Cory Leonard

On Good Teachers

In career on August 22, 2013 at 2:33 pm

What is it precisely that good teachers do? A new book by someone who may (or may not) be a “real teacher” explores this worthy question. To get a sense of who the author is, read Mark Edmundson’s piece on how to deal with “bores”–a great start.

Students, whose “spectacular hunger for life” is both promising and dangerous, must “slow it down and live deliberately.” There’s no better place than the college classroom to do so, Edmundson says.

Teachers, in turn, must remember their “primary job is not to help our students acquire skills, marketable skills, bankables. …We’re not here to help our students make their minds resemble their laptops, fast and feverish.”

His approach to the tension between career and professional training and broad education and learning, or a “real education”:

“It’s an education in which the student follows the Platonic injunction: Know Thyself,” Edmundson said in an e-mail interview from Nova Scotia, where he recently vacationed. “And also seeks to know the world. It’s not about career planning or preparation for success. When you know yourself career and success can follow with ease – if you want them.”

via Mark Edmundson’s new book calls for renewed emphasis on teaching | Inside Higher Ed.

He has some harsh words for college life.  His book is also a reasoned critique of the modern university, where:

students spend less time than ever on their classwork, and he writes of an implicit pact between undergraduates and professors in which teachers give high grades and thin assignments, and students reward them with positive evaluations. After all, given all the other amenities available through the university, the idea that “the courses you take should be the primary objective of going to college is tacitly considered absurd.”

via Mark Edmunson’s Essay Ask, “Why Teach?” | NYT


The inputs may also be a problem. How prepared are students that are the products of No Child Left Behind for university life?

Even during those times when I could assign work that required proper writing, I was limited in how much work I could do on their writing. I had too many students. In my final year, with four sections of Advanced Placement, I had 129 AP students (as well as an additional forty-six students in my other two classes). A teacher cannot possibly give that many students the individualized attention they need to improve their writing. Do the math. Imagine that I assign all my students a written exercise. Let’s assume that 160 actually turn it in. Let’s further assume that I am a fast reader, and I can read and correct papers at a rate of one every three minutes. That’s eight hours—for one assignment. If it takes a more realistic five minutes per paper, the total is more than thirteen hours.

Further, the AP course required that a huge amount of content be covered, meaning that too much effort is spent on learning information and perhaps insufficient time on wrestling with the material at a deeper level. I learned to balance these seemingly contradictory requirements. For much of the content I would give students summary information, sufficient to answer multiple-choice questions and to get some of the points on rubrics for the free response questions. That allowed me more time for class discussions and for relating events in the news to what we learned in class, making the class more engaging for the students and resulting in deeper learning because the discussions were relevant to their lives.

From what I saw from the free response questions I read, too many students in AP courses were not getting depth in their learning and lacked both the content knowledge and the ability to use what content knowledge they had.

via A warning to college profs from a high school teacher.


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