Sunday, August 02, 2009

Get off your high horse!

What is it, exactly, that makes people feel they need to give someone "a dose of reality"? How does this "reality" benefit the recipient? How does it benefit the "soothsayer"? Is your harsh slap of "reality" really preparing me for anything? Wait, let me boil this down to my "essential questions"?

1. Is your "dose of reality" needed?
2. Who made you the reality police, you classless hack?

If you feel like you walked in somewhere near the middle of this rant, you probably did. I should probably take a few steps back. As a lot of my readers know, I am in school to become a teacher. When I get done I will have earned a Masters in Education. I have confessed in recent weeks that I am done. That is, done with enjoying school or deluding myself into thinking I can learn something from it. That is the state of my mind as you read this post. You may want to use that knowledge as a filter.

Class started normally today. My team got together an hour and a half before class and brought our unit together. We were as ready to present as we ever are. We tend to go up there and wing it. Perhaps it isn't the best strategy but it is our favorite strategy for these monotonous and never ending presentations. I used to try to be funny and entertaining but lately I have changed my approach. My new approach is to give the bare minimum as quickly as I can. The humor and entertaining kept biting me in the butt. My classmates were more interested in focusing on their presentations and the teachers never seem to get my humor. We gave our presentation first today. I mention this for a few reasons and one of them is that we usually don't go first.

Another reason I mention it is because I am telling a story and order is important in a story.

We did our presentation and had a few interruptions and random questions from the teacher but we don't care. We don't care as a group. We just want the class to be over and receive a passing grade. All the other details (like if they thought we should add something, be more clear or if I need to dance during delivery) are just that.... details. The details were only mildly interesting to me today because I know I will see this teacher again for the next class. My next 6 week class (starting next week) has him leading the charge again. I was paying a little attention so if I have a lesson plan to create I can meet his expectations. That whole issue, of meeting the teacher's expectations, is where this story goes South. Maybe I should back up a little bit.

The University of Phoenix uses teachers and principals to teach the classes. On one hand that is a good thing. The teacher is dealing with the real world in a classroom setting while they are also teaching us. Which means it is not some fossilized professor who last taught in public schools somewhere around 1910. For a lot of the class discussions this current experience can be handy. Of course most people have two hands and this issue has two hands. On the terrible, devil worshipping hand we have the people who seem to need to introduce us to reality. These people go out of their way to tell you how hard the teaching world is and how we need to be "aware" of that before we start teaching. Another favorite reminder of these teachers is that most new teachers burn out within 4 years. It is almost like they are trying to reduce the number from 4 years to teachers burning out in the 3 months prior to actually teaching. This teacher was of the latter variety (the devil worshipping evil hand variety).

So here we are back in the classroom, the second group starts presenting and he makes a few points. You know by stopping them and telling us what we are doing wrong as a group based off of their examples. I am only half listening and if I could have put in ear phones to drown out that half I would have. One of his little soap box topics is "Differentiated Instruction". A buzz word that basically means realizing there are more then one level of student in class and your instruction needs to engage them all. So you need to show how you would change this lesson up enough so that it comes across to the learning disabled, non-English speaking students, and the super brainy kids. What the teacher seemed to be trying to say was that we should build differentiation into the lesson automatically and forget about showing how we will target certain issues. We, as a group, had been trying to envision how we would help the groups individually. Let me give an example:

What we were doing - We have a lesson about writing a book report. We lay out the lesson and then we try and figure out what to do for the learning disabled and we would write that idea down. Then we would think of the brainy kid and come up with something for him. So basically we were making little custom lessons.

What he was trying to explain to us: Say we are going to be focusing on writing again. He pulls a set of articles on a similar topic that are written at various levels. What the student does is takes the article reads it and responds in an essay form to it. Everyone is writing an essay about an article they read but instead of focusing on one article we find several and hand them out to the various levels. Instead of building the lesson and then considering the special cases, we start by building the lesson to incoporate a variety of levels (instead of one article we select 10) and then use these levels to properly challenge the various students. This idea makes sense. It makes more sense then the hard way we have been doing it for a year and a half.

Unfortunately it took another hour and a half for him to explain what he was talking about in a manner that made sense.

Let's get back to the story. So here we are listening to his inane rambling about differentiated instruction. What he was saying sounded like this: "You guys are doing this wrong!" The way he was talking struck a nerve with a classmate and she began demanding to know what exactly we were surprised to do about it. First off, this is a PE and Health class and differentiating for a super smart kid makes no freaking sense. You see we were "differentiating" the way we were taught in the beginning (making a lesson and then considering 3 very concrete yet extremely generic variations) and that was not what he wanted. As she was demanding answers it quickly escalated into an argument. He kept saying what he said originally and that was not answering the question she was asking; which was frustrating her. The problem of course was we were all trying to do what we had been shown in previous classes and he had a completely different lesson plan playbook in mind. This "discussion" took an hour. Somewhere very near the end it devolved into her no longer speaking and him telling her to get over it. It ended with her crying and my friend Cat telling him he hurt that person's feelings and he should try saying things more positively and less aggressively. His response was that he was being realistic and he didn't care. All in all, it was an awesome display of teaching.

