Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ben suggested that we write a blog on the topic of what we wish we knew before joining Teacher Corps. I suppose that the easy answer is, "everything I know now," but I'll try to give a more complete response here.

I guess I should begin with what I knew before coming down here, or what I expected. I've blogged about this in the pas, and all of my assumptions at that point were very uneducated, but I guess they went a little something like this:

1. It will be difficult.
2. The graduate school classes will ensure you become an excellent teacher.
3. You will have a huge effect on the students.

After almost a year in the program, I am not sure how able I am to judge the validity of these claims, but I can use them to come up with a list of things I wish I had known.

1. It will be difficult, but not in the way you expect. The difficulties I have faced in my life have always been based on not understanding an academic concept (such as calculus and chemistry) or not understanding the behavior of other people (friends, acquaintances, family, lovers). I am arrogant enough to have had very little self doubt in my life. Until I became a teacher. I have doubted myself almost every day since stepping into the classroom, in regards to both the big things and the little things. I doubt whether I am teaching a concept correctly. I doubt whether my students are understanding me. I doubt whether I truly understand what I am teaching. Most importantly, I doubt if I am a good teacher. I doubt if I am the best person for these kids to have in the classroom.

2. Teacher Corps is not an academic program. I have learned very little from my graduate school classes, but for some tricks of the trade (I previously posted about my feelings on the Ole Miss Graduate School of Education). If you expect to use the weekends in Oxford to academically investigate some great mystery about American educational inequality, you are looking in the wrong place.

3. Secondary teaching (at least in critical needs schools) is not an academic pursuit. The problems I work out each day in my classroom are varied, but they are hardly ever intellectual. To truly grow intellectually I need somebody to challenge me and make me uncomfortable. Though my students may commonly make me uncomfortable, very rarely is it an academic discomfort.

4. Take Ben Guest with a grain of salt. It is really easy to bash him, his policies, and the way he presents things (as most every member of my Teacher Corps class did in the early days of our time here), but in the end you have to understand that all the decisions he makes are for the best of the program (even if they don't serve your individual interest). By joining Teacher Corps you have become part of a greater family, and Ben is the mother. Dr. Mullins is the father. Ms. Monroe is the cool aunt.

And that's all I have to say about that for right now.

I am currently covering another teacher’s class while my students take the English II State Writing Test (for obvious reasons, it is illegal for me to be in the room while my students are taking any state test in my subject). The classroom in which I currently sit is less of a classroom and more of a computer lab. The teacher sits at a computer at the head of the class while students work on individualized programs meant to improve their English language skills (the program is called “Orchard,” for those of you familiar). From what I can see, the students are mostly searching for the main idea, answering some reading comprehension questions, and completing grammar various grammar activities.

But for the occasional pen-tapping, cough, or sneeze, the room is silent. As you, dear reader, have probably already realized, the setup of the classroom gives me (or any teacher) the ability to dutifully ignore the students as they complete their assignments. Or don’t complete them – I just went around the classroom and awakened three different students for the third time, one of whom retorted with, “But Miss O. lets me sleep in this class!”

I truly cannot judge how much learning is taking place in this room, as I type these words. My honest guess is that about 40% of the class is getting something out of their exercises, 20% is completing the exercises and not learning much, and the last 40% is daydreaming or attempting to sleep.

Which brings me to my point: technology in the classroom is a farce. Despite this, it continues to be a buzzword in education, one of those perennial topics that will certainly appear on the docket during conferences and seminars, one that will always be a part of the curriculum of graduate schools of education. It remains so potent because it is a panacea that satisfies the needs of three major groups:

  1. Teachers. Teachers in technology-based classrooms commonly used the machines to replace themselves, something that sounds disheartening but in actuality is nice for the teacher who does not want to do any actual teaching. As most of us realize, this is, sadly, a very populous group.
  2. Administrators. Principals and assistant principals feel they are accomplishing something by getting an expensive piece of technology into the classroom. It is an addition that can be pointed to as a concrete example of “improvement”: “Look! We now have an expensive thingamajig!”
  3. Politicians: Much like principals and other administrators, many politicians seem to think they can satisfy numerous educational problems by bankrolling a sexy piece of technology.
My main issue with all of this is not that we have technology in the classroom; on the contrary, I think it is wonderful to have access to a variety of tech-based tools. However, I commonly fear that technology in itself is becoming a coverall that allows individual teachers to cut corners and not fully donate themselves to ensuring their students fully learn each topic at hand. Technology should never replace the old-fashioned model of teaching: lectures, note-taking, reading, studying, and assessing.

Monday, March 19, 2007

(Today in class, during a pop quiz...)

me: "C, keep your eyes on your own paper. In fact, please go sit in the last seat in that row."
C: "Aw, Mr. E, my people 'been fighting so they didn't have to sit in the back of the bus. Now I ain't sitting in the back of the classroom!"
me (softly laughing): "Please just move."
(she moves)
(a minute later)
C (singing softly): "We shall overcome, we shall overcome..."
me (laughing uncontrollably): "Oh Lord..."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

From my third nine weeks exam...

Bonus: In which city is the Eiffel Tower located?

TJ's answer: "Paris, where the homosexual people live."