Friday, November 17, 2006

Five Things for Student Teachers to Remember

(from a parent’s perspective)

I did have my talk with the student teacher, and the mentor teacher, earlier this week. It actually went pretty well, mainly because the mentor teacher and I agreed on everything. The student teacher sat there like a deer in the headlights (with slightly alarming modern dude hair). Changes have been made, and my daughter is now a much happier camper. Anyway…

1. Assigned Group Work is horse manure. Note, that’s “assigned group” work, not work assigned to groups. Self-selecting work groups are more effective because good students group with other good students and then don’t wind up having to carry slackers on their backs.

My main problems with assigned group work are:

a) slackers in group don’t do squat,
b) the projects assigned have usually been dumbed down to the least common denominator, so they waste time for good or even average students, they’re insulting, and they generally don’t advance the cause of learning, and
c) unless there is research involved which will mean the group has to meet more than once, you don’t get any work out of the group after about 10 minutes – it devolves into tea time for the loud.

Mentor teacher added that he doesn’t use them or like them because it’s always the bad students who want to do stuff in groups (see “a” above) and because they’re noisy and generally ineffective. Oh, and if each student isn’t graded separately, then suddenly you’ve become an “unfair” teacher, and this is the number one (and justifiably so) complaint from students.

2. Coloring Assignments are for Art Class, and Miming is for Drama Club. Please. Get real. Once the students reach high school, they really don’t need this warm, fuzzy, non-research affirmed crapola. What they need is to learn to perform coherently, effectively, and appropriately within the discipline. They need to learn to write sensibly, to research, use the library and the internet effectively; they need to be able to create polished, finished projects that advance learning the content, and they need the study and life skills necessary to do so.

They do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, need projects that require coloring, miming, creating wordless books for babies, or any other stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid thing your insane ed. school teachers told you was swell. You are wasting their time with this malarkey and pissing off students and parents with it.

3. Your students have been press-ganged into accepting you, and you need to prove your worth to them. If the kids had been asked if they wanted a student teacher, they would have resoundingly said “NO” unless they’re slackers. And so would their parents. No one wants more experimental theories tried out on their high school aged kids. They’re supposed to be in training for college and the workplace. They are not lab rats, they are not idiots, but they are developing from children into adults and they need guidance, not clueless dweebs trying to impress their professors with their “outside the paradigm” lesson plans and techniques. Get back in a box that works, or I will call you, we will meet, and I will come away happy. You may not.

4. Boundaries. You are driving the bus. You are supposed to pick up the kids from their Zero Point, drive them academically to the destination, which, in case no one in your college of education told you, is defined by having students who, at the end of your practicum, are more educated in the discipline, and who have the skills necessary to produce credible work in the discipline (whether they came to you prepared and ready or not). They do not need to like you. They do need to find you credible and competent.

If you are constantly stopping the bus to deal with the loudmouths and slackers, you have ceased making progress towards the destination (and lost control of your classroom). Take discipline seriously from the very beginning. If you are constantly handing out pillows and peanuts by making the classroom and the assignments more “comfortable” or “easier” or more entertaining, you are no longer teaching, and the bus has stopped again. You have lost sight of your goal (making it to the destination) and you’re not doing your job.

And, finally, no one gives one single flying fart if you are happy or fulfilled or not. Do not leave the wheel of the bus to go sit in the back and feel sorry for yourself and whine with the other slackers and wastrels. Get up; grab the wheel, and drive, dammit. Stop wasting my child’s time with your wimpy little ego problems and grow up. You chose this major, this career path, and if you’re unhappy, get over it with grace and dignity because no matter how young you are and how much you don’t want to be in charge, you ARE in charge, and you need to act like it. Do not make the children responsible for your happiness or sense of fulfillment.

5. Respect for yourself and for the students is vital. If you don’t respect your discipline, your content knowledge, your boundaries, your deadlines, and yourself, the students will eat you for lunch, spit out your bones, and grind those bones into dust.

Keep in mind at all times that you are NOT a student when you are at the head of the classroom, no matter how unprepared you may feel. You are a teacher now. Don’t try to be friends with the kids, don’t sympathize with them to the point where you stop being an adult and a teacher, don’t lose control of your classroom, ask for help from your mentor, and teach skills like meeting deadlines, paying attention, and doing credible, worthwhile work. Give honest grades with useful feedback, not those that make you look wonderful.

Every time you get floppy on a deadline, you’ve just wasted my diligent child’s time and taught exactly the lesson you didn’t want to teach – that the students don’t need to respect your deadlines. Every time you change an assignment to be easier, you’ve just taught the wrong thing – that your assignment was ill-considered and that you are not willing to either defend or support it, and that if they push you hard enough, you’ll cave in. Every time you waste my child’s time with an ill-planned lesson, my child will lose respect for you and stop paying attention. When you see the good students zoning out, you are in big trouble.

And, for heaven’s sake, pay attention to time, what needs to be taught in that amount of time, and don’t let them sidetrack you with the thousand different manipulations slackers use to prevent learning – admiring you or asking personal questions, pretending to not understand, asking pointless questions during class, or chatting amongst themselves without consequences while you are instructing.

Teach to the good students first, and the rest will learn more. Cater to the LCD, and you’ve wasted everyone’s time, including your own. My child has only a couple of years to be made ready for college, and you are not entitled to waste it. At the top of each and every day’s lesson plan include this message:

“What am I doing today to prepare these children for college and the workplace?”

If you can’t answer that with a study skill, a life skill, or some advancement in knowledge, then you are not doing your job.

If you do all of these things, you'll become the teacher everyone thinks of as "excellent". It will be worth your time and all the trouble.

And I'll stay off your back, too!

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