Thursday, December 19, 2013

Why does this bother me?

First, because some of my students check in on this blog, I want to be clear that the thoughts presented here represent my own issues and are not meant to shame my students or dismiss their perspective. Second, for my 200th post, I thought I would share one of my issues with you. So, consider yourself warned.

Near the end of the semester, I often ask students to reflect on the course and write a letter advising future students on what to expect. (I wrote about it here.) This time, I asked them to narrow it down to three important points. One student wrote:

"This is an education class not a math class."

For some reason, this point really bothered me. I do not know how my student intended it (and it doesn't matter - this is about me), but I took it negatively. One of the ways I can tell I have had a button pushed is when I start getting defensive. So when I began to line up all my arguments, like soldiers on a battlefield, in order to attack this point, I knew that it was time to take a step back and consider why I was uncomfortable with this point.

It did not come to me immediately, but then yesterday I read these Tweets, 
and the linked articles (here and here, respectively). Both use reports from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) to reinforce the narrative that U.S. efforts to train teachers are "abysmal." Yes, I know that the NCTQ teacher prep rankings are non-sense (none other than Linda Darling-Hammond makes the case) but I seem to have bought into the non-sense. Therefore, when the student wrote that my course was an "education class," I began to worry that I was part of the problem.

Most teachers can probably understand this line of thinking. Regardless of what we know about the realities of education, the message seems to be that teachers in the U.S. are to blame for all of our educational ills, whether real or imagined. Therefore, I want to do all I can to "make things better" - even if it is unwarranted.

A friend of mine once told me that if my buttons were being pushed, then I needed to move my buttons. In this case, I needed to shift my attention to aspects of the course that were preparing these future teachers for the realities of the profession; this was, after all the overarching goal of the course.

Please pardon me if this next piece seems self-serving, but I need to acknowledge some of the points other students shared:
  • Keep up with the readings! They are very important towards your teaching future.
  • As future teachers you understand that the main goal is helping the students learn. That is your professor's goal as well!
  • You will work extensively in collaboration with your peers, as you will as future classroom teachers.
  • Do not procrastinate! Otherwise you will have an overwhelming amount of work to do.
  • Put a ton of effort into this class even though a lot of the things that you do won't be graded because you will get out what you put into the class.
  • Take time to reflect on different aspects of class because there is a lot of useful information, and you want to be sure you have learned most, if not all, of it.
Reviewing these, there does seem to be a lack of attention to the mathematical content; this is something to consider for next time. However, as education classes go, I am satisfied that this course provided students with some of the tools necessary for success in teaching: reading research, focusing on learning, being prepared, giving less attention to grades and more on learning, and recognizing the importance of reflection. 

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