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!