After laughing uproariously while on the phone with a wonderful friend in Michigan, I just had to post some of our discussion. She’s a counselor at a community college, so the two of us took turns trading stories about what we’ve been seeing in our centers of education lately (and oh, yes, I just wrote a novel about that).
How did this nation arrive at the notion that everyone should go to college? I believe that belief is a bunch of hogwash.
One of the students at her school only lasted a semester. Why? Because he was blind, and he was in the culinary school, and aside from failing the throw-your-knife-in-the-air-and-then-catch-it-and-keep-on-chopping test, he was miffed that there were laws against having a hairy seeing-eye dog in the kitchen. Really???
Not only are we bending over backwards to accommodate every possible need our students claim to have (although I’m sure the blind student did, in fact, need that dog), holding their hands and walking them through the simplest requirements and giving them “every possible opportunity to succeed,” we’re–conversely–making things far more difficult for the people who are already trained to do their jobs: teachers (and I’m certainly not saying that all teachers are good, or well trained, which you will see later in this post).
I have a Master’s Degree in English. I earned my teaching certificate so that I could teach in public schools at the secondary school level. I have taught in those schools for five years and I’m currently completing my first year of teaching at our local college as an adjunct instructor. So what did I have to do this month as an administrative requirement to keep teaching at the college? Complete an on-line course on . . . EFFECTIVE TEACHING.
Here’s one of the questions I had to answer for this week’s assignment on “Universal Design”: “What steps can we take to ensure that content is directed not only at varied learning styles and learning disabilities, but also to make it appealing and relevant to diverse audience with varied interests and experiences? What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of developing content with these concepts in mind?”
So after I screamed, “HOGWASH!” and calmed down a bit, I submitted the following:
I’ve got to say that my experience with “differentiation” in grade school classes has made me a bit gun-shy on the topic. As a teacher with over 100 students cycling through my classroom each day, and each class a heterogeneous mixture from the brightest GT student to the lowest on the special needs scale, I found it next to impossible (well, I’ll be honest and say it was impossible) to satisfy everyone’s need to have their own unique learning style addressed adequately. I could never admit this in my licensure classes because the faculty expected the new teachers to be able to accomplish this directive (address every learning style and every disability and make it appealing and relevant to a diverse audience with varied interest and experiences…ARGGGH!), and to embrace the idea zestfully.
That said, it is possible to design lessons that incorporate visual, auditory, and experiential elements, which, regardless of learning styles, would be more interesting/engaging than purely didactic instruction. The advantage, of course, is keeping the interest of your audience; and your students are your audience. Teachers need to be prepared to be “on stage” multiple times each day, and to bring the same energy and enthusiasm to each new class, regardless of how many students in previous classes remained uninterested.
The disadvantages, however, from my personal experience, are onerous. I long for the day when administrators will realize that teachers cannot do their best work when they are expected to cater to “the full range” in every class. Yes, I’m old, and I grew up a public school system that sorted classes (particularly core classes) by ability. My teachers could focus their instruction at a level which fit the needs of each class, and could take that class as far as it could go. I think if I had been in classrooms where my teacher needed to stop every 3 minutes to re-explain something I “got” immediately, I would have dropped out.
The biggest disadvantage I see, though, is that we are not preparing our students for the reality of the world beyond the classroom—a world in which we have employers who do not care what learning style works best for you, who will not bend over backwards to accommodate you needs, and who does not believe that everyone is a winner. I know that this is not a politically correct response, but it contains my honest opinions on these topics. [end]
And so I wonder what type of on-line discussion my post will elicit. My on-line teacher will probably give me a 50/50 and write, “Great job on your assignment!” which is what she posted as an answer to a question I sent her asking for clarification on one of the upcoming requirements. Perhaps she earned her teaching credential on-line . . . after multiple attempts to succeed.