professornana (professornana) wrote,

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The New Journalism

I should no longer be surprised when an article or op-ed piece appears in the New York Times that sheds little light on education while, at the very same time, continues to spread "facts" that are not supported by hard evidence. However, I guess I fall into some sort of weird dream fugue in which I begin to believe that journalists check facts before printing them. Sadly, this appears NOT to be the case of late. It is treu of this piece by Joe Nocera from the weekend NYT: The target for Nocera's piece appears to be the poor preparation in teacher education programs if the following paragraph is any indication.

"In desperation, Edel sent a note to one of her college professors asking for help. (He gave her a few pointers.) Melinda recalls thinking that even the most basic elements of her job — classroom management, organization, lesson planning — were things she had to figure out on her own, after she had begun teaching. When I asked them what they had learned in college, they shouted in unison: theory! (Denise went on to get a master’s degree in education, which she laughingly described as “not exactly hands-on.”)"

There is so much here to unpack, but let me focus on what happens in that first sentence. One teacher talks about figuring out things on the job. I cannot speak to her education program (as it is not identified), but I do know that management, lesson plans, and organization are part of teacher prep programs I know across the country. However, there is no amount of classroom time that can cover it all. I can talk in the abstract about the need to possess time management skills, the process for writing lesson plans. I can require lesson plans be written and even taught during student teaching and other courses where teacher ed candidates are in real classrooms. But nothing quite can prepare you for the moment that class is wholly yours. That is where you APPLY the theory and the skills and the pedagogy. And, yes, you have to do this all the while you are with the kids. Most of my friends talk about those first years and what we learned from being with the kids on our own. None of us felt we had it all down the first day (or the first year or longer in some cases).

Why is that? Instead of probing the sisters Nocera interviewed for answers to this question, he elects to move on to do some serious teacher education program bashing. More about that in a minute. Let me pause here and talk about some of the WHY. I did my student teaching in a town to the south and east of Houston. I entered that classroom ready to teach English. My organizational skills were good; classroom management was not an issue. In part, that is because I had an experienced teacher in the room with me. JoEllen helped me examine the things that needed to be done ahead of time, to plan the lessons with care, to consider the various learners in the class. But my first job teaching was in an inner city school, teaching 7th graders who had already had 3 teachers since September (I began in January). The school used IGE (Individually Guided Education) as its model, something that was not part of my teacher prep program. Students were grouped differently and fluidly from class to class. I taught most subjects and not just English.

My experience is not much different from many who graduate from teacher education programs. Different schools, districts, classes are unique and require thinking about what and how and why and when. Is it not the same in the business world? Does working for Microsoft exactly mirror working for Apple or any other computer company? So, if someone graduates with a computer science degree does that men she or he is ready to step into any company without any assistance? Doubtful.

But let's move on because Nocera is not done bashing teacher education: "According to a study released a few months ago by the National Council on Teacher Quality — a study that reported that three-quarters of the nation’s teaching programs are, “at best,” mediocre..."

Yep, you had to have seen that one coming, right? Here it is again, the citing of a faux piece of research that has been largely discredited. So, Nocera suggests reformers concentrate on teacher prep and cites Amanda Ripley and her new book as proof positive that American schools are horrible. If you do not know the name Amanda Ripley, do not fear (and you can visit her web page: She is a fellow journalist. Not. A. Teacher. But she has the solution, of course. And a book that tells us all how to do a better job without more money.

I would love to see more interviews with teachers. We survey and interview our grads and their employers so that we can better serve the community. I suspect most programs do. Of course, that will ever make it into a column in the NYT, will it? Nocera ends his column by promising readers he will share information about people who are TRYING (emphasis mine) to transform education. I can hardly wait.
Tags: errors, journalism, new york times, teacher preparation

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