Category: teachers

Are you a great Teacher? Let’s look at the thoughts of 12 great Teachers. 

Source: NPR


image

Great teachers have two things in common: an exceptional level of devotion to their students, and the drive to inspire each one to learn and succeed.

At NPR Ed we’re just about halfway through our 50 Great Teachers project.

We’ve profiled teachers at all levels, in all subjects, from all over the country and overseas too. The series has taken us from rural Drumright, Okla., to a mountaintop in Israel. From a jazz class in New Orleans to a Boy Scout troop in South Central LA to the lost world of ancient Greece.

And so we’ve taken a moment here to pull from those stories some of the thoughts and lessons from those teachers that have stuck with us.

Together, they almost make a mini-guide for teachers.

1. Realize Teaching Is A Learned Skill

“I’m really trying hard to dispel this idea that teaching is this thing you’re born to do and it’s somehow natural to everyday life. I don’t think either of those things is true.”

Deborah Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan.

2. Get To The Truth

“I’ll tell you the truth, you tell me the truth. The rest is commentary.”

Molly Pollak, 40-year veteran middle and high school English teacher, New York City

For 20 years, Conrad Cooper has been teaching children in Los Angeles to swim by earning his young students’ unwavering trust.

Elissa Nadworny/NPR

3. Build Trust

“Swimming is the easy part. It’s the trust part that’s the most difficult for them.”

Conrad Cooper, swim teacher, Los Angeles

4. Assume a Secret Identity

“Giving myself a name, Mr. Spider, gave me an out. It gave me a way to express a side of me I musta had but never took out.”

Mathias Schergen, “Mr. Spider,” elementary school art teacher, Chicago

5. Be A Sparring Partner

“All these students around me, they can easily come, and they can challenge me. They can reject me. They can oppose me. They can laugh with me. Sometimes they can even laugh at me. They can!”

Aziz Royesh, teacher, Afghanistan

6. Be Someone To Watch Over Them

“I want them to say, ‘At least one person, Miss Begay, is there every day for me. Miss Begay is going to wonder where I am if I go missing. There will be one person looking out for me, and it’s Miss Begay.’ ”

Tia Tsosie Begay, a 4th grade teacher in Arizona.

7. Be A Teacher, Not A Friend

Coach Nick Haley talks with a student during crew practice in Portland, Or. He stresses teaching over friendship.

David P Gilkey/NPR

“It’s important to support them. It’s important to respect them. It’s important to nurture them. But, a friend? No.”

Nick Haley, rowing coach in Portland, Ore.

8. Believe In Their Success

“The same tools the schools use to show they cannot succeed, we use them in opposite way.”

Ali Shalalha, principal, Beit Jann Comprehensive School, Israel

9. Recognize It Takes Vulnerability To Learn

“It takes a lot for any student, especially for a student who is learning English as their new language, to feel confident enough to say, ‘I don’t know, but I want to know.’ ”

Thomas Whaley, 2nd grade teacher, Patchogue, N.Y.

10. Look For The Success Stories

“I know that you cannot save everybody. But if one of them could just go along, complete his education, go to college, and I see him in the future doing something positive with his life, that makes me think that what I was doing is all worthwhile.”

Rodney Carey, high school equivalency teacher, New Orleans

11. Blow Off Steam, But Remember Why You’re Here

“Yeah, there’s days where I complain. And the people I complain to think I’m insane because I haven’t left this place. But these kids deserve better.”

Sarah Hagan, high school math teacher, Drumright, Okla.

12. Be Grateful To Your Own Teachers

“I am the product of great teachers. They can show you something that you have never seen before. And awaken that little something inside of you that you’ve never seen before.”

Are you a great Teacher? Let’s look at the thoughts of 12 great Teachers. 

Source: NPR


image

Great teachers have two things in common: an exceptional level of devotion to their students, and the drive to inspire each one to learn and succeed.

At NPR Ed we’re just about halfway through our 50 Great Teachers project.

We’ve profiled teachers at all levels, in all subjects, from all over the country and overseas too. The series has taken us from rural Drumright, Okla., to a mountaintop in Israel. From a jazz class in New Orleans to a Boy Scout troop in South Central LA to the lost world of ancient Greece.

And so we’ve taken a moment here to pull from those stories some of the thoughts and lessons from those teachers that have stuck with us.

Together, they almost make a mini-guide for teachers.

1. Realize Teaching Is A Learned Skill

“I’m really trying hard to dispel this idea that teaching is this thing you’re born to do and it’s somehow natural to everyday life. I don’t think either of those things is true.”

Deborah Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan.

2. Get To The Truth

“I’ll tell you the truth, you tell me the truth. The rest is commentary.”

Molly Pollak, 40-year veteran middle and high school English teacher, New York City

For 20 years, Conrad Cooper has been teaching children in Los Angeles to swim by earning his young students’ unwavering trust.

Elissa Nadworny/NPR

3. Build Trust

“Swimming is the easy part. It’s the trust part that’s the most difficult for them.”

Conrad Cooper, swim teacher, Los Angeles

4. Assume a Secret Identity

“Giving myself a name, Mr. Spider, gave me an out. It gave me a way to express a side of me I musta had but never took out.”

Mathias Schergen, “Mr. Spider,” elementary school art teacher, Chicago

5. Be A Sparring Partner

“All these students around me, they can easily come, and they can challenge me. They can reject me. They can oppose me. They can laugh with me. Sometimes they can even laugh at me. They can!”

Aziz Royesh, teacher, Afghanistan

6. Be Someone To Watch Over Them

“I want them to say, ‘At least one person, Miss Begay, is there every day for me. Miss Begay is going to wonder where I am if I go missing. There will be one person looking out for me, and it’s Miss Begay.’ ”

Tia Tsosie Begay, a 4th grade teacher in Arizona.

7. Be A Teacher, Not A Friend

Coach Nick Haley talks with a student during crew practice in Portland, Or. He stresses teaching over friendship.

David P Gilkey/NPR

“It’s important to support them. It’s important to respect them. It’s important to nurture them. But, a friend? No.”

Nick Haley, rowing coach in Portland, Ore.

8. Believe In Their Success

“The same tools the schools use to show they cannot succeed, we use them in opposite way.”

Ali Shalalha, principal, Beit Jann Comprehensive School, Israel

9. Recognize It Takes Vulnerability To Learn

“It takes a lot for any student, especially for a student who is learning English as their new language, to feel confident enough to say, ‘I don’t know, but I want to know.’ ”

Thomas Whaley, 2nd grade teacher, Patchogue, N.Y.

10. Look For The Success Stories

“I know that you cannot save everybody. But if one of them could just go along, complete his education, go to college, and I see him in the future doing something positive with his life, that makes me think that what I was doing is all worthwhile.”

