Rather than the typical I-Cannot-Believe-My-First-Year-of-College-is-Over post, I would like to share my thoughts and concepts from classes that I believe changed my perspective on education. The Craft of Teaching, Politics and Public Education and Learning about Learning: Classrooms in Context are three classes that deeply influenced the thoughts in this post.
What constitutes good teaching? My initial response to that question before college: the teacher. As a rising sophomore, I am not so sure if I have such a straightforward answer to that question. While it is true that teachers have a huge impact in the classroom, there are other factors that make a classroom a positive environment for learning. I have come to realize that teaching and learning are related but different concepts. According to the McDonald Triangle, teaching consists of three, sometimes opposing forces, the student, the teacher and the curriculum. At times, once aspect dominates the other two. With No Child Left Behind, and the incoming Common Core, the curriculum aspect is now dominating the bulk of what influences teaching. Student influences on teaching continue to shrink because of standardized testing. Some teachers do teach to the test and with policymakers trying to tie job security to test scores, I can see why.
I have come to realize the difference between college and high school in simply two words: teaching and learning. In high school, teachers try to get students to learn. High school teachers make themselves available to students during lunch or before/after school and some through email and cellphone. High school teachers are still somewhat responsible for grades. However, things are different in college. Professors are only required to teach—not to make you learn. I believe a striking difference between the two levels of education is the commitment of the student. In high school, the teacher provides structure, takes attendance gives homework etc. As a high school student, my commitment to learning did not require much effort: shows up to class, do classwork, do homework. In college, there is no homework, no classwork and the professor rarely takes attendance. So what? It means that it is up to the students to take responsibility for their own learning. Simply put, teachers teach and students learn. However, it is possible that teachers teach and students do not learn.
Even then with a quality teacher, a positive learning experience is not guaranteed. And the question becomes “ why is that?” I believe that it is primarily due to the difference between every individual student. Tracking, separating pupils by academic ability into groups for all subjects or certain classes and curriculum within a school, occurs in schools and is most apparent in high school. Students that tend to do better than their peers tend to take AP or IB courses. Where does this education inequality come from and how can we as a society address that? One typical response is: the teacher is responsible for student learning and teachers should be held responsible for the inequality in the education system. However, I believe that this response puts the blame on teachers when there are factors that are out of the teacher’s control, such as student backgrounds, socioeconomic status, area of residence. It is not fair to put all the blame on just teachers alone. Policymakers, in their attempt to address the education inequality, instead widened the inequality gap. No Child Left Behind, with the goal of achieving 100% proficiency by 2014, is just one example of how policymakers widened the inequality gap. With each state free to set its own arbitrary proficiency goals, it is important to consider education inequality between states. While you’re at it, consider the education inequality between urban and suburban settings. Wealthier parents have the option to move to a different neighborhood, while lower-working class parents are not as free to move. In addition, schools with more money, (read cities with more money) have the ability to attract high quality teachers with salary and benefits that urban districts may not be able to provide. In this situation, less wealthy school districts are left with a smaller pool of qualified teachers. In short, inequality in education exists on every level, between students, schools, districts and states.
There is no silver bullet to fix the inequality in the education system. But I believe that the first step is to addressing the issue is to realize the problems with current system.