phonics"-- they need both! It wasn't "Writing Workshop" verus "Drill and Kill"-- they need time to be imaginative but they also need structure, not to mention exposure to great literature as well as high-interest young adult stuff.
Unfortunately none of that was really the subject of ed school. And a little more practical discussion of discipline and motivation issues would have been great, too.
I think the big question today is how to motivate students to want to craft their own educations-- for education can not be handed to you or forced upon you, nor can you be tricked or bribed into it. It's not always going to be "fun," or entertainment, but it's should never be mindless worksheet completion. It MUST be demanding, which means it is often going to be uncomfortable and, like all things worthwhile, a struggle. Our society today-- especially many students, some parents, and sadly some educators-- believe that education can be delivered to someone like a cheeseburger on a plate: simply put it in front of the kid, and they'll wolf it down. A more troubling question is why some students don't believe that their education is worthy of as many hours of practice as their jump shots. But ed school didn't really give me an idea of HOW to do this high-wire act and solve problems like that.
We live in a society that SAYS that education is important yet looks with suspicion upon those who are intellectual or who would rather read than watch Survivor: Cutthroat Caribbean. We say education is important but vilify teachers as the Root Of All Evil. Teaching is one of the oldest of human activities and yet the least understood. The goofball in me wants to wisecrack that good teaching is like the famous quote about pornography: "I know it when I see it." But good teaching is an art, hopefully art that looks like this
and not like this
It is currently all the rage in our society to paint a picture of abject failure in public education because that supports some personal political goal like the perpetual Cassandras who talk about some "good old days" in which American education was so much better. To them, 2/3 of students are illiterate monkeys who can't add 2+4 but feel good about themselves. To them, teachers are organ-grinders for the monkeys, involved in a nefarious plot to further the cause of ignorance everywhere in order to cover up the fact that teachers themselves were the poorest students. Never mind that if that were true, we certainly wouldn't be facing a teacher shortage right now, would we?
But anyway, education schools, just like America as a whole, suffer from the Flavor of the Month Syndrome. Has anyone really considered that part of the problem with students' reading and math abilities on tests might be that there has been, for instance, aboout six kinds of "New" math and language arts theories introduced-- and jettisoned--since I was in school as a wee lass?
There's always THE NEXT BIG THING in education. The current BIG THING is teaching students as individuals now-- individualized instruction, for example, and IEPs-- as increasingly my class sizes bloat because my students' test scores are pretty good and my minutes per class shrinks as we try to rejigger the limited school day to meet AYP and still have a championship football team. (As fat as I've become, there's still not enough of me to go around! ) Then we give kids a one-size-doesn't-fit-all test. Those who care about education fail to see that primary disconnect, among others.
Test scores are a flawed indicator when standing alone. For instance, when I was in high school I got a 36 on the ACT in science. My science teacher and I laughed ourselves SICK over that one. It was all about vocabulary-- which I DID have-- versus science knowledge, which was hit-or-miss in my case, unless you count a passion for geology and botany but a loathing of chemistry. That's the objection many of us have against some very unreliable tests that we have had to administer.
Many of the people who propose charter schools-- free schools from intrusive government regulation and bureaucracy!-- ladle ever more layers of bureaucracy onto public schools like ugly on an ape with the very next breath. Many people who want to get reimbursements from tax dollars to send their children to private school nonetheless really don't want to see the exclusivity of those schools dropped if vouchers meaningfully give everyone the means to attend those same private schools. And if you think I'm exaggerating about this possibility, see what a massive infusion of government dollars into higher education known as the GI Bill did to the exclusivity of a college degree in this country from 1945 to 1960, people. Education schools also do not do any real investigation into these questions. I do know that several of the charter schools around here have seen failure to raise test scores themselves, not to mention the ones who have "lost" hundreds of thousands of the taxpayers' money due to that vaunted "relaxed accountability."
Many have suggested that teachers have a bachelor's in a subject and then have graduate degrees to become teachers. I know several teachers who have done that. I personally could not have afforded that option, especially considering that my first teaching job paid the whopping sum of just less than $11,000 a year in a Catholic school. No room for more student loans there. (Hell, no room for health care much less insurance, or even Hamburger Helper, either!)
I do teach what I am passionate about. I do think that many education schools are totally disconnected from the reality of life in the classroom. But you also can't just throw someone who is "passionate" in there, either, even "passionate and strong in content" if they drone like bees when they talk or don't know what to do with young Jezebel if she disrupts the learning chances for others. Some research into cognitive development a bit more recent than Piaget would be good for prospective teachers to learn. Time to actually engage in reflective practice as both a pre-teacher and as a practicing teacher would certainly go a long way if teachers were not shoehorned into a thousand disjointed meetings every time we have a "staff development" day. I think teachers should constantly be seeking to perfect their craft. I think teachers should be primarily able to focus on teaching and that schools should be primarily about learning. Simple enough, right?
Once you get a credential to teach, no matter what you call it, the journey has just begun. If teacher development in this country encouraged this, any number of sins of omission or commission in education schools could probably be ameliorated. If we backed up our supposed support of education with actual deeds and respect, that might go even further.
Oh, and did I mention I would also like to not have to purchase my own dry-erase markers?? Just a thought.