November 22, 2008

Yay For Mediocrity

It's no wonder that U.S. students are falling behind. It's no wonder that the public is demanding more accountability for public schools. What some teachers are passing off as education is laughable. Career and Technical Education teachers, who many times are not accountable to any state or national standards, might be the guiltiest of them all.

Case 1

Earlier this year, I was using my prep hour to hang posters for one of our student organizations. I pass by the business classroom, where one of my colleagues is teaching a Sports and Entertainment Marketing class. I decide to hang out in the hall for a while and eavesdrop a bit. Here's what's going on inside the classroom.

She is teaching the class about BILLBOARDS. Yes, BILLBOARDS. Now, let me back up. Billboards might be a legitimate subject for a business class. If the teacher synthesizes this particular form of advertising with a larger conceptual framework, such as the four P's, or the product life cycle, or human psychology, or marketing budgets, or whatever, it would probably be an appropriate thing to talk about. If she's teaching in such a way that actually results in students constructing or learning new knowledge about business, it might be a good topic.

However, my colleague is teaching at the absolute most basic cognitive level. She's teaching students WHAT A BILLBOARD IS. She's teaching them that WORDS SHOULD BE BIG ON BILLBOARDS BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE DRIVING FAST. She is speaking very loudly and slowly, almost as if the students were too dumb to understand a normal conversational tone. These people are old enough to vote, old enough to drive, old enough to enlist in the military, and she's talking to them like they've never seen a billboard before.

I sneak a peak at a grading rubric that one of the students must have left behind. Students are graded on things like: colorful, big words, creative, catchy, and effort. Apparently, the students are given a couple of days in the computer lab to design their own billboards with who knows what software, probably Adobe InDesign. I'd like to ask this teacher what exactly she thinks the students are learning from this.

Case 2

I'm taking over a Marketing course from a teacher who left last year. I looked through her old course materials, and this is what I discovered:

  • Half – yes half – of the term is spent playing a video game disguised as a business simulation.

  • Students get to make a collage about themselves by cutting pictures out of magazines! They're graded on creativity.

  • The most difficult part of this class is designing a new label for a fictitious sports drink.

Really, what are they learning here? This class is an absolute insult to their intelligence, and after going through all of the previous teacher's materials, I have no idea what the students actually learn about business by taking her class.


I could go on and on giving examples like this. I could start another whole blog called "ineffective teaching" and I could fill it chock full of stories like this. Teachers who don't know their own subject area or treat students like little kids. Lazy teachers who give out worksheets and show videos and call that an education. Don't get me wrong, there are some stellar teachers in public education, but there are so many duds. In fact, research has shown that on average, college students entering the teaching profession are relatively weak academically (Walker, Kozma, & Green. American education: Foundations and policy).

You won't find students playing video games and making collages and creating sports drink labels in my classes. This is from my syllabus of the Marketing class I'm about to teach, which I've completely re-designed, as I have with almost every other class I've inherited from someone:

These topics are current, rigorous, and relevant. Contrary to what many people believe, I've found that students don't want easy classes. They want classes that challenge them and in which they actually learn something. I've had very positive feedback from students in my classes using this approach.

Honestly, I'd really like to write about some other examples of just terrible teaching that I've seen but this post is already long enough.

The Administrators

My first formal evaluation was a couple of weeks ago. It was during a class I taught in the computer lab. This class has 34 students, and if you've ever taught in a computer lab, you know that invariably, at least a couple of students will be distracted by the computers, either playing games or doing homework or whatever. This was the case during my evaluation, and the administrator docked me for it.

So, now I have this thing in my file saying that I'm below standards in the area of managing behavior, because a couple of students were distracted by the computers for a few minutes. There were some really good things in the evaluation too, but still, there's this black mark.

Rather than seeing how much better these classes really are than what they used to be, and how much work I've done to improve them, and how much the students are actually learning – instead of seeing that – they come in, see a kid playing a game, and conclude that I don't know how to manage behavior.

Wow! I think I'll sit down with this administrator to discuss the situation.

In Conclusion

Students deserve smarter teachers. Administrators should realize that.

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