Not Comics: Student Self-Accountability Statement and Contract and a Reflective Rant
So, here in Texas, we're literally preparing future English teachers who might never have earned an "A" in an English class or an education course. Currently, it seems all English education majors have to do to be English Education majors at my employer is declare themselves as such, and then keep a C+ average. This seems to be typical across the country as well.
As an English teaching methods professor, I've taken to asking my students why they want to be teachers. It's not because I want to foil their enthusiasm or catch them off guard, which the question does for many, but because I think they ought to be asked it at least once before they graduate.
Hell, they ought to be asked it and provide an adequate, if not inspiring answer, before they're allowed to declare.
We hear a ton about teacher accountability at the university level now, because the leaders of the nation's colleges and universities have allowed the political discourse -- meant to curb government spending on education and ultimately drive it into the private sector -- to permeate the post-secondary realm.
I agree that professors ought to be held accountable. But, based on my experiences as a graduate student and a professor, they need to be held accountable for their professional behavior towards one another and their graduate (especially their doctoral) students more than for whether their students are learning.
I know very few disastrous college-level teachers. I know several disasterous advisors and colleagues and peers who abuse their situations at the expense of student/peer advancement and comfort. (I'm lucky that most of these folks are not at my current university, to my knowledge).
That sounds outrageous, doesn't it? "Teachers need to be held accountable for what their students learn," isn't that the standard line? Isn't that what all those tests are for in k-12 schools?
But here's the difference between k-12 students and post-secondary students: The majority of post-secondary students are LEGAL ADULTS!
This means they have the rights of almost all other citizens of this country and most of the same responsibilities. It also means they must be accountable for their own actions. While I agree that we need a rightly-focused teacher accountability movement at the collegiate level, I think we also need a student accountability movement.
First, an anecdote: In one of my teacher prep courses this semester, I have been "previewing" vocabulary that my students need to learn by using it in class and offering verbal ques that we'll learn more about the terms later. I've provided lists of key words on the board or on handouts to draw my students' attention to salient concepts, and I've covered them explicitly in class via whole class discussion and jigsawing activities during the class period *after* students should have read the chapters where they would encounter the terms. I also encourage students to ask questions about any thing at any time.
Despite this, on a recent quiz -- I call them "assessment opportunities" -- in which I asked students to define, discuss, or otherwise identify ten terms from our discourse, not a single student was able to make a B (3.0) or better. Only one student made a C (2.0). And, I had informed them five days earlier to expect an assessment on the day it was given.
Unfortunately, I've felt these types of tensions for the last few years. The above is an anecdote with a lot of baggage attached to it, OK?
Based on the accountability model we now have, I'm failing them as a teacher, correct? Despite my attempts at best practice and engaging in pre-,during-, and after- activities. I'll bet there will be some who read this to suggest that I should have even given them the exact page numbers for each term or to have provided the information for each concept directly to the student via a handout. Perhaps some will question why I gave a "traditional" quiz, though my intent was to quickly and efficiently see whether students could define, discuss, or interact with given terms in a knowledgeable manner. I want to guide with a pointing finger: "That's where you'll go from here," not handhold: "Let me do your work for you."
It seems to me that students are either not getting the material, not adequately reviewing the material they do "get" in the immediacy, or otherwise not making the effort to be successful.
But, since the expectations are so low: almost guaranteed acceptance into the university; no need to be vetted before claiming the major, a C+ GPA required to graduate the program, why should they even try? If they spend enough $$$ and stick it out long enough with mediocre grades, they'll eventually get that diploma. They may not pass their licensure tests -- which will reflect poorly on the university and me -- and they may not gain employment (which ought to reflect on the university and me), but they'll get the degree.
Why should they try to excel?
Because they'll eventually, if they earn employment, be teaching children who need them to work hard.
I'm a first-generation college student who eventually earned a Ph.D. from a top teacher education program. I overcame poverty, legacies of multiple types of abuse, low expectations from some of my family, broken homes, even cancer to become a college professor because I believe in rigorous teacher preparation and love helping students get to a point where I can take pride in knowing they'll be transformative, loving teachers. I still have relationships with many of my best students, for example, and enjoy seeing their successes.
But if my students are coming from schools that didn't prepare them to do well in college, they have no vetting process and low standards/expectations from the university and its programs, and they aren't willing or able to take responsibility for their own learning, a responsibility that must be based in something deep inside them that drives them to excel not for themselves but for their children and all of our children, what can I do? I can try to share my personal stories until I'm blue in the face. I can scaffold instruction all day. I can conference with them and do my part to ask them tough and important questions and to help them see themselves as professionals.
"But, shouldn't you make sure to learn where your students are at before engaging in instruction?" you might ask. If your students have limited English proficiency or have children or work day jobs shouldn't you take that into account and also try to figure out what their skills are?"
