Insulted by the Profs?

So, I’ve got to admit that I have little understanding of higher education at all—outside of my own six years earning undergraduate and graduate degrees about 15 years ago.  From what I remember, my university professors were pretty removed from reality.  While they had terrific ideas about what "should" be, rarely did I walk away with practical advice about how to survive in the classroom!

I can remember countless hours spent writing formal lesson plans—something I abandoned as soon as I was buried by my first sets of papers to grade. I remember developing remarkably integrated lessons that provided opportunities for remediation and enrichment—and that met every intelligence that Howard Gardner had ever whipped up. I ditched those too, once I realized that spending 67 hours planning one unit would never float when I had 30-plus units to plan each year!

Now don’t get me wrong—-I’m jazzed that someone is still able to dream big about what education could be. Sometimes, my colleagues and I sit and wax poetic about what we could do if only we had twenty or thirty hours of planning every week.  We’d be veritable teaching dynamos!

But I’m losing some of my patience with college professors. The first blow came from a colleague who took a position in higher education recently after 28 years in the classroom. Turns out the professors that she works closely with won’t even speak to her because she doesn’t have a Master’s degree. One fell asleep in a presentation that she was making the other day, and another hinted that classroom experience was irrelevant when preparing undergraduates.

The second came when I attended a function with a large number of college professors who all insisted on introducing themselves as "Dr." and who laid backward insults on teachers at every turn. "Consider coming to us if you ever want to learn more about your profession," they’d say. "We’ll get you straightened out. And if you’re ever looking for a challenge, consider coming to work for us!"

A challenge? Try 60 twelve-year olds for a few days!

The final blow came just the other day when a student teacher I know announced that her university advisor didn’t agree with our learning team’s decision to teach textbook reading skills to our students.  "He thinks teaching from the textbook is really bad," she said.  "He’s surprised teachers still think that’s okay to do."

I flipped! You see, the only reason we even give a nod to teaching our students the kinds of skills necessary for tackling the textbook is because we’ve heard time and again from colleagues at the local high school that the most successful students are those who can be successful in a direct instruction, textbook driven environment. "After all," they’ll constantly say, "We’ve got to prepare them for college!"

So we teach textbook skills to our students so that they’ll succeed in high school, high school teachers teach textbook skills to their students so that they’ll succeed in college, and college professors criticize teachers who teach from the textbook—-all the while requiring students to read multiple chapters in preparation for each new 90-minute lecture!

Interesting pattern, huh?

The plain fact of the matter is that college teaching practices drive the work done in K-12 education.  Until we make a concerted effort to hold university professors accountable for delivering instruction in multiple formats appropriate for every learner, K-12 education will remain stuck in the never ending struggle over whether to prepare students for life—or for the countless lecture-driven college classes that they’ll have to endure to earn a degree! 

4 thoughts on “Insulted by the Profs?

  1. R

    I’m a high school teacher with an Ivy League Ph.D. I trained with the intention of going into academia, but found myself loving the high school classroom. I do not have an education degree, but teach at an independent school; my background makes the content of your post look a little different to me than it does to some of the other posters.
    The dichotomy you’re setting up here seems to me to be inherently false. You’re oversimplyfing and making every student the same student applying to the same college and college professors and high school teachers into the same teacher. You say that your average college student “needs” the textbook skills he learned in high school, but that isn’t necessarily true. In four years of undergraduate work, I had only two textbooks. Most of the highlighting, outlining, and reading text boxes under photographs that I’d learned in public school were useless to me in college. We learned from primary documents, understanding math from the writings of ancient mathematicians, psychology by reading Freud’s original case studies, and literature by reading full novels, not preselected snippets arranged for a survey course. My test-taking skills were also useless in a school that privileged essay writing and essay tests above the multiple-choice assessments that were so popular at my high school. I learned more in those four undergraduate years than I did in my previous twelve, largely because I had to digest and use so many different styles of writing. This challenged my thought processes far more than memorizing the “relevant information” out of a textbook and spitting it back. I model that kind of teaching with my own students today, who do not use textbooks in my classroom and achieve goals far beyond those in the state-mandated curriculum.
    One commenter said that professors need to understand “what is good, what is right, and what is possible.” It seems to me like public school administrators need to learn the same things. College professors teach differently from (public) high school teachers largely because they aren’t trying to make every student the same student; they’re allowed to look at a class and change expectations in response to what’s happening in the world, the talent level or interests of the particular students, and their own personal goals and interests. This allows for the best teaching possible, as professors can capitalize on their personal strengths and knowledges and on the interests and strengths of their students. Sadly, it’s also one that’s being taken away from them by the mass-marketing of one-size-fits-all college educations, but that’s another story.
    What seems problematic to me is that college professors, who do not have to deal with a one-size-fits-all audience, are teaching those who do have to deal with a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Teaching under such different circumstances is not even the same job. Naturally there’s going to be a breakdown in communication! What should stop, though, is not the professors’ questions about public education, but the state and national curricula that make every student out to be the same student. These are curricula that don’t allow for teachers to adjust their expectations of groups who have different preparation and different goals–a setup that’s sure to leave some children behind.

  2. KJ

    I am a preservice Art Education undergrad on the verge of doing my student teaching at a large university with a huge college of education. I have written those long and involved lesson plans ( six of them, three for two courses) which were then taught in a classroom to students. I would spend hours and hours preparing them, creating a model, making resources and visuals, to teach them in a one and a half hour class. I have seen professors say that we shouldn’t lecture our students in a lecture on teaching. I have had a BRILLIANT professor be ridiculed by her colleagues because she doesn’t have a Ph.D. I have been fortunate in that almost all of my education professors have had some sort of classroom experience. Everyone in higher ed seems to know the best ways- in theory- to teach, but few practice it. A lot of this has to do, i think, with such a strong emphasis on testing. When teachers do not have small class sizes and low student numbers, when they don’t have oodles of planning time, plentiful high-quality supplies, and supportive staff and administrators, and so on, testing is a quick and somewhat effective need that fits our educational system’s goals… and this has had effects all the way up the chain. Professors who get good at drilling, killing, testing, and researching get cocky and hence build the famous “ivory tower” of higher ed. It is the disparity between how it SHOULD be done and how it CAN or IS done that causes the cockiness. Professors aren’t restrained by school and community cultural mores, administrator requests/demands,scheduling concerns, or the constellation of other issues surrounding classroom teachers. They have the gift of plenty of planning and office time, small course loads, highly supportive (if involved) administration, and endless resources. The university world is almost the exact opposite of the grade school/ in-service-teaching world. Whenever i hear comments like that, sure it makes me mad… but there is little i can do to change it so i have to just tune it out. I would rather pay an in-classroom teacher one semester’s tuition just to hear how they have survived rather than be told the endless theories which will hardly help my students learn how to draw or create meaningful works of art.

  3. Mike

    I have my students write those detailed lesson plans, but I know full well they won’t be doing it in the future. Why? Because then I can see what they think a good lesson looks like on paper. I’ve found some curious ideas among them over the years that I wouldn’t have caught otherwise. Of course, anyone who doesn’t respect a classroom teacher of thirty years experience is an idiot.

  4. Louisa Jane

    Too true, Bill. I totally agree with having the college profs actually walk the walk after they talk. It might change their perceptions of what is good, what is right, and what is possible!

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