Mandatory diversity training for future schoolteachers

I went to a neighborhood party last night and talked with a 50-year-old woman who is preparing to reenter the workforce after rearing three children and two step-children. She has always loved English (Brittany Spears’s favorite subject in high school because “it is something you can use every day”) and is getting a master’s degree in teaching English so that she can look for a union/government job as a high school English teacher. She is required to take only six classes over one year to get her degree. One required course out of the six is called “diversity”. She is not doing well in the class. “We aren’t learning any specific techniques that could help us teach people of different races or backgrounds. There is only one correct answer to every question posed by the professor and at first I wasn’t giving it. The professor was pigeonholing me as an ‘old white woman’ who couldn’t adapt, but eventually I figured out what was expected and now I’m saying stuff that I don’t believe just so that I can get a good grade in the class.”

12 Comments

  1. Jason Songhurst

    February 21, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

    1

    sounds like good training. assuming she gets the job, she’s going to have a class of kids who don’t want to answer correctly in all kinds of ways.

  2. Noel

    February 21, 2010 @ 4:09 pm

    2

    “saying stuff that I don’t believe” Yep, that sounds like the training achieved its goal.

  3. Matt S

    February 22, 2010 @ 2:14 am

    3

    This is similar to my wife’s experience. She has a Masters in Chemistry and her favorite part of her three years in graduate school was teaching introductory and organic chemistry to college freshman and sophomores. She thought that she would enjoy teaching chemistry in high school, and as a job it fits her current priorities of having summers free to play with our young children.

    She dropped out of the teaching credential program a few weeks ago, with only two months left.

    I think the biggest reason she left is that the credential classes were shockingly bad. In her words: “A barista at Starbucks has better training for her job than a teacher.” Her classes and books did not cover methods or techniques. It was all fluff about “If you love your students enough, you’ll be a great teacher.” Then she would be asked to write an essay to that effect. She kept waiting for a class with substance, or even a few helpful tips about how to teach, and it never came. After years in science, I think this was truly her first contact with an entire group of the mind numbingly stupid people, a group that appears to have taken over the field of education.

    She planned to power through the last few months of this to get to her goal. But her second semester of student teaching did not go well. In our area, chemistry is a required class for all high school students, and the chemistry curriculum is largely written by the local universities, who have designed a high school curriculum that focuses on the things that college freshman have the most trouble with, like kinetics.

    But how do you teach kinetics to the 25 students in your class out of 30 who have somehow reached high school without basic math? Who do not understand fractions or percentages? Well, you don’t. You start drilling the few prepared students in each class to pass the state standardized test and, well, leave everyone else behind. You must teach to the state standards, and cannot just make up a “Chemistry for English Majors” class (which some colleges have) that introduces chemistry, talks about household chemicals, and is light on math. No, you must jump right into drilling the parts that college freshman have the most trouble learning, which is, incidentally, all the parts that involve math.

    At first my wife though she was just new and didn’t know how to pull off a miracle and teach most of her students math while also following the pace of the curriculum. But she learned from the other science teachers at her school that this is just the way it is– you leave most of them behind and then babysit them the rest of the year. That job satisfaction would eventually come if she sticks it out long enough to be assigned to an honors class, or that in years she will have enough seniority to be transferred to a middle class or wealthier part of the city, where the students are prepared for the curriculum.

    For their part, the students cannot graduate without passing chemistry. So most of them fail it, then retake it in the summer. All of the science teachers at the school boycott teaching the summer session, since the work is basically sitting there and doing word searches with “CARBON” in them for a few hours a day. The kids do that and they can graduate.

  4. Federico Calboli

    February 22, 2010 @ 6:59 am

    4

    “old white woman who couldn’t adapt”.

    Whoa, bring diversity on! I might add thought about ageism and racism in a class that is meant to teach “diversity”, whatever that could mean, but I won’t.

  5. Seth

    February 22, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

    5

    Matt S:

    Thanks for telling your rather frustrating story. My general take on the public education system is that it is dying from “micro-management”. And specifically the micro-management of a lot of those “mind numbingly stupid” people your wife was dealing with. Measure, measure, measure! And wiith metrics designed by committees of stupid people. Read Feynman for a good laugh (cry?).

    Classroom teachers are controlled by local administrators, district administrators, boards of education, state officials and federal budget masters all of whom are making careers out of “initiatives” which turn into unfunded mandates. “Unfunded” not only in dollar terms but also as measured by their deficiency of common sense. What sounds nice to a committee of career-minded bureaucrats rarely makes any kind of sense in a classroom.

    While I consider broad equality of educational opportunity a key value, and am glad to subsidize others’ education through progressive taxation, I don’t think the present government/union near-monopoly on *delivery* of education is good for kids or our culture.

  6. Wally

    February 22, 2010 @ 10:17 pm

    6

    Matt:
    My daughter was taught operator precedence incorrectly by someone who
    ‘stuck around long enough to get an Honors class’, and this was in the vaunted G&T program. Additionally, homework sheets consisted of barely-legible handwritten scrawl, because being a tenured teacher apparently means never having to learn Excel, or any other tool that might help you do your job better.

    Seth:
    Government/union near-monopoly is the problem, just like with the auto industry. And yet glimmers of hope appear on the horizon:

    http://www.projo.com/education/content/central_falls_teachers.1_02-13-10_A8HEI7Q_v61.3a65218.html

  7. Wayne

    February 23, 2010 @ 8:45 pm

    7

    “saying stuff that I don’t believe just so that I can get a good grade in the class” — I didn’t do this when I was in school, and that’s why I was kicked out (I don’t have a college degree). It was the first serious political mistake of my life.