Yes, but within reason, because these students -- college-level students -- are legal adults responsbile for themselves and have made conscious decisions to come to school, and they've chosen their major. I can't and should not be required to make up for 13 years worth of inadequate preparation by the time they get to my junior- and senior-level classes designed specifically to help them become English teachers. If they do not have the requisite skills for success as teachers by that time, my thought is they can become English majors but probably don't need to become English Education majors. The stakes are too high, and we run the risk of our graduates perpetuating the work ethic that was accepted at the university/ies and which matches with a campus culture/s that accepts students into the university/ies and into specific programs without asking much of them in the way of academic success or vision.
I'll be working with my students from the above paragraphs today to learn why their scores might have been so low. I'll assign them code names and then ask them to sign off on these statements:
* I verify that I have read 100% of ther assigned material to date.
* I verify that I have taken nortes on all the readings to date.
* I verify that I have taken notoes on each day's class session to date, and that these notes include the list of key concepts that Dr. Carter places on the board or otherwise draws our attention to.
* I verify that I review my notes a minimum of once a week.
* I verify that when I feel unsure about a concept, I ask questions about it in class.
I'll also ask them to respond anonymously to the following prompt: "I feel like I did so poorly on our first Assessment Opportunity becuase....."
This data should help us to understand some things as a class. It should help me know where to go from here.
But, I'm also going to proactively ask students to sign or not sign the following form, which I call the "Self-Accountability Statement and Contract." Look it over and tell me if you think it is too thorough or out of line:
Self-Accountability Statement and Contract for XXXXXXXXXXX
“You: Meeting Me halfway::Me: Going the Extra Mile for You”
I understand that ultimately:
· I am responsible for my own actions.
· I am responsible for my own learning.
· As a future educator, I am responsible for the learning and well-being of children.
To that end:
· I agree to read 95-100% of all readings for this course.
· I will annotate my texts and take notes on each of the readings.
· I will date my notes and willingly share them with Dr. Carter upon request.
· I have received the below links and will review them to help me take notes effectively:
· I will ask questions in class and actively participate, especially when there are areas from the notes and reading on which I need clarification or about which I want more information.
· I will attend class punctually and in accordance with policies set forth in the syllabus.
I understand that while signing this form does not guarantee that Dr. Carter will feel comfortable supporting my career as a future teacher, attending to the items in this form is a good way to meet him half way. This means I may ask him for references for employment, list his contact information on applications, or ask him to write letters to graduate school in the future, for example, but that procurement of those items are not promised.
I understand that not signing the form indicates that I relinquish my right to ask Dr. Carter for references for employment as a teacher, to list his contact information on applications, or to ask him to write on my behalf for graduate school.
I understand that Dr. Carter will keep this document on file to help him remember me and my work in this class.
Seems pretty reasonable to me, but please offer me feedback.
This blog entry has not been to trash my current employer, which is filled with conscientious, well-meaning scholars doing great work in their professional fields and sub-fields. It is to suggest that we might have some work to do in evaluating our local cultures and how we perceive our undergraduate teacher education majors, and much of the work we might need to do on my campus might need to be done across our state with its ailing education statistics and political agendas, and perhaps around the nation as well.
It is also to allow me a chance to reflect on several years of frustration situated in my knowledge of my sincerity towards wanting my students to succeed and my joy at seeing students at other institutions with higher standards become excellent teachers. I care about them and their futures from day one and have been desperately trying to get them to see that while also imparting why I care about their career paths and why I care about them engaging in hard work and why I am disappointed (and inclined to stop caring about them as people if I see they have no interest in really teaching. And, to be frank and fair, I have little love for straight-up lazy students) when I see evidence that they are not making the most of the opportunities enrolling in university affords them, the most important one being the opportunity to become an educator of positive impact.
It is a reflection of my work ethic and the standards to which I held myself as an undergraduate and doctoral student and to which I still try to hold myself today, and a testament to what I overcame and thereby to my dedication to my students and public education and the better futures of young people everywhere.
Perhaps my values just aren't those of higher education anymore, though. Perhaps I should seek other employment. Your thoughts?
This post has also been a means of expressing that while there are elements of a post-secondary accountability movement in which I believe, I think the current "k-12 education" model dominating our discourse is not what we need at the university level and is misguided in making college personnel better professionals.
Concurrent with all ideas expressed, I think we need a student self-accountability movement across this nation.
Preferably, it would come from students themselves who want to learn new information in college, who understand that they might have to work hard to excel, who understand that good grades in high school do not make for geniuses at the collegiate level, who want to be pushed and want us to hold them in high regard for doing excellent work, not just for paying tuition. These would be students who see that rigor and preparation coincide with bettering our nation, and, when it comes to teacher education, raising standards of living and being for everyone, especially those who are not yet legally responsible for their own actions.
These students advocating for a self-accountability wouldn't necessarily want more for themselves, but for their worlds, but they would want and deserve more from us in how we regard them and what they can do.