Everyone remembers a teacher who changed their life — one who made them feel heard and noticed and appreciated no matter what was going on around them. This is my goal as a future educator. This is also central to the values and teachings of the School of Education at the University of Kansas, with a curriculum focused on all the wonderful things we should model for our students.
However, as I settle into my last year here at the University and my last year in the education program, I can’t help but notice all the things that we are told continuously not to do as instructors. Since this field does have so much subjectivity built into it, it is only natural that we will receive some mixed messages and conflicting advice. What causes me the most confusion, however, is that professors teach us effective ways to teach and manage a classroom, then model the direct opposite in their own classrooms.
The first example that comes to mind is the idea that teachers should not stand at the front of their classrooms and lecture at their students for any more than 20 minutes. In my four years here, I have read more articles than I can count about engaging students and giving them stimulation to avoid disengagement. Yet, almost every class that we have had in the education program is lecture based. If it isn’t, then it is a discussion-based class run primarily by an instructor and directed in very specific ways.
Now I know what you are thinking: “It is college, and there aren’t too many ways to avoid lectures.” And if you are thinking this, you are correct to an extent. But to tell us to avoid lecturing for too long and then not model ways for us to do this seems a bit counterproductive.
Another technique that is taught to us is to break the norms of what we expect a classroom to look like and to function like. Some of the most interesting discussions I have taken part in within education courses are centered around alternative seating and alternative classroom setup. Yet there is only one class that I can think of that has any form of alternative seating, and it is a senior-level class.
Finally, I think the most frustrating thing that professors overlook in their own instruction is the way that assignments are given and formatted. It has been drilled into us as future educators that we cannot assess all student learning the same and that in order to truly understand what our students are comprehending, we need to differentiate the ways that we are assessing them.
However, almost every course I have had in education assesses students in the same ways: quizzes, essays and tests. While there is merit to all of these assessment types, I can only marvel at how we are supposed to change our mindset if we haven’t seen it in practice.
I am not an educator yet, and I have endless respect and admiration for those who are providing me the tools to become an effective instructor. I just wonder how we are to move forward in the field of education and improve our school systems if all of our suggested practices are only seen in the pages of our textbooks. What steps need to be taken to begin modeling these ever-changing techniques? And how can we support our professors in this endeavor as a university? Perhaps education reform doesn’t start with teachers, but rather with teachers who teach teachers.
Jerika Miller is a senior from Aurora, Colorado, studying English and secondary education.