Things I Know 116 of 365: Something’s rotten at the Core

Pearson already dominates, and this could take it to the extreme.

- Susan Newman, University of Michigan Professor

You may have heard Mr. Gates and Pearson are working together to make teachers obsolete improve online learning. A less humble person would say he called it.

I’ve actually been working with Pearson since last summer as well. The university I’m studying with right now buys their curriculum from Pearson.

I wish they didn’t.

Last night, I finished the final assignment of this module-instructional-block-class. It was a course reflection. I dig reflection. I think the past 115 entries are a testament to that fact. But reflection should be about inquiring into your own learning. Some prompts should be provided, but not mandated.

A few times, I’ve called out my instructors as being ineffective or not modeling the very practices being pushed in the program. While I stand by those claims, this module-instructional-block-class’s instructor has been more present than the previous three. He consistently spells my name correctly, provides personal feedback other than copying and pasting the text of the rubric and sets a tone that implies a higher standard.

With improved instruction, I’ve had time to more clearly see the holes in the materials.

As I was completing the course reflection last night, I found myself hitting my head against the Core Propositions of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

1: Teachers are Committed to Students and Their Learning

2: Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

3: Teachers are Responsible for managing and a monitoring student learning.

4: Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

5: Teachers are members of learning communities.

The propositions have been causing an itch in my brain since I first met them when completing the School District of Philadelphia’s induction program. Then, as in my program, the propositions were taken as dogmatically true. What’s more, the implication that these five statements make a quality teacher worries me.

At the end of each module-instructional-block-class, I’ve had to explain how the content of the prior 8 weeks has pushed me to grow as a teacher insomuch as each of the propositions is concerned.

In the previous three m-i-b-c I’ve not so much lied as stretched the truth, grasping at any possible evidence, not matter how circumstantial, to prove I’ve grown. I’ve been the good little student, “Look at me teacher. I’ve done what you ask – even though I don’t care.”

Last night, I decided to tell the truth. My grade hasn’t been posted yet, so I don’t know what the possible repercussions of said honesty might be, but I felt good clicking the submit button.

I’m posting my responses below.

Before I get to that, though, I want to make clear that I have nothing but the highest respect for any teacher who has completed the National Board certification process – successfully or not. It is arduous and life-interrupting. Only those who have fallen in love with teaching could find their way through it. Those friends I’ve watched complete the process are some of the strongest teachers I’ve ever met.

I tip my hat to them.

My beef is with the lack of inquiry and humanity I see in the propositions.

Prop.  1: Teachers are Committed to Students and Their Learning

I cannot say that my commitment to my students and their learning has improved in this instructional block. As with each instructional block reflection, I remain uncertain as to how one is expected to quantify or qualify his or her level of commitment to students and learning. The simplest and truest answer is that I looked beyond the course materials when completing the coursework. If the goal was to improve student participation, I visited peers’ classrooms during my prep periods to observe their methods of eliciting learner responses. I informally polled learners between classes to find out what was working, what was not working and what they wanted to happen in class. My commitment grew because I realized more than what was required of me would be necessary to improve learning in my classroom.

Prop.  2: Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

I completed each assignment alongside my learners. If they were coming up with exemplars and non-exemplars, so was I. In class discussion, I asked questions and offered answers. I told learners when I agreed and when I disagreed. If they disagreed with me, I found out why. I admitted I was wrong when I was wrong. I grew in my ability to teach my subject because I focused on teaching my learners, not subjects. The best evidence of this was my asking questions of myself and my learners every class period of every day.

Prop.  3: Teachers are Responsible for managing and a monitoring student learning.

I grew with regard to this proposition because I ignored it. Proposition 3 winnows leaners out of the equation of learning management. If a classroom is to be fully learner-centered, then the responsibility to monitoring and managing learning must be shared. In having my learners build an online artifact that was centered around their learning as they saw it, I was respecting their growth and giving them room to experiment and fail in their learning.

Prop.  4: Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

The implementation plan drew from multiple models and integrated each one seamlessly with the next. It also used each artifact as learners created it and asked the learners to build something new. That was by design. A note on my answer to Prop. 3 compared to what I’ve just written. I did not know what the something new they would be creating would look like. I just asked the question.

Prop.  5: Teachers are members of learning communities

I learned alongside my learners. I asked colleagues to come view the class and I volunteered my free time to watch those colleagues teach so I could learn from them. I was asking questions all along the way and learning from what I saw and the answers to every question.

Progress? All right, I’m curious.

You may remember I had some choice words for the School District of Philadelphia’s Induction program (see here and here).

What I didn’t write about was my trip to the Office of Instruction and Leadership Support last quarter to voice my concerns over the entire process and offer up some possible solutions.

Evidently, I violated some protocol by stopping by unannounced and asking for some time. Once we moved past the idea that I was there because I had questions about the program and, instead, there because I had some ideas (this took several attempts on my part), many notes were taken. In the end, I was told the district would be forming a task force or committee or council or something to examine the program and make it work for the teachers and not against them.

That was months ago.

Friday, I got an e-mail with the following:

[T]he Office of Instruction and Leadership Support invites you to join our District’s Induction Council [turns out it was a council]. It is our intent to create a dynamic, professional and productive Induction Council who is committed to providing new teachers with the highest level of support.

We’ve three 2-hour meetings scheduled. That should be plenty of time to reshape the way the entire district welcomes new teacher into its ranks, right?

I’m actually excited about this.

More later.