Thursday, April 11, 2013

I don't want to make more bricks in the wall, Part 1

Dear Internet,

I feel like I spend a lot of time complaining (maybe more in real life than here) about teacher's college and how things are run, but not a lot of time talking about what could be changed to make things better. I've been thinking about that lately, and I want to share my ideas with you. This post will be split into two parts in an effort to not make one giant super-post. There are two things I will cover today: a disclaimer, and a (hopefully somewhat objective) description of my program and what I don't like about my experience here.

DISCLAIMER: I understand that this current program has been designed and run and taught by Ph.D.-having experts for many years who have a full understanding of the requirements to be a teacher in my province. I'm sure that they all had very good theoretical reasons for each pedagogical decision they made. I do not even have an undergraduate degree yet, so in no way am I qualified to professionally criticize this teacher education program. My ideas come from a purely practical place, based on my own experiences.

DESCRIPTION: In my teacher education program here, I am studying to be a secondary school teacher. For this program, I am required to take the following courses:

  • 2 courses focused specifically on my 2 teachable subjects (for me, math and computer science)
  • 1 course focused on preparing me for my practicum placements and constructing my portfolio
  • 1 "focus" course of my choosing, meant to give me a particular specialty (for me, teaching Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes)
  • 1 course divided into disparate modules focused on miscellaneous concepts in teaching - e.g. assessment
  • 1 "course" that is made of different presentations and lectures and workshops each week
  • 1 online course focused on education law; and,
  • 1 elective of my choosing (for me, using information and communication technology in the classroom)
In theory, these courses would produce a teacher candidate who is well-rounded, with a couple particular courses that set him/her apart from others. Some of the courses are marked on a pass/fail basis, and some are marked with the usual A-F scale. Many of the assessments are reflection-based; e.g. "what does education mean to you?". Most assessments are papers, typically ranging from 500-1000 words. There are no final exams (they consider our practicum placements to be the "exams" in a way).

WHAT I DON'T LIKE: Right off the bat I'm going to say all the papers we have to write. Coming from a math background, where I haven't really written anything substantial for years, at the beginning I found that generating pages of text was somewhat of a challenge. I do not find that most of the papers are in any way meaningful to my future, and are simply an exercise in "how can I fill another half page?" Of all the papers I have written, and will write for the remainder of this month, there has been 1 which I felt was a useful exercise in reflection - my practicum summaries. I found these to be a better assignment than others because it gave me a chance to meaningfully reflect on what was good in my practicum, what was bad, and what I could do to improve things for the future; that is, I produced a document that exhibits my growth as an educator and possible steps for myself going forward to continue improving. Other papers we have been required to write were on what I would call "fluffy" topics - for example, reflecting on times when we have felt prejudiced against and how these experiences will make us better teachers (that particular paper was a little slice of 2-page-single-spaced hell).

Another thing I dislike about my experience here are the focus of the classes. I find that much of our curriculum here is rooted in theory, when teaching is really a very practical field. What I need to know how to do on a day-to-day basis in my classroom sometimes does not line up with what we are taught here. A lot of this, I think, is difficult to avoid: in addition to being very practical, teaching is also very personal. You cannot teach how to teach, you can only suggest particular methods to use to teach most effectively. A professor once told us that "everyone already knows how to teach - they've been observing teachers for years!" So here, we learn the background rules and theory and put names to things we have already seen in action (e.g. differentiated instruction, assessment as/for/of learning). They tell us what these things are, and that we should be using them, but they don't tell us a lot about the "how". How do I create math lessons that can appeal to all different types of learners?

Next post: how I would structure a curriculum class to be most useful to teacher candidates like me.



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