“Are you experienced?”

9 06 2012

I’m delighted that while I’m not back to doing this blog thing quite yet, the ever-popular Britney Titus has sent another excellent post. Like any pushy editor, the title of the post is mine (as she is far too young to come up with the Jimi Hendrix reference).

For my student teaching, I was placed at a junior high where they assisted with online classes. During that process, I learned, once again, what it means to be a student.

One of the first things that caught my attention was the number of students who were in fact taking a portion or all of their classes online. As many of schools are now focused on standardized multiple-choice testing as formative assessments, I became even more surprised when I learned that nine times out of ten, the online students outperformed students that were in the classroom. However, before all of the online education charlatans out there rejoice, the face-to-face students completely outshined them when they were in the classroom itself. I think that’s because the missing piece of the puzzle for online students is socialization.

I began to think what exactly these online classes are preparing them for and I unfortunately could not think of anything. They will not need intense fill-in-the-bubble skills once they graduate. Furthermore, how will they survive a seminar-style classroom if they are not receiving the necessary socialization skills? They can know all of the content in the world and be able to take a multiple-choice test every single day, but if they do not understand how to use that information to reach a higher level of critical understanding then these students will not survive in a higher education environment. I may be coming off as an intense critic, but I just fail to see how an online environment transforms a child into a complete and well-rounded student.

Something else that the online students are missing inside the classroom is the idea of teaching life lessons through history. One of the lessons that I taught involved reading The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to understand the conditions of slavery. Interestingly enough, many of my students came back with their response papers that specifically said, “If I have to read this again I will not come back to class.” After my fit of frustration, I looked at this as a teaching opportunity and simply asked the class the next day how they were ever going to understand the good if they fail to understand the bad? How could they ever fathom what the Emancipation Proclamation or Civil War meant for this country if they did not understand the ruthlessness and barbarity of slavery?

Even more so, there are things in life that they have to learn about or go through in order to remain humble and respectful. I explained to the class that if they do not go through bad things, then they would never be able to appreciate the good. We had about an hour-long discussion about this topic and related it to the rise of abolitionists and the reform movement prior to the Civil War. After the class finished, I just found myself thinking how do online students ever get this kind of instruction? Sure, you may be able to Skype or instant message, but does that really provide the type of atmosphere where students feed off one another and debate topics back and forth?

I was lucky enough (or so I thought) to be placed in a school with two Social Studies teachers retiring at the end of the school year. I interviewed and after about two weeks I got a phone call saying I did not get the job. Surprisingly, I was not bitter, but more critical of the bigger ideas in play. I have a crisp resume full of honors and community service, an impressive transcript especially in the Social Studies fields, and I had multiple student work examples that showed my various skills as a teacher, such as having the eighth-grade students reading and understanding college-level texts as well as writing complete six-paragraph essays in a forty minute timed period. I always said I am not perfect, but I thought I embodied a well-rounded teacher who would in fact teach the students to think at a higher level.

So why didn’t I get the job? I came to find out that at least one of the teachers who secured the job had more years of experience than I did as she had been an elementary school teacher in the years before. This makes me question what is more valuable: rigorous forms of education and study or an extended amount of experience? In my case, the latter came to be true, which brings me to my overall point. Why are we drilling over and over again the necessity of going to college if experience is going to be more valuable at the end of the day? I once got into an argument with some of the fellow teachers in the graduate program about students feeling entitled in this day and age to a job when they get out of school. They believed that nobody should feel entitled and should have to work at it like everyone else. Yet, I fail to see what motivation exists for working hard if it is not going to pay off in the end?

The hardest thing about student teaching was the student who just did not care. If he/she got an F, they got an F and it did not matter. I was so frustrated with these types of students, but can I blame them? If they just get pushed into high school even if they fail, why try? I feel like this is a problem that certainly needs to be addressed in the educational system given that thousands of students procure debt every year (including myself) to go to universities or graduate schools and that it starts so early now. I do not think students should be pushed to go to college or graduate school if it is not going to do what it is supposed and set them up for a career.

I am 22, graduated with two undergraduate degrees in history and Spanish (in three years) and am halfway through a Master’s Program, yet I fail to secure a job at a junior high school? What does this say about the value of education and the future of students altogether? I think I finally figured out why my master’s thesis is taking so long to even get off the ground and it is because a small part of me is very scared that in the long run all my work and dedication is not going to matter any more than it does now. That, for a dedicated master’s student who wants nothing more than to write well, is one scary thought.

I probably am being a little skeptical as this is my first job hunt experience, but I also see this happening to my friends outside of the educational field. One of my best friends just graduated from nursing school, yet received the same response when interviewing for a job: you need more experience. The fact that this is happening to graduates from multiple fields of study is what worries me the most and makes me think this is bigger than just myself in the educational field – that this is happening to students in fields of all kinds.

Thus, even though this post probably comes off as a critical temper tantrum, life experiences are not biased. Unfortunately, mine forecast a grim and dark future for education as a whole.



One response

9 06 2012
tom abeles

I think this person will look back on this essay in the near term and cringe at its style, tautological arguments and see herself in those students who said “not again”

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