Friday, November 30, 2018

The Model Classroom

I was talking with some young teachers today about what they were learning in school. They're both taking master's programs. The impression I got was they weren't getting a whole lot of practical help. The first teacher I spoke with told me she was being rated on a rubric that had little to do with the one she was rated on at work. She said the most important demand of college professors was that you buy the books they wrote. Whether or not you actually used them was of little consequence.

While her rubric was really complicated and impossible to follow, you know, kind of like Danielson, it didn't stress engagement quite as much as Danielson does. The important thing, evidently, was to use "authentic materials." What this means is when you get a group of beginners you don't write your own materials for them. Instead, make them read The New York Times. After all, the Times, they are a changin'. Or something.

That wouldn't work for me. I often write comprehensible stories for my newcomers, even though Part 154 suggests I should just give them To Kill a Mockingbird and hope for the best.

Another thing she told me was that they frequently show videos that have nothing to do with what people do when they're NYC teachers. For one thing, all the classes have only twelve students. For another, none of them ever have to go to the bathroom. No one ever comes late. Also, they know all the answers. You can see them chomping at the bit to answer questions that haven't even been asked yet. I've seen a few such videos at PD.

The next teacher I spoke with was a teaching fellow. I asked him whether he'd ever seen videos like that. He said, "Yes I have. In fact I was in one last summer." He told me how they'd prepped the kids on the material. They didn't give them the actual answers, but they all knew the subject matter. They told the kids that it didn't matter what they said, and that no answer was wrong. It turned out they needn't have warned the kids, because they got all the answers right anyway.

He's not famous, though. Five of the ten kids in the class did not show up the day of filming. Maybe they were camera shy. In any case, they decided not to use his video. Evidently ten to twelve kids is the optimal number for model videos.

On the other hand, here in the real world, I've got a class of 34 in half a room. I see classes of 34 in converted closets. People ask me what they can do about those rooms. They can get doctors to write them notes that being in spaces without windows is detrimental to their health, and that seems to work. On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure why it wouldn't be detrimental to just anyone's health.

Here in the real world, students may have been up working the night before. They may have stayed up all night playing video games. They may live in largely unsupervised group homes that their parents pay dearly for, thinking because they're under the auspices of some church or other that good people run them. Maybe they're homeless.

There are a whole lot of things that are possible with the children of New York City. It's unfortunate that we have education programs that aren't at all worried about prepping teachers for what they're really going to do at work.

Most of my master's had to do with my subject area. I got a really good understanding of language acquisition and the structure of English. I'm glad I went. However, I also took some straight education courses. I will never forget some college professor explaining to us how we should build a class library in the back of our classrooms. I found this ironic, particularly since I was in several classrooms and I considered myself lucky back then on days I could find a piece of chalk.

Of course Danielson, like all the trendy nonsense that blows in and out of the DOE, is probably bound for the scrapyard sooner or later. Like most of my colleagues, I hope it's sooner. Nonetheless, if I were in charge of a college education program, I'd make the professors people who actually teach in public schools, as opposed to those who either wrote or read a book about it.
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