  8. Ritesh

    February 24, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

    8

    One encouraging sign at last. Looks like all the teachers at this poorly performing public school in Rhode Island are being fired.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35562693/ns/us_news-education/

    It doesn’t change much, but hopefully it sends out a signal to the rest of the teachers.

    I shiver when I think of our future citizens being taught by this bunch of pathetic incompetence. Not sure about how good they will be at math/science/reading/writing. But they will have an excellent background in going on strikes and working as little as possible.

  9. Seth

    February 25, 2010 @ 1:14 am

    9

    Wally, Ritesh,

    I’m really not that encouraged by schools that ‘go nuclear’ on the unions. Maybe it’s a necessary step in a longer process, but what a bitter pill! You are focusing on stereotypes of “bad teachers” and siding with destructive mis-managers in “punishing” those teachers as a group. What might spread good teaching is autonomy in discovering what works and spreading it virally from classroom to classroom by teachers who are empowered to innovate. It’s all the edu-cratic administrative careerist busy-bodies showing off for the media with their centralized, top-down “initiatives” and “get tough” quick-fixes that suck the life out of schools.

    We adopted our model of public schooling from autocratic Prussians in the latter 19th century and then have been trying to pound them into shape as tedious assembly-line industrial manufacturing shops ever since. We need to think <i?differently about schooling, not just grab a bigger hammer to bring down on some convenient scapegoats.

  10. philg

    February 25, 2010 @ 2:06 am

    10

    Seth: Firing ineffective teachers is a “bitter pill”? For whom? Not the taxpayers, surely. A lot of these school districts spend more than $20,000 per student per year (including capital costs and unfunded pension liabilities). It would be much cheaper for taxpayers to send the kids off to a nearby successful school, public or private, and not to incur the unknown but enormous pension liabilities. Or send older kids off to China, India, or Europe for a year abroad, which can be done for much less than $20k. The students would surely not find it a “bitter pill” to attend a school that was more effective. Even the better teachers would surely find their excellence recognized in a job interview and they could get a job at a better school.

    Why would it be the case that we think some labor market turnover is essential to keep private companies going but that it would be a disaster if not every teacher can continue going to work at the same school for 20 or 30 years?

  11. Ritesh

    February 25, 2010 @ 3:04 am

    11

    Phil,

    How come boarding school culture is not that common here in USA? I understand that they are fairly common in UK, and in fact are responsible for an entire genre of literature; British boarding school stories (anyone heard of Harry Potter or Enid Blyton?).

    Ok, my point is that imagine for a moment, parents here were willing to send their kids to boarding schools and be willing to see them only for short holidays during school year and then 2.5 months for summer. In this case what would prevent them from sending their kids for quality education abroad? What if India, Brazil, etc. started offering elite boarding schools for foreigners (Actually India has several pvt boarding schools which cater to British kids, located in serene surroundings away from polluted big cities). The ones that I know of charge around 10-12K annually, all inclusive.

    I pay $17,000 per year for my 6 yrs old to attend the French-American School of Silicon Valley. The only reason being the great math/science/reading curriculum, good teachers, and bilingual education. However, this school offers classes only till 5th grade.

    Paying that fees hurts!

    My only option after 5th grade would be to move into a good public school district, or send my son to boarding school (wife will need some serious convincing though. Come to think of it, I might too).

    Ever since I moved from France, I have realized that living in California, I end up paying more taxes than I used to in France, and get much less in return from govt. (poor quality health care, non existent post retirement pension, horrible primary schools…)

  12. Seth

    February 25, 2010 @ 4:14 am

    12

    Phil,

    Nice fantasies about sending kids off to China for a year abroad. That’s not even remotely what will happen. The new media-darling administration will simply hire some other under-motivated and under-empowered teachers to do the same rote crap they were doing before. They’ll turn the screws on various meaningless ‘metrics’ and produce results just as dispiriting as before. This is “Chainsaw Al does education” and it pleases you mostly because you’re heavily invested in the idea that unions are just a cancer. Kill the cancer and the body will heal spontaneously.

    Well, if unions are a cancer, then the management culture is the mix of genetic flaws and toxic chemicals that produced the cancer. Surgical interventions to remove cancerous growths may be necessary, but we don’t send people cards that say “CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR PARTIAL GASTRECTOMY!” We tend to focus on “Get Well Soon!” instead. We don’t pretend the treatment is fun for the patient. Especially when we aren’t sure the surgery will actually save the patient from the root causes that are still at work.

    For the teachers, I expect this kind of negotiation is a rather difficult leap of faith. The same nagging administrators they hate dealing with day in and day out are somehow going to be wise enough to weed out *precisely* the “ineffective” teachers (no possible subjectivity or political overtones to *that* decision) and that wonderful ponies and raises for the “truly effective” teachers will be forthcoming RIGHT after this teensy weensy bit of unpleasantness in which YOU”RE ALL FIRED! And these teachers are supposed to waltz into overcrowded classrooms with a big smile on their faces while this massacre is going on and NOT think about fleeing the least respected profession in America? While you fire all the tenured 20 year veteran “bad teachers”, you’ll also scare away still more of the already rapidly turning-over young teachers. But DON”T BE NERVOUS, or OFF WITH YOUR HEAD! screams the Red Queen louder and louder.

    I’ll admit this might be necessary. But I’m not going to enjoy watching it as much as you will.

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