Rodney Carey, high school equivalency teacher, New Orleans

11. Blow Off Steam, But Remember Why You’re Here

“Yeah, there’s days where I complain. And the people I complain to think I’m insane because I haven’t left this place. But these kids deserve better.”

Sarah Hagan, high school math teacher, Drumright, Okla.

12. Be Grateful To Your Own Teachers

“I am the product of great teachers. They can show you something that you have never seen before. And awaken that little something inside of you that you’ve never seen before.”

Here’s a great read on the core skills for Teachers. 


Jasmine Bankhead went to a traditional teacher prep program in the early 2000s. She took about a year’s worth of coursework that was all pretty general. Bankhead was expecting to learn a lot when she did her student teaching. But on her first day, she says, “my mentor teacher, she came in, we talked for a few minutes, and she was like, ‘OK, I’ll be in the library from now on.’ And just like that, I was by myself. And although I complained a little bit to my student teaching supervisor, I still felt like I was expected to make it work.”

Jennifer Green did a nontraditional program back in the 1990s. She got five weeks of training in things like “introduction to classroom management” and “introduction to planning.” Then she was a teacher, in a huge, struggling high school.

“I would come in in the morning. I would close the door,” she says. “I would struggle through the day. I would cry three times a week after my third period, which was my most challenging group of students. I would dust myself off. I would tell my fourth period class that I had terrible allergies and that’s why my eyes were so red.”

She says she got no help. The first time an administrator came to check on her it was January — and the administrator just needed to know if she had enough textbooks.

Green and Bankhead both wanted to become great teachers. But the system didn’t seem set up to help them do it.

There’s a pervasive American myth that good teachers are born, not made, and that good teachers have a set of inborn traits that naturally blossom as they figure the job out on their own. To get better teachers, the theory goes, schools need to find more people with those traits. The other myth is that teaching is easy — the work involves children and the content is pretty basic, so it must be easy.

“Teaching is complex work that people actually have to be taught to do,” says Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan. Ball spent years as an elementary school teacher and was always praised for being a “natural,” but she says teaching never came easily. She worked hard at her job.

Now, she’s trying to dramatically change teacher training to focus on the specific knowledge and skills that teachers need to effectively help students. Understanding math and knowing how to teach it are two separate skills. And understanding how to teach math well doesn’t come naturally.

People who want to be teachers “deserve to learn how to do this work well,” Ball says. “And the children that they teach particularly deserve to have those teachers taught.”

Professionalizing Teaching

Ball and her colleagues at the University of Michigan have started treating teacher preparation like any other profession. That means identifying the core set of skills, techniques and knowledge required by an entry-level employee in that field. To be a plumber, for example, one needs to know how to vent a sanitary drainage system. To be a pilot, one needs to know how to do a crosswind approach and landing. And one would have to prove one can do these things to get licensed.

“This is true primarily at least across occupations and professions where people’s safety is at risk,” Ball says. “And I do think it’s of great concern that we don’t as a culture appear to think that children are at risk when we don’t execute that same kind of responsibility” when it comes to training teachers.

There’s a lot of resistance to the idea of defining a core set of skills and knowledge that teachers should know before they start teaching, Ball says. It goes back to the belief that the ability to teach is a personal trait, dependent on individual style and talent. But Ball isn’t advocating that teachers give up their personality. She’s just trying to ensure every new teacher has the right skills for the job.

High-leverage teaching practices

About 10 years ago, Ball and her colleagues at the University of Michigan decided to try to identify what that core set of teaching would look like.

Tim Boerst, chair of the Elementary Teacher Education program, says the question they asked themselves was this:

“When a teacher goes out into the field, what are they routinely going to be needing to do? And how are those routines, those particular practices, really important in the learning of students? Because there are all kinds of things that teachers routinely do. Which are the ones that we’re going to be picking that we really think advance the learning of academic subject matter?”

They got a bunch of teachers and researchers together and came up with a list of the things they thought all beginning teachers should know how to do. Their list had 84 things on it. That was clearly too many. They needed a set of skills they could actually teach in their two-year program, so they whittled their list down to 19 skills and gave them a name: high-leverage teaching practices.

The list includes skills like these:

  • Leading a whole-class discussion. “In instructionally productive discussions, the teacher and a wide range of students contribute orally, listen actively, and respond to and learn from others’ contributions.”
  • Designing a sequence of lessons toward a specific learning goal. “Teachers design and sequence lessons with an eye toward providing opportunities for student inquiry and discovery and include opportunities for students to practice and master foundational concepts and skills before moving on to more advanced ones.”
  • Eliciting and interpreting individual students’ thinking. “To do this effectively, a teacher draws out a student’s thinking through carefully chosen questions and tasks and considers and checks alternative interpretations of the student’s ideas and methods.”
  • Analyzing instruction for the purpose of improving it. “Learning to teach is an ongoing process that requires regular analysis of instruction and its effectiveness.”

Helping Teachers Learn Those Skills

Teaching teachers is particularly difficult because everyone has some experience of either being a student or teaching something informally. And those prior experiences shape ideas about what education should look like.

When a student comes into the teacher preparation program at Michigan, faculty want to know what beliefs and skills students are bringing with them. Professors then tailor the curriculum to focus on the things students don’t know. They also work hard to help pre-service teachers unlearn habits or beliefs they picked up from their own years as children in school that are not productive ways to help kids learn.

To figure out what incoming students already know about teaching, Michigan faculty asks them do a role-playing exercise where they actually do some teaching. The pre-service teachers are given a piece of paper with a math problem on it. The paper also includes an answer. Here’s one of the problems the Michigan students are given, with an answer a student might actually have given.

The Michigan students get a few minutes to look at the problem. Then they sit down with a graduate student or professor who plays the role of the kid who came up with the answer 83. The pre-service teacher’s goal is to find out what the student did to produce that answer, and why. The entire teaching moment is recorded on video.

The point of this simulation is to see how well the Michigan student can elicit and interpret student thinking. That’s one of the high-leverage practices, and it’s hard to do. Even if the pre-service teacher can figure out what the student did, it’s really hard to leave space for the student to explain his or her own thinking.

Often, rather than eliciting the kid’s thinking, the “teacher” tells the kid what she thinks the kid was thinking, says Boerst. He calls it “filling in student thinking.”

“And that happens in classrooms all the time,” he says. “Teachers make assumptions about what kids are thinking. Kids don’t really know how to say otherwise or maybe aren’t inclined to say otherwise. Like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I was thinking ’cause I don’t really want to say what I was thinking.’”

Boerst says this can lead teachers to think kids understand the material when they don’t.

By watching and coding these simulated assessments, Boerst and his colleagues have found that half of the students coming into the elementary teacher prep program at Michigan do this “filling in of student thinking.”

Teaching students out of this habit is one of the goals of the Michigan teacher prep program. But just reading or talking about the fact that you shouldn’t do this as a teacher isn’t enough, says Boerst. People have to practice doing it a different way.

Teacher preparation in the United States hasn’t been focused enough on practice, says Ball. Traditionally, students in teacher prep programs spend a lot of time reading and talking about teaching.

“The assignments in the past were much more reflection, analysis,” Ball says. “In some sense, we could have been misled by people getting good grades for writing well. And, although it may sound a little too extreme, I think we’re more interested now in whether they can do it well, not how well they can talk about it.”

At Michigan, students are continually recording themselves as they practice teaching, and then watching the video and analyzing it. When teachers encounter a difficult moment in the classroom, like a misconception that they aren’t sure how to debunk, they have a tendency to just get through it and try not to think about it again.

“Many of us have had that experience of, ‘OK, phew, that’s over, I don’t have to do it again,’ ” says Betsy Davis, a professor in the elementary education program. That’s exactly what Michigan is trying to train its pre-service teachers not to do. Instead, the program tries to instill reflection for the purpose of improvement into everything, especially mistakes.

“By having the interns watch their own video of their teaching really carefully, they see things or they hear themselves saying things that don’t make sense or that are missed opportunities,” says Davis. “And that’s one of the things we ask them to highlight in their videos: What did you miss the chance to do that if you were doing this over you would do?”

A New Approach to Student Teaching

But is all this video recording necessary when most teacher preparation programs include a student teaching component? Many people expect student-teachers will learn practical skills from the veteran educators with whom they are paired.

The problem with pinning all the practical experience on student teaching is that the quality of those experiences varies widely. Even more shocking, data collected in the mid-2000s showed that more than 20 percent of first-year teachers had no student teaching experience at all. Forty-two percent of science teachers did no student teaching.

Remember Jasmine Bankhead, the student teacher who was left alone in the classroom on her very first day? That’s not so uncommon. Student teachers are either given too much responsibility, or they’re not given enough; they make copies or do recess duty. Or they just sit and watch the teacher teach. They might see really effective teaching, and they might not.

All of these things were happening when students at Michigan went out into the field for their student teaching experience. It was always a scramble to find classrooms to send them to. There was no consistency. Students “were actually starting to pick up some negative practices from the field,” says Elizabeth Moje, an associate dean at the Michigan School of Education who helps oversee the student teaching program.

Moje wanted her students to see teachers who were really good at things like eliciting student thinking and leading class discussions. She needed a way to send only students to observe teachers the university knew were very effective. So that’s what they did.

Now, rather than sending the students out to dozens of schools all over the Detroit metropolitan area, Michigan rotates its students in groups to just a few different classrooms in a few different schools. It’s similar to the way medical students rotate through different specialties during their training. There’s a lot Michigan has borrowed from the medical field. In fact, all the pre-service teachers are now called interns.

When interns visit classrooms, they check in with the teacher and then work in small groups or one-on-one with students. A Michigan adviser is also in the class, observing as interns work with students. If one of the interns struggles, the advisor can jump in with real-time feedback.

For example, in a discussion about the causes of the Civil War, one intern repeatedly asked questions hoping to solicit a particular response from the middle school students that just wasn’t coming. There were lots of awkward pauses as the intern waited for the kids to pick up on his train of thought.

Adviser Rebecca Gadd was observing. When the intern had tried a few different questions with no luck, she stopped the discussion and pulled the intern aside to give him some tips.

“OK, so what I would suspect is that the way that this is explained is a little bit abstract,” she says, referring to the reading assignment.

“So you need to think, are you going to ask or are you going to explain?” She recommends that he stop asking the students questions because they clearly missed the point in the reading. It’s time to explain it to them. Just tell them what you want them to know.

Gadd is a former middle school teacher. She wishes her training had included this kind of guided practice. Teachers can go through their entire training — their entire careers even — without anyone taking them aside and offering in-the-moment feedback. She says Michigan got the idea for doing this from medical training.

“When aspiring doctors are practicing with patients, medical educators don’t wait until they’ve killed the patient to intervene and say, ‘You should have done this differently,’ ” she says. “Instead, they intervene in the moment and say, ‘OK, we need to be doing this.’ ”

Becoming a Teacher

Michigan students in the secondary teacher education program spend two semesters in classrooms, observing and working with kids one-on-one or in groups. The idea is a gradual assumption of responsibility.

They don’t actually do what most people think of as student teaching until their third semester. That’s when they’re promoted from intern to resident, and they actually get to take charge and teach the class.

Grace Tesfae is in her semester-long residency, getting ready to graduate from Michigan in a few months. She’s excited about having her own classroom, but also scared to be on her own. “I feel like I’ll be ready when the time comes,” Tesfae says, sounding a bit uncertain.

Michigan doesn’t have much data yet on whether the new approach is working. It’s not even clear what kind of data would provide a meaningful measure of what Michigan is trying to do. They could look at test scores of students in their graduates’ classrooms. That would tell them something. But Michigan wants to know if its teachers can do things like elicit and interpret student thinking and lead class discussions. Test scores don’t tell you that.

Michigan does have its interns repeat the simulation they did at the beginning of the program, where they tried to figure out how a kid was thinking while solving a math problem. By the end of their first year in the program, most interns are no longer filling in, rather than eliciting, a student’s thinking. The Michigan interns show progress on other elements of the 19 high-leverage teaching practices, too.

Deborah Ball admits that those 19 practices are just a first bet for changing teacher education. “These aren’t necessarily the end, but they are the best bets we had,” Ball said. “And we have to have a systematic way of revising those.”

Bottom line though, from Ball’s point of view, is that the teaching profession needs to come to some kind of common understanding about the skills that are required to enter the profession. And just like plumbers and pilots, new teachers should have to demonstrate they have these skills.

Ball has started an organization to try to develop new licensing assessments for people who want to be teachers and to work with teacher preparation programs across the country to develop common approaches to professional training. It’s a big job. The U.S. Department of Education projects that by 2020, the United States will need nearly 430,000 new teachers a year.

Ball’s ultimate goal is to make sure every first–year teacher in the United States is what she calls “a well-started beginner.” That’s what she and her colleagues are aiming for at Michigan.

“We’re really eyeing the first year, honestly,” she says. “Really, the goal is that kids wouldn’t have first-year teachers who are completely underprepared, that it wouldn’t be true anymore that you could just end up with a teacher who, this is her year to have a wreck year.”

Ball feels particular urgency about this question because in the United States, it’s poor kids who are most likely to get first-year teachers. Ball says that to improve education for all kids, and especially for poor kids, first-year teachers have to be much better prepared.

Source: Mind/Shift

Here’s a great read on the core skills for Teachers. 


Jasmine Bankhead went to a traditional teacher prep program in the early 2000s. She took about a year’s worth of coursework that was all pretty general. Bankhead was expecting to learn a lot when she did her student teaching. But on her first day, she says, “my mentor teacher, she came in, we talked for a few minutes, and she was like, ‘OK, I’ll be in the library from now on.’ And just like that, I was by myself. And although I complained a little bit to my student teaching supervisor, I still felt like I was expected to make it work.”

