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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
List Archives

Role of the University in School Change
September-October 1997

To what extent do you think that the university should be involved in framing
the agenda for school change? What role should it play? 

—Judi Fenton

Sometimes I wonder if we are not perpetuating the barriers by focusing on the problems. I think that there are some schools of education that are doing a great job of preparing new teachers and perhaps we should take a look at what they are doing and how it is making a difference. A case in point is a novice teacher that I have worked with for two years now who graduated from the University of Wisconsin. She is miles ahead of where I was as a new teacher in terms of knowledge of pedagogy and current research on educational practice. However, there are some things that you can only learn through actual experience and it has to be truly your own experience. Student teaching will never be able to truly capture those feelings of responsibility and autonomy one experiences when you finally have a class of your own - which is when the position of mentor becomes so critical, as well as the support of experienced colleagues. 

For me the questions are - How are we, as experienced practitioners, supporting and encouraging beginning teachers; and how can we create opportunities for dialogue with university educators so that we can learn from and with each other?

—Carol Horn

The problem and the gap lies in the utter remoteness of the overwhelming numbers of education school professors from real schools and classrooms, and not in particular conceptions of teaching and learning. Beware of public opinion surveys and how they pose -- in large part because of their own ignorance -- such complex issues. Might they not misread the classroom teachers focus on the /nuts and bolts/ of teaching and learning and the education school professors/ focus on their ungrounded philosophizing as a difference in philosophy because of their own lack of understanding, as complete outsiders, of the dynamics at work?

—Leo Casey

I view this triad under discussion as the university with its vision, classroom reality, and I see the student teacher with arms and legs a-flying as that ice skater trying to latch on to the end of the whip. 

I have heard that teachers who have returned to the classroom after working at the university for several years, are unable to do those lessons and activities they had endorsed while working at the university. They did not have the time to prepare the material even though it was all packed in boxes for their use. It was not an easy process. The students did not have the background necessary to complete the lessons in just a period or two. There was a curriculum to cover and a time line to meet. Reality hit the fan. Running manipulative lessons is most difficult as you question to see that the concepts are really being understood. Paper and pencil or telling is fast and easy, but does not build understanding.

The university had a large voice in the formation of the California Math Framework. The Framework does not mandate the memorization of the times tables. I have found that, for the average student, understanding the concepts of multiplication and division was much simpler if they had those facts in their head and not just at their fingertips. It was a necessity when they were trying to understand fractions. 

I think that the voices from the university forgot that sometimes when we are working at a higher level, we forgot what it was like when we were at point. We forgot that we had to learn important concepts that we now instinctly use.

One can watch a student perform a task and give us the answer we seek, but do they really understand enough to use that concept in another situation? Did we assess correctly so that we can make a generalization? Does the university assess before they try to make radical changes in classroom practices. The Literature Based Reading Program is a case in point.

I recall the summer I was at the university for my introduction to computer skills from a professor who ideas are part of the Math Framework. He would pass out advanced lessons in Logo that I had no idea how to solve, nor did I have a reference book to help me. I hope my students never feel so unprepared. 

The university classes should include work with the schools before the student teacher experience begins. The best education procedures classes I ever took had us design a lesson and then go to a school and teach it to a class. We did this in music and physical education. 

Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California has an excellent program. The student teachers we receive for their student teacher experience have been prepared and are supervised and supported by a their university professor who spends days at the school as support for the classroom and student teacher.

In summary: the university, the classroom, and the student teacher need to communicate and establish policy that enable the student to gain those life-time-learner skills.

—Lynda Williams

I would generally agree with Leo about the ignorance of the surveyors framing
the way the debate is reported. However, one of the sources I read for my
paper (Kagan) written by a university professor who does understand the
language and problems, found the same results as the Public Agenda study with
exemplary high school teachers. Univ. professors focused on the "important
ideas" (and downplayed the basics) and the High School teachers felt a need to teach
new teachers "the basics".

Is this common in your experiences? Do any of you feel that you were given
a balance of the two in your teacher ed programs? 
Why do you think this might be the case (or not)?

—Judi Fenton

Decided to jump in when I realized that perhaps prior to trying to get university links to rethink their philosophy or methods courses, we already have a mutual concern that might actively serve as a way to bridge the worlds of the classrooms - university and school. I am referring to the student teacher. I have discovered that the new breed of student teacher is a proactive element not to be ignored. I have three student teachers working with me this year. One is from the Consortium of Central Schools. She has brought the content of seminars that she attends to my entire team and we have been invited to share in those seminars with her class, our school, and her cooperating teacher. A very unlikely happening, that occurred out of need for a particular classroom concern, gang culture. This has opened doors for each of us. Her advisor has visited my school every week! She meets with all teachers and the student teacher. I think we have a foot in a door, and I/m wondering if this would not be an alternate way to initiate policy or at least a change in attitude. 

The other two student teachers are observing for two months. They will begin to student teach in Jan. if the match works. We have cooperatively counseled one out to a more traditional classroom setting. Thus, working with the University advisor, and the student teacher their is a process of trying to match the needs of all. I view this as another path into the University. The University of IL in Chicago graduates the largest number of teachers who enter the public school system. This is a little opening, but I see it as a step in the right direction. Surely working for what is best for the future teacher has to be a positive way to cut through the halls of ivy. Sometimes showing the way is more effective than telling. What do you think?

—Marcey Regan

I just read on Inside AFT online (http://www.aft.org) about a new Public Agenda study right up our alley. It/s called “Different Drummers: How Teachers of Teachers View Public Education.” The study shows that there is a gap between teachers and ed professors in their views about success and learning in the classroom. Education professors believe that classrooms should be places of "active, life-long" learning and are dismissive of classroom management, memorization, standardized testing, and basic skills. 61% of profs believe that when a class is disruptive it is due to the teacher not making the lesson interesting and engaging enough for the students. The blurb goes on to say that Sandra Feldman was not surