Things I wish I’d learned in school.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: No classroom has ever looked like this.

When I posted yesterday about back to school and included this image…


…it reminded me of a strange interlude in my teacher education all those years ago.

In general, teacher education is a joke. Sure, there are some helpful basics like child development and psychology. But when you get into the actual education classes? Complete rubbish. That was the case then and I can tell you that our middle daughter is finding it still to be the case today.

Even though I attended a university that was renowned for its teacher education, my coursework was largely inane. For example, I had to take “Methods of teaching English” class for elementary educators – seems reasonable, right? – but the class included no  information about how to teach kids about grammar, spelling, or writing. Rather we spent several weeks – WEEKS – learning how to reproduce perfect cursive and manuscript handwriting on a chalkboard. I still rail over the complete waste of my time, tuition money, and brain capacity. (Though I grudgingly admit that secretly I loved it. Writing on a chalkboard is just plain fun, and I can actually reproduce the Zaner-Blosser example above. Thank you very much.)

So, once I got my first job and started my own classroom, I started compiling a mental list of what teacher education should include:

  • A course on parent relations. (Dealing with: parents of gifted kids, neglectful parents, the parents who start a fight in the hallway on conference day, the parent who marches into your class and starts abusing you verbally in front of the children)
  • Navigating the minefield of parent/teacher conferences. (Dealing with: time management, breaking bad news without creating a scene, how to get rid of a parent who wants a counseling session rather than a conference, how to get home to your own family before 10:00 pm without falling down dead the moment you walk into your house.)
  • Classroom management. (Dealing with: the kid who can’t walk across the room without whacking five classmates over the head, the kid who can’t stay in her seat to save her life, the kid who will only participate if the subject covers his own special interest area, keeping 23 kids engaged in learning while kid #24 is hiding under his desk)
  • Individualization for the masses. (Dealing with making sure 25 unique kindergarteners are making educational progress, even though three have severe emotional trauma, two have severe speech delays, four have obviously come into school with undiagnosed special needs, and one is so bright you can’t keep up with him.)

This is the stuff they should be teaching kids who want to teach.

Slightly more practical than writing on a chalkboard.

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8 thoughts on “Things I wish I’d learned in school.

  1. I will never forget the first grader I was helping with her reading struggle. (Is that a weird sentence?) Anyway, I had a group of 4 I worked with, all on a different level. One girl said…..’my dad gets out of jail today’. I had to hide my shock of her innocent remark and it made me sad that such a young girl was exposed to a life like that. I didn’t have to deal with parents except when I was a Girl Scout Leader. Oh. My. The parent is always right? HA!

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  2. The scary thing is that nothing in typical teacher training would weed out people who are bad at those kind of interpersonal juggling skills. Instead a few years in a classroom with real kids has to do it. Glad your daughter’s program tries to do some of the winnowing up front. Because I don’t think most of those skills can be taught to someone who doesn’t have the right sort of mind/talent to begin with.

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  3. Strange timing. I was just thinking this yesterday. A teacher is taught what to teach and how to go about it, but they are not taught how to handle the class, the parents, or the everyday issues that teachers run into. It made me wonder how many people get their teaching degrees, only to learn that teaching is not for them once they step into a real classroom.

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    • I think a TON of people have that experience. To do it well you have to have heavy-duty interpersonal skills, good time management, empathy, listening skills…so many things that can’t entirely be taught but they seriously should be addressed. My daughter’s school does do one thing I think is a step in the right direction – early on (sophomore year, I think) candidates for the school of education have to take a test and have personal references that take a good look at how well their personalities/innate biases are suited to teaching. The thing is, that teaching is truly an art. Though there is a lot that universities can do to develop it, my gut feeling is that the best teachers are born, not made. And that’s my soapbox for today. 🙂 Thanks for your thoughts!

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