So this major "to do" got me thinking. I figure part of the issue with the stress caused by lesson plans is that the University of Phoenix does not have a universally taught lesson plan. Every teacher sees the lesson plan components differently and every lesson plan constructed for a new teacher is a risky venture. Especially lately, when we have been flayed open and roasted. Add to this the somewhat flippant remarks by this teacher and you get someone harboring a little irritation. His comments ignited the kindling aka irritation) she had stored up after reading his earlier comments on her prior work. Should she have sat on her feelings and let it fester into what happened today? No, she should have emailed him the first time his remarks irritated her. Hindsight and a sense of detachment are easy to do when you barely register the comments anymore; meaning it is easy for me to say. Of course everyone has a breaking point and I am thinking she had reached it but had originally planned to just get this class behind her when that kindling was ignited. It was sudden, fierce and a little scary but it should have been over within 2 minutes if a sane person had responded to her. Of course that was not what happened.

The fact that every teacher has a different idea of what our lesson plans should look like has been a pet peeve of everyone in class for a long time. Why the school couldn't just pick one and tell the teachers it is the one they need to use with us is a good question. To this teacher the answer is that the school systems are different and adaptability is important. Which is all fine and good if we were going out and learning in several different school districts but we aren't; we are attending one univesity. Why the freaking university can't pick the most current model and make everyone follow it is not answered by saying "The teaching world is filled with differing ideas." The fact of the matter is that when we go to work somewhere we probably won't make lesson plans like this again but spouting off this fact does not prevent them from shoveling this load of manure down my throat. My question becomes how using "reality" is a valid argument when their "reality" is not actually reality? For purely hypothetical reasons, say that we do file our own original lesson plans with our future principal. Would that principal really change his style every 4 weeks? Would they have completely different (and some what conflicting) ideas everytime I passed their office? I think we all know that the answer is no. So not having a universal lesson plan model is just creating problems and stress for the student.

Of course, then we have the teacher. Comments like "Seriously!" should not come out of your mouth as a response to anything when you are teaching. No matter how old they are or how close to graduation they are. It is condescending, rude and will put people on the defensive. If you feel your message needs to be heard then don't offend people. You are talking to a group of people who aren't teaching yet and we are basing all our knowledge on what we have been told in the f***ing school you work for. So responding condescendingly, about what I don't know about teaching, only makes you look like an ass. Once again, looking like an ass is not helping us to understand your point. The other thing that is not helpful is to get more obtuse the longer the argument goes on. Repeating yourself continuously and then throwing in non-relevant arguments is not how an intelligent person explains their point. The answer to "How do I differentiate anything if everything I do is wrong?" has nothing to do with teacher burnout, proper spelling or whether the teaching world is easy. What was said was very unclear and unhelpful; if truth be told it was actually mean spirited and pointless. It wasn't until the end of class that he said anything that made sense. I understand needing to back up, put the conversation on hold and collect your thoughts to make better sense of your point. Especially when an entire room is getting up in arms about what you are saying. That issue of needing a moment or two is something I run into when I am talking to someone about something I believe in strongly. I would be amazed if she took in any of the comments after that "discussion". I am admitting that I think his ideas on showing differentiation in my future lesson plans helped me understand the point and intent behind it. I think it was good advice but the delivery was all wrong.

Then there is the issue of people feeling it is their purpose to inject me with a "dose of reality". Look.... I am not 19. I have been in the real world and I know that nothing is as easy as it seems. I understand that more work is done by a school teacher in the first hour of school then anything that happens in an entire day answering phones for an insurance company. You telling me about how much everything sucks will not help me. First of all, I need to go out and learn for myself. I will never just take some random person's word for something I have invested this much time and money into. This is also not taking into consideration the fact that I have grown up surrounded by teachers. I have heard them "talk shop" my whole life. Nothing you say to me about the hard parts of the job are going to be something I haven't heard before. If anything I should probably be questioning you on what you know about the issues of working outside of education. I don't have some Candyland version of teaching floating around in my head. I understand that it will be hard and challenging every single day. I understand the first couple years will be a lot of work as I develop my style and start cataloging my lesson plan ideas. The mere fact that you think we need "the real scoop" from you is amazing. What are your words of doom and gloom going to do for me? Nothing because I still plan on graduating. I have put too much money and time into walk away at this point. If I do burn out in four years then that is what happens and nothing you say about "reality" a month before student teaching is changing that.

I would like to end this post with a quote from Wedding Crashers. In the beginning of that movie, Rebecca De Mornay is heatedly discussing divorce issues with her husband when she utters a very apt phrase: "You shut your mouth when you're talking to me!"


Robert said...

Not that it may make any difference or that you all haven't thought about it but what if you all wrote individual letters to the university about said 'professor?'

Michael Williams said...

I was thinking I might need to do something like that as my reflection made me realize how inappropriate he is.