Easy A’s in teacher prep

Education majors earn high grades, but aren’t prepared for the classroom, concludes Easy A’s and What’s Behind Them, a National Council on Teacher Quality report.

NCTQ looked at more than 500 colleges and universities producing nearly half of the nation’s new teachers: 44 percent of teacher candidates graduate with honors, compared to 30 percent of all undergraduates.

“Teaching is one of the most difficult and demanding jobs there is,” said Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ. “Yet for reasons that are hard to fathom, it appears to be one of the easiest majors both to get into and then to complete.”

NCTQ compared course assignments for 1,161 courses, both education and non-education (including business, psychology, history, nursing, economics and biology) across 33 institutions.

Education students’ grades were based primarily on broad, subjective assignments. Students didn’t need to show mastery of particular knowledge or skills. They only had to express an opinion.

Esther Cepeda, a Washington Post columnist, trained to teach secondary school “with concentrations in special and exceptional education and English-language learners — students requiring specialized knowledge and skills — and a sub-focus in math.” Throughout her 10 graduate courses, there were tedious “mini-lessons” and “group work” that “usually required only talking about our feelings,” she writes.

Instead of endless chapters of required reading, lengthy research papers and nail-biter exams, there was a lot of coloring, cutting and pasting, watching syrupy videos about how to be culturally adept and reflecting about, yes, our feelings.

Trained on fluffy assignments, teachers have brought the feelings-first approach to the classroom, writes Cepeda.

Anyone who has checked out a child’s homework or projects in the past few years has seen a shift from research, content testing and skill acquisition to subjective, opinion or feeling-based interpretive “work.” For instance, if a student in a history class was learning about people who sheltered Jews in their homes during the Holocaust, the student might be asked to write five paragraphs about a time he or she had to keep a secret.

Raise admissions criteria for teacher education and demand more of would-be teachers, writes Cepeda.

Core English: Show the evidence

In Common Core English classes, students can’t pass by writing about their feelings or their personal experiences, reports the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. They must show the evidence to support their assertions.

At Moreland Hills Elementary in Pepper Pike, Ohio, fifth graders identified the themes of fables such as “The Fox and the Crow” and “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” Nothing new about that. But worksheets include a new column: “Evidence of theme.”

“Evidence,” (teacher Brad) Anderson says to the class. “It’s not enough to just say what you think the theme is. You need specific evidence.”

As students re-read their fables, identifying what they considered the main theme of each, Hastings and teaching assistants prodded the students to find specific phrases or sentences that support their choice of theme.

“If you suspect someone of a crime, they wouldn’t just be guilty,” Anderson told the students. “You need evidence.”

At Berea-Midpark High, students read and re-read the poem “Exile” by Julia Alvarez to identify themes, allusions and metaphors.

“Finding text evidence is the skill we want to develop most this year,” Berea-Midpark English Teacher Charles Salata told his sophomore English class. “Not just that you have an argument, but that you can back it up.”

The old standards mostly asked students to relate the theme of literature to their own lives, said teachers.

“Kids used to talk more about how they felt about the theme,” said Maren Koepf, an instructional coach. “It was more about their feelings than the evidence.”

When new Common Core tests start next year, replacing the Ohio Achievement Assessments, students will have to make an argument, find details in texts, quote passages accurately and put those concepts into words if they want a good score, added Mike White, another Moreland Hills teacher.

“Before, you had a chance of passing, just relating it to your prior experiences,” White said.

“I can” statements — such as “I can read and comprehend poetry” — are the latest thing.

 

Social, emotional, but where’s the learning?

First graders react to the question, “What face do you make when your mother compliments you?” during a class session called “Feeling Faces” at Public School 24 in New York City. — Emile Wamsteker for Education Week

Teachers are using Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) to manage classes, reports Education Week.

Already dubious about SEL’s claims to make children nicer and prepare them for the 21st century, Katharine Beals sees SEL for classroom management as intrusive and manipulative.

It starts with an obvious tactic: “Giving students input in classroom rules and making them make amends and apologize when they hurt someone’s feelings.” Students also learn simple vocabulary words related to feelings, practice identifying their emotions and act out their feelings.

It all takes more time than a traditional incentives-based classroom management system, a teacher tells Education Week.

The program also invades students’ privacy, writes Beals.

Students convene for class meetings, during which they express their feelings and solve problems.

. . . Ms. Diaz said she has conversations with the class about not repeating what they hear from members of their “class family.” In addition, she explains that as a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect, she must pass on certain information to counselors and administrators.

Also, Ms. Diaz said, she warns parents at the start of the year that their children may open up to her about what’s going on at home.

One activity sounds like “emotional abuse” to Beals.

Maria Diaz’s 5th graders were revisiting a lesson in social-emotional learning they’d done recently in which they drew pictures of themselves and then listened to a story. Each time students heard a “put-down,” or a hurtful statement about someone in the story, Ms. Diaz had them tear off a piece of their self-portraits in a show of empathy.

. . . The “put-downs” activity . . . brought much of the class to tears.

The goal is to make kids “more responsible and empathetic,” writes Beals. These are “two traits which the teachers we’ve read about, as well the architects of these programs, appear to be lacking in spades.”

“SEL-based classrooms also do not work for every child,” Ed Week admits. “Students with behavioral issues may require an extrinsic-rewards system or a more structured approach.”

Beals asks: “Why are we forcing students who don’t have behavioral issues to waste so much time on these privacy-invading, time-wasting exercises?”

Is SEL useful, harmless or manipulative?