Jennifer Green did a nontraditional program back in the 1990s. She got five weeks of training in things like “introduction to classroom management” and “introduction to planning.” Then she was a teacher, in a huge, struggling high school.

“I would come in in the morning. I would close the door,” she says. “I would struggle through the day. I would cry three times a week after my third period, which was my most challenging group of students. I would dust myself off. I would tell my fourth period class that I had terrible allergies and that’s why my eyes were so red.”

She says she got no help. The first time an administrator came to check on her it was January — and the administrator just needed to know if she had enough textbooks.

Green and Bankhead both wanted to become great teachers. But the system didn’t seem set up to help them do it.

There’s a pervasive American myth that good teachers are born, not made, and that good teachers have a set of inborn traits that naturally blossom as they figure the job out on their own. To get better teachers, the theory goes, schools need to find more people with those traits. The other myth is that teaching is easy — the work involves children and the content is pretty basic, so it must be easy.

“Teaching is complex work that people actually have to be taught to do,” says Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan. Ball spent years as an elementary school teacher and was always praised for being a “natural,” but she says teaching never came easily. She worked hard at her job.

Now, she’s trying to dramatically change teacher training to focus on the specific knowledge and skills that teachers need to effectively help students. Understanding math and knowing how to teach it are two separate skills. And understanding how to teach math well doesn’t come naturally.

People who want to be teachers “deserve to learn how to do this work well,” Ball says. “And the children that they teach particularly deserve to have those teachers taught.”

Professionalizing Teaching

Ball and her colleagues at the University of Michigan have started treating teacher preparation like any other profession. That means identifying the core set of skills, techniques and knowledge required by an entry-level employee in that field. To be a plumber, for example, one needs to know how to vent a sanitary drainage system. To be a pilot, one needs to know how to do a crosswind approach and landing. And one would have to prove one can do these things to get licensed.

“This is true primarily at least across occupations and professions where people’s safety is at risk,” Ball says. “And I do think it’s of great concern that we don’t as a culture appear to think that children are at risk when we don’t execute that same kind of responsibility” when it comes to training teachers.

There’s a lot of resistance to the idea of defining a core set of skills and knowledge that teachers should know before they start teaching, Ball says. It goes back to the belief that the ability to teach is a personal trait, dependent on individual style and talent. But Ball isn’t advocating that teachers give up their personality. She’s just trying to ensure every new teacher has the right skills for the job.

High-leverage teaching practices

About 10 years ago, Ball and her colleagues at the University of Michigan decided to try to identify what that core set of teaching would look like.

Tim Boerst, chair of the Elementary Teacher Education program, says the question they asked themselves was this:

“When a teacher goes out into the field, what are they routinely going to be needing to do? And how are those routines, those particular practices, really important in the learning of students? Because there are all kinds of things that teachers routinely do. Which are the ones that we’re going to be picking that we really think advance the learning of academic subject matter?”

They got a bunch of teachers and researchers together and came up with a list of the things they thought all beginning teachers should know how to do. Their list had 84 things on it. That was clearly too many. They needed a set of skills they could actually teach in their two-year program, so they whittled their list down to 19 skills and gave them a name: high-leverage teaching practices.

The list includes skills like these:

  • Leading a whole-class discussion. “In instructionally productive discussions, the teacher and a wide range of students contribute orally, listen actively, and respond to and learn from others’ contributions.”
  • Designing a sequence of lessons toward a specific learning goal. “Teachers design and sequence lessons with an eye toward providing opportunities for student inquiry and discovery and include opportunities for students to practice and master foundational concepts and skills before moving on to more advanced ones.”
  • Eliciting and interpreting individual students’ thinking. “To do this effectively, a teacher draws out a student’s thinking through carefully chosen questions and tasks and considers and checks alternative interpretations of the student’s ideas and methods.”
  • Analyzing instruction for the purpose of improving it. “Learning to teach is an ongoing process that requires regular analysis of instruction and its effectiveness.”

Helping Teachers Learn Those Skills

Teaching teachers is particularly difficult because everyone has some experience of either being a student or teaching something informally. And those prior experiences shape ideas about what education should look like.

When a student comes into the teacher preparation program at Michigan, faculty want to know what beliefs and skills students are bringing with them. Professors then tailor the curriculum to focus on the things students don’t know. They also work hard to help pre-service teachers unlearn habits or beliefs they picked up from their own years as children in school that are not productive ways to help kids learn.

To figure out what incoming students already know about teaching, Michigan faculty asks them do a role-playing exercise where they actually do some teaching. The pre-service teachers are given a piece of paper with a math problem on it. The paper also includes an answer. Here’s one of the problems the Michigan students are given, with an answer a student might actually have given.

The Michigan students get a few minutes to look at the problem. Then they sit down with a graduate student or professor who plays the role of the kid who came up with the answer 83. The pre-service teacher’s goal is to find out what the student did to produce that answer, and why. The entire teaching moment is recorded on video.

The point of this simulation is to see how well the Michigan student can elicit and interpret student thinking. That’s one of the high-leverage practices, and it’s hard to do. Even if the pre-service teacher can figure out what the student did, it’s really hard to leave space for the student to explain his or her own thinking.

Often, rather than eliciting the kid’s thinking, the “teacher” tells the kid what she thinks the kid was thinking, says Boerst. He calls it “filling in student thinking.”

“And that happens in classrooms all the time,” he says. “Teachers make assumptions about what kids are thinking. Kids don’t really know how to say otherwise or maybe aren’t inclined to say otherwise. Like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I was thinking ’cause I don’t really want to say what I was thinking.’”

Boerst says this can lead teachers to think kids understand the material when they don’t.

By watching and coding these simulated assessments, Boerst and his colleagues have found that half of the students coming into the elementary teacher prep program at Michigan do this “filling in of student thinking.”

Teaching students out of this habit is one of the goals of the Michigan teacher prep program. But just reading or talking about the fact that you shouldn’t do this as a teacher isn’t enough, says Boerst. People have to practice doing it a different way.

Teacher preparation in the United States hasn’t been focused enough on practice, says Ball. Traditionally, students in teacher prep programs spend a lot of time reading and talking about teaching.

“The assignments in the past were much more reflection, analysis,” Ball says. “In some sense, we could have been misled by people getting good grades for writing well. And, although it may sound a little too extreme, I think we’re more interested now in whether they can do it well, not how well they can talk about it.”

At Michigan, students are continually recording themselves as they practice teaching, and then watching the video and analyzing it. When teachers encounter a difficult moment in the classroom, like a misconception that they aren’t sure how to debunk, they have a tendency to just get through it and try not to think about it again.

“Many of us have had that experience of, ‘OK, phew, that’s over, I don’t have to do it again,’ ” says Betsy Davis, a professor in the elementary education program. That’s exactly what Michigan is trying to train its pre-service teachers not to do. Instead, the program tries to instill reflection for the purpose of improvement into everything, especially mistakes.

“By having the interns watch their own video of their teaching really carefully, they see things or they hear themselves saying things that don’t make sense or that are missed opportunities,” says Davis. “And that’s one of the things we ask them to highlight in their videos: What did you miss the chance to do that if you were doing this over you would do?”

A New Approach to Student Teaching

But is all this video recording necessary when most teacher preparation programs include a student teaching component? Many people expect student-teachers will learn practical skills from the veteran educators with whom they are paired.

The problem with pinning all the practical experience on student teaching is that the quality of those experiences varies widely. Even more shocking, data collected in the mid-2000s showed that more than 20 percent of first-year teachers had no student teaching experience at all. Forty-two percent of science teachers did no student teaching.

Remember Jasmine Bankhead, the student teacher who was left alone in the classroom on her very first day? That’s not so uncommon. Student teachers are either given too much responsibility, or they’re not given enough; they make copies or do recess duty. Or they just sit and watch the teacher teach. They might see really effective teaching, and they might not.

All of these things were happening when students at Michigan went out into the field for their student teaching experience. It was always a scramble to find classrooms to send them to. There was no consistency. Students “were actually starting to pick up some negative practices from the field,” says Elizabeth Moje, an associate dean at the Michigan School of Education who helps oversee the student teaching program.

Moje wanted her students to see teachers who were really good at things like eliciting student thinking and leading class discussions. She needed a way to send only students to observe teachers the university knew were very effective. So that’s what they did.

Now, rather than sending the students out to dozens of schools all over the Detroit metropolitan area, Michigan rotates its students in groups to just a few different classrooms in a few different schools. It’s similar to the way medical students rotate through different specialties during their training. There’s a lot Michigan has borrowed from the medical field. In fact, all the pre-service teachers are now called interns.

When interns visit classrooms, they check in with the teacher and then work in small groups or one-on-one with students. A Michigan adviser is also in the class, observing as interns work with students. If one of the interns struggles, the advisor can jump in with real-time feedback.

For example, in a discussion about the causes of the Civil War, one intern repeatedly asked questions hoping to solicit a particular response from the middle school students that just wasn’t coming. There were lots of awkward pauses as the intern waited for the kids to pick up on his train of thought.

Adviser Rebecca Gadd was observing. When the intern had tried a few different questions with no luck, she stopped the discussion and pulled the intern aside to give him some tips.

“OK, so what I would suspect is that the way that this is explained is a little bit abstract,” she says, referring to the reading assignment.

“So you need to think, are you going to ask or are you going to explain?” She recommends that he stop asking the students questions because they clearly missed the point in the reading. It’s time to explain it to them. Just tell them what you want them to know.

Gadd is a former middle school teacher. She wishes her training had included this kind of guided practice. Teachers can go through their entire training — their entire careers even — without anyone taking them aside and offering in-the-moment feedback. She says Michigan got the idea for doing this from medical training.

“When aspiring doctors are practicing with patients, medical educators don’t wait until they’ve killed the patient to intervene and say, ‘You should have done this differently,’ ” she says. “Instead, they intervene in the moment and say, ‘OK, we need to be doing this.’ ”

Becoming a Teacher

Michigan students in the secondary teacher education program spend two semesters in classrooms, observing and working with kids one-on-one or in groups. The idea is a gradual assumption of responsibility.

They don’t actually do what most people think of as student teaching until their third semester. That’s when they’re promoted from intern to resident, and they actually get to take charge and teach the class.

Grace Tesfae is in her semester-long residency, getting ready to graduate from Michigan in a few months. She’s excited about having her own classroom, but also scared to be on her own. “I feel like I’ll be ready when the time comes,” Tesfae says, sounding a bit uncertain.

Michigan doesn’t have much data yet on whether the new approach is working. It’s not even clear what kind of data would provide a meaningful measure of what Michigan is trying to do. They could look at test scores of students in their graduates’ classrooms. That would tell them something. But Michigan wants to know if its teachers can do things like elicit and interpret student thinking and lead class discussions. Test scores don’t tell you that.

Michigan does have its interns repeat the simulation they did at the beginning of the program, where they tried to figure out how a kid was thinking while solving a math problem. By the end of their first year in the program, most interns are no longer filling in, rather than eliciting, a student’s thinking. The Michigan interns show progress on other elements of the 19 high-leverage teaching practices, too.

Deborah Ball admits that those 19 practices are just a first bet for changing teacher education. “These aren’t necessarily the end, but they are the best bets we had,” Ball said. “And we have to have a systematic way of revising those.”

Bottom line though, from Ball’s point of view, is that the teaching profession needs to come to some kind of common understanding about the skills that are required to enter the profession. And just like plumbers and pilots, new teachers should have to demonstrate they have these skills.

Ball has started an organization to try to develop new licensing assessments for people who want to be teachers and to work with teacher preparation programs across the country to develop common approaches to professional training. It’s a big job. The U.S. Department of Education projects that by 2020, the United States will need nearly 430,000 new teachers a year.

Ball’s ultimate goal is to make sure every first–year teacher in the United States is what she calls “a well-started beginner.” That’s what she and her colleagues are aiming for at Michigan.

“We’re really eyeing the first year, honestly,” she says. “Really, the goal is that kids wouldn’t have first-year teachers who are completely underprepared, that it wouldn’t be true anymore that you could just end up with a teacher who, this is her year to have a wreck year.”

Ball feels particular urgency about this question because in the United States, it’s poor kids who are most likely to get first-year teachers. Ball says that to improve education for all kids, and especially for poor kids, first-year teachers have to be much better prepared.

Source: Mind/Shift

When you’ve waited just a little too long to take that bathroom break …

When your lesson plan turns out perfectly …

“Thanks, brain.”

When they announce the first snow day …

When you have that breakthrough moment with a student 

When the district adds one more PD to your schedule …

When the kid in the back row wakes up and realizes the bell has already rung …

When they tell you you’re the best teacher they’ve ever had …

“Aw, shucks.”

When cold and flu season begins …

When they tell you they forgot their homework …

“I weep for humanity.”

When that one teacher keeps raising her hand at the PD …

“Are you listening to yourself?”

When they ask if they earned extra recess (after being totally off the hook all day) …

“No.”

When you describe your parent-teacher conference schedule to a non-teacher …

“OMG, right?”

Source: Buzzfeed

When you’ve waited just a little too long to take that bathroom break …

When your lesson plan turns out perfectly …

“Thanks, brain.”

When they announce the first snow day …

When you have that breakthrough moment with a student 

When the district adds one more PD to your schedule …

When the kid in the back row wakes up and realizes the bell has already rung …

When they tell you you’re the best teacher they’ve ever had …

“Aw, shucks.”

When cold and flu season begins …

When they tell you they forgot their homework …

“I weep for humanity.”

When that one teacher keeps raising her hand at the PD …

“Are you listening to yourself?”

When they ask if they earned extra recess (after being totally off the hook all day) …

“No.”

When you describe your parent-teacher conference schedule to a non-teacher …

“OMG, right?”

Source: Buzzfeed

Oh hey! We haven’t posted in a while but came across this great post for new teachers on Mashable. Check it out below! 


The first day of school is nerve-wracking for students — but it’s even scarier for new teachers.

When you’re facing a whole room full of bright-eyed students whose future is in your hands, it’s an empowering and totally terrifying feeling. Like any practice, it takes time and experience to learn your way around the classroom. But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a few words of wisdom from experienced colleagues.

A few seasoned teachers at Math for America provided tips that first-time educators should know. But even seasoned teachers could benefit from these pieces of advice.

1. Be yourself.

Be a well organized, fiercely boundaried, teacher-shaped version of you, but be yourself. They can smell a faker a mile away.

2. Keep a teacher journal and write down all the great things that happen in your classroom.

Because some days you are going to feel like the worst teacher on the planet. Some days that kid is going to get to you and you’re going to fly off the handle. Some days you are going to want to walk out the door and not come back into your classroom. Ever.

You are going to need to look at those moments that made you laugh, made you smile, made you so proud of them you felt like your heart was going to burst, and made you remember why you signed up to do this amazing, exhausting, fantastic job in the first place.

3. Don’t yell.

Seriously, don’t. Because that one time the whole year, where you actually need to yell to communicate emphasis, it needs to count.

4. Work it out.

Lesson planning will drain your mental energy. Students will drain your emotional energy. You’ll have to channel your physical energy somewhere. Take up running on the weekends or cycling in the afternoons. Yoga also works well, but taking up boxing may be more efficient.

5. Say their names.

One strategy to learn all of your students’ names is to use their names often in the first few days of class. The more you use their names, the easier it will be to memorize them all. After class, you can use a seating chart and rehearse which students sit at which tables/desks so that you will associate a desk with a name and a face. Teaching becomes easier when students feel comfortable in your classroom. (Obviously don’t make them too comfortable.)

6. Sleep.

Establish good sleep habits. There will always be something left undone at the end of a day. Make a list for the next day and let it go for the night. If you don’t sleep well, you will have the same amount of work the next day but it will be a lot more overwhelming.

7. Assemble a think tank.

You will need people to bounce ideas off of and to engage in meaningful discussion about pedagogy and classroom management with like-minded people in your situation. It has a few effects: a. It lets you know you are not alone, b. others can see what you cannot, c. collaboration is stimulating and d. someone else might pay for beer.

8. Stick to routines.

Nervous about the first day? That’s normal. First impressions are important, but what’s more valuable is how you reinforce your routines during the first few weeks (and months) of school. Choose routines that are short and easy to do. You’ll forget how to execute long routines when you are managing a room full of children.

9. Remember how hard it is to learn something new.

Learning isn’t instant. Teach students that deep, meaningful learning takes time and effort. Tell them how long it took you to learn something like swimming, skiing, cooking, spear fishing, etc. Students often think that if they don’t learn something right away that they’re not “smart” enough.

10. Forget about yesterday.

Some students may test your nerves today. Don’t hold grudges; tomorrow those same students may be amazing in class. Though they made you angry yesterday, show them your smiles today. Smiling makes us all happier anywhere – it’s scientifically proven.

For the link to the full posting check out Mashable

Oh hey! We haven’t posted in a while but came across this great post for new teachers on Mashable. Check it out below! 


The first day of school is nerve-wracking for students — but it’s even scarier for new teachers.

When you’re facing a whole room full of bright-eyed students whose future is in your hands, it’s an empowering and totally terrifying feeling. Like any practice, it takes time and experience to learn your way around the classroom. But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a few words of wisdom from experienced colleagues.

A few seasoned teachers at Math for America provided tips that first-time educators should know. But even seasoned teachers could benefit from these pieces of advice.

1. Be yourself.

Be a well organized, fiercely boundaried, teacher-shaped version of you, but be yourself. They can smell a faker a mile away.

2. Keep a teacher journal and write down all the great things that happen in your classroom.

Because some days you are going to feel like the worst teacher on the planet. Some days that kid is going to get to you and you’re going to fly off the handle. Some days you are going to want to walk out the door and not come back into your classroom. Ever.

You are going to need to look at those moments that made you laugh, made you smile, made you so proud of them you felt like your heart was going to burst, and made you remember why you signed up to do this amazing, exhausting, fantastic job in the first place.

3. Don’t yell.

Seriously, don’t. Because that one time the whole year, where you actually need to yell to communicate emphasis, it needs to count.

4. Work it out.

Lesson planning will drain your mental energy. Students will drain your emotional energy. You’ll have to channel your physical energy somewhere. Take up running on the weekends or cycling in the afternoons. Yoga also works well, but taking up boxing may be more efficient.

5. Say their names.

One strategy to learn all of your students’ names is to use their names often in the first few days of class. The more you use their names, the easier it will be to memorize them all. After class, you can use a seating chart and rehearse which students sit at which tables/desks so that you will associate a desk with a name and a face. Teaching becomes easier when students feel comfortable in your classroom. (Obviously don’t make them too comfortable.)

6. Sleep.

Establish good sleep habits. There will always be something left undone at the end of a day. Make a list for the next day and let it go for the night. If you don’t sleep well, you will have the same amount of work the next day but it will be a lot more overwhelming.

7. Assemble a think tank.

You will need people to bounce ideas off of and to engage in meaningful discussion about pedagogy and classroom management with like-minded people in your situation. It has a few effects: a. It lets you know you are not alone, b. others can see what you cannot, c. collaboration is stimulating and d. someone else might pay for beer.

8. Stick to routines.

Nervous about the first day? That’s normal. First impressions are important, but what’s more valuable is how you reinforce your routines during the first few weeks (and months) of school. Choose routines that are short and easy to do. You’ll forget how to execute long routines when you are managing a room full of children.

9. Remember how hard it is to learn something new.

Learning isn’t instant. Teach students that deep, meaningful learning takes time and effort. Tell them how long it took you to learn something like swimming, skiing, cooking, spear fishing, etc. Students often think that if they don’t learn something right away that they’re not “smart” enough.

10. Forget about yesterday.

Some students may test your nerves today. Don’t hold grudges; tomorrow those same students may be amazing in class. Though they made you angry yesterday, show them your smiles today. Smiling makes us all happier anywhere – it’s scientifically proven.

For the link to the full posting check out Mashable

image

Below is an article from The Mind Unleashed. Feel free to discuss in the comment section your thoughts! 

Most school-aged children had the luxury of a two-week vacation over the winter holidays. Today, much to their chagrin (and probably their parents’ delight), they will be marching (In a straight line, please. Keep your hands to yourself!) back to school where they belong.

They will be back in the hallowed halls of learning, their ready brains poised to soak up education like the malleable little sponges that they are. Facts and numbers and grammar and literature and history and science being dumped continuously from now until Spring break into their minds, tamped down and packed together and ready to be regurgitated onto the test sheets required by state and federal governments for processing later in the year.

I’m cynical about compulsory education (and that might be stating it nicely).

Parents send their children to school with the best of intentions (even if one of those intentions is to get them out of their parents’ hair before someone loses their temper and permanent psychological damage is done which may take years of therapy to unravel). While parents would like to believe that their darling babies are seated in neat little rows behind neat little desks learning everything they need to be successful in life, they may not realize exactly what their children are learning during their long stints behind the closed doors of public education.

There’s a lot more being taught than the “Three Rs” That’s reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic in case you were wondering. That we are listing them as Rs is probably a commentary on the shortcomings of the system, but I digress.

There are other lessons that are taught in the public school system, and none of them will be found in the pages of textbooks or written across classroom whiteboards. Instead, these lessons are more subversive, taught through small interactions with teachers and other students, picked up through attitudes and environmental conditioning. They are lessons that may stick with your children long after they’ve forgotten state capitals and vocabulary words and the parts of a cell. (You know? The stuff they memorized just for those tests and then promptly forgot?)

What lessons? Here are just a few that most parents might not even realize (or if they do realize, don’t think to question. Maybe because of their own standard compulsory education).

1. Obedience to Authority. Blindly. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Arbitrary rules often run rampant in the classroom, but if the teacher (or principal or guidance counselor) demand it, even the child’s parents will probably back it up. This goes for dress codes, assigned seating, and how the students put their names on their papers.

My daughter told me about something that happened in one of her classes. The teacher asked the class to read a selection and then use a highlighter to mark important information. One of the students chose to underline rather than highlight. The teacher pushed the issue, insisting that she use the highlighter even though underlining achieved the same result for the student. So the child, in an obvious act of defiance with an “Ill show him” attitude (because she couldn’t respect an apparently arbitrary rule), highlighted the entire passage. Major trouble ensued with threats and lectures from the teacher about how she needed to “take her education more seriously.” (Translation: Don’t question my authority or your grades will suffer and then you won’t get into a good college or get a decent job and you’ll live the rest of your life a bum on the street… or something to that effect.)

The message is to do what you are told. The outcome isn’t important, but your obedience is.

2. Indifference. Student’s are conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to move from one task to the next when the bell rings. It doesn’t matter how interested in the current task they may be. It doesn’t matter if they are finished or not. It doesn’t matter if they are even remotely interested in the next task. When the bell rings, they are finished. They are expected to turn themselves on and off like light switches.

It’s a subtle message. But the bell system teaches children to not care too much, to not get too engaged. It teaches them that no work is worth finishing. Nothing is as important as the arbitrary class schedule. Drop whatever you are doing when the bell rings and move on. There is an amount of detachment and coolness that must be applied to every “learning experience” with the knowing that there is only 45 minutes to focus, no matter how engaging the subject.

The message is to not get too involved, to not care too much. There isn’t enough time for that.

3. Dependence and the Danger of Self-Motivation. Good students wait for the teacher to tell them what to do.  (My daughter tells a tale of a fellow student who got in trouble with the teacher for reading chapters ahead of those specifically assigned in the class-required novel.) The message drilled into our children is to wait and follow directions. Someone with more training, someone more qualified to make decisions about your lives will do it for you. Don’t try to overtly or covertly attempt to make decisions for yourselves (I’m talking to you here, Highlighter Girl!). You aren’t qualified. Let someone else decide what you will learn, how you will learn, and when you will learn it. And if it doesn’t make the authority approved list, it is insignificant and unimportant. Follow directions. Do what you are told… and only what you are told.

Self-evaluation is also deemed unimportant and discouraged. Instead a person’s value and worth is determined by test scores, grades and report cards… all handed down by some third-party observers. Children are taught not to trust themselves, or to place personal value on their own achievements. Instead, they are taught to rely on the evaluation of certified and licensed officials. People need to wait to be told what they are worth. They need to depend on those in authority to tell them they are good and valued.

4. Acceptance of Surveillance. Even aside from the new security cameras being placed in schools across the country, there is no privacy in our public schools. Each student is watched by teachers and administrators and government entities. They are constantly tracked and compared through transcripts and test scores.

Students enjoy no private time. The amount of time between classes is kept to a minimum. Hallways are monitored by faculty. Lunch periods are kept short. Socializing in class is not permitted. Students are encouraged to spy on one another and to tattle, especially in the wake of huge anti-bullying campaigns. There is no time or space for independent or unapproved interaction. Everything is monitored and kept within the tight confines of approved behavior.

To make it worse, piles and piles of homework extend the hours of school surveillance well beyond official school hours. homework ensures that there is little free time to pursue unauthorized activities. Hours spent writing boring papers and drilling math problems and memorizing useless dates can’t be spent developing passions, or learning from parents, or lost in free thought. Homework is the long arm of the school system extended into what should be private time. It’s just another way that the schools influence, manage and direct the lives of their students.

The message is to just accept invasions of privacy. Pay no attention to Big Brother. He’s been watching you since preschool.

5. Truth Comes From Authority. The right answer is the one the teacher wants. That’s the answer that will be rewarded, the answer that will keep you from public ridicule, the answer that will get you passing grades and entrance into the future of conformists’ dreams. What the student thinks (Although, it’s probably safer if he or she doesn’t think at all) is irrelevant. Besides, schools aren’t set up to teach people HOW to think but rather WHAT to think.

My daughter was finishing up some Civics homework last semester when she asked for help with clarification of a question regarding the intended purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance. We discussed it for a few minutes and then I asked her, “So what is the right answer?” She responded, “By ‘the right answer’ do you mean what I think is the right answer, or do you mean the answer the teacher thinks is right?”

Now THAT is a tough choice to make. Follow your conscience? Or get good grades?

Enough classroom squashing of independent thought makes people afraid to think thoughts other than what authorities tell them are “right”.

All of these subversive lessons make large groups of children easy to manage. But the problem is that those easily managed children grow up to be easily managed groups of adults.

Although, I suppose that’s only a problem if you aren’t doing the managing…

Credit: The Mind Unleashed

Alice Jones Webb is a blogger, homeschooling mother of four, laundry sorter, black belt, nerd, free-thinker, obsessive recycler, closet goth, a bit of a rebel, but definitely not your typical soccer mom. You can usually find her buried under the laundry and also on her blog, Different Than Average where she blogs about bucking the status quo.

image

Below is an article from The Mind Unleashed. Feel free to discuss in the comment section your thoughts! 

Most school-aged children had the luxury of a two-week vacation over the winter holidays. Today, much to their chagrin (and probably their parents’ delight), they will be marching (In a straight line, please. Keep your hands to yourself!) back to school where they belong.

They will be back in the hallowed halls of learning, their ready brains poised to soak up education like the malleable little sponges that they are. Facts and numbers and grammar and literature and history and science being dumped continuously from now until Spring break into their minds, tamped down and packed together and ready to be regurgitated onto the test sheets required by state and federal governments for processing later in the year.

I’m cynical about compulsory education (and that might be stating it nicely).

Parents send their children to school with the best of intentions (even if one of those intentions is to get them out of their parents’ hair before someone loses their temper and permanent psychological damage is done which may take years of therapy to unravel). While parents would like to believe that their darling babies are seated in neat little rows behind neat little desks learning everything they need to be successful in life, they may not realize exactly what their children are learning during their long stints behind the closed doors of public education.

There’s a lot more being taught than the “Three Rs” That’s reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic in case you were wondering. That we are listing them as Rs is probably a commentary on the shortcomings of the system, but I digress.

There are other lessons that are taught in the public school system, and none of them will be found in the pages of textbooks or written across classroom whiteboards. Instead, these lessons are more subversive, taught through small interactions with teachers and other students, picked up through attitudes and environmental conditioning. They are lessons that may stick with your children long after they’ve forgotten state capitals and vocabulary words and the parts of a cell. (You know? The stuff they memorized just for those tests and then promptly forgot?)

What lessons? Here are just a few that most parents might not even realize (or if they do realize, don’t think to question. Maybe because of their own standard compulsory education).

1. Obedience to Authority. Blindly. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Arbitrary rules often run rampant in the classroom, but if the teacher (or principal or guidance counselor) demand it, even the child’s parents will probably back it up. This goes for dress codes, assigned seating, and how the students put their names on their papers.

My daughter told me about something that happened in one of her classes. The teacher asked the class to read a selection and then use a highlighter to mark important information. One of the students chose to underline rather than highlight. The teacher pushed the issue, insisting that she use the highlighter even though underlining achieved the same result for the student. So the child, in an obvious act of defiance with an “Ill show him” attitude (because she couldn’t respect an apparently arbitrary rule), highlighted the entire passage. Major trouble ensued with threats and lectures from the teacher about how she needed to “take her education more seriously.” (Translation: Don’t question my authority or your grades will suffer and then you won’t get into a good college or get a decent job and you’ll live the rest of your life a bum on the street… or something to that effect.)

The message is to do what you are told. The outcome isn’t important, but your obedience is.

2. Indifference. Student’s are conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to move from one task to the next when the bell rings. It doesn’t matter how interested in the current task they may be. It doesn’t matter if they are finished or not. It doesn’t matter if they are even remotely interested in the next task. When the bell rings, they are finished. They are expected to turn themselves on and off like light switches.

It’s a subtle message. But the bell system teaches children to not care too much, to not get too engaged. It teaches them that no work is worth finishing. Nothing is as important as the arbitrary class schedule. Drop whatever you are doing when the bell rings and move on. There is an amount of detachment and coolness that must be applied to every “learning experience” with the knowing that there is only 45 minutes to focus, no matter how engaging the subject.

The message is to not get too involved, to not care too much. There isn’t enough time for that.

3. Dependence and the Danger of Self-Motivation. Good students wait for the teacher to tell them what to do.  (My daughter tells a tale of a fellow student who got in trouble with the teacher for reading chapters ahead of those specifically assigned in the class-required novel.) The message drilled into our children is to wait and follow directions. Someone with more training, someone more qualified to make decisions about your lives will do it for you. Don’t try to overtly or covertly attempt to make decisions for yourselves (I’m talking to you here, Highlighter Girl!). You aren’t qualified. Let someone else decide what you will learn, how you will learn, and when you will learn it. And if it doesn’t make the authority approved list, it is insignificant and unimportant. Follow directions. Do what you are told… and only what you are told.

Self-evaluation is also deemed unimportant and discouraged. Instead a person’s value and worth is determined by test scores, grades and report cards… all handed down by some third-party observers. Children are taught not to trust themselves, or to place personal value on their own achievements. Instead, they are taught to rely on the evaluation of certified and licensed officials. People need to wait to be told what they are worth. They need to depend on those in authority to tell them they are good and valued.

4. Acceptance of Surveillance. Even aside from the new security cameras being placed in schools across the country, there is no privacy in our public schools. Each student is watched by teachers and administrators and government entities. They are constantly tracked and compared through transcripts and test scores.

Students enjoy no private time. The amount of time between classes is kept to a minimum. Hallways are monitored by faculty. Lunch periods are kept short. Socializing in class is not permitted. Students are encouraged to spy on one another and to tattle, especially in the wake of huge anti-bullying campaigns. There is no time or space for independent or unapproved interaction. Everything is monitored and kept within the tight confines of approved behavior.

To make it worse, piles and piles of homework extend the hours of school surveillance well beyond official school hours. homework ensures that there is little free time to pursue unauthorized activities. Hours spent writing boring papers and drilling math problems and memorizing useless dates can’t be spent developing passions, or learning from parents, or lost in free thought. Homework is the long arm of the school system extended into what should be private time. It’s just another way that the schools influence, manage and direct the lives of their students.

The message is to just accept invasions of privacy. Pay no attention to Big Brother. He’s been watching you since preschool.

5. Truth Comes From Authority. The right answer is the one the teacher wants. That’s the answer that will be rewarded, the answer that will keep you from public ridicule, the answer that will get you passing grades and entrance into the future of conformists’ dreams. What the student thinks (Although, it’s probably safer if he or she doesn’t think at all) is irrelevant. Besides, schools aren’t set up to teach people HOW to think but rather WHAT to think.

My daughter was finishing up some Civics homework last semester when she asked for help with clarification of a question regarding the intended purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance. We discussed it for a few minutes and then I asked her, “So what is the right answer?” She responded, “By ‘the right answer’ do you mean what I think is the right answer, or do you mean the answer the teacher thinks is right?”

Now THAT is a tough choice to make. Follow your conscience? Or get good grades?

Enough classroom squashing of independent thought makes people afraid to think thoughts other than what authorities tell them are “right”.

All of these subversive lessons make large groups of children easy to manage. But the problem is that those easily managed children grow up to be easily managed groups of adults.

Although, I suppose that’s only a problem if you aren’t doing the managing…

Credit: The Mind Unleashed

Alice Jones Webb is a blogger, homeschooling mother of four, laundry sorter, black belt, nerd, free-thinker, obsessive recycler, closet goth, a bit of a rebel, but definitely not your typical soccer mom. You can usually find her buried under the laundry and also on her blog, Different Than Average where she blogs about bucking the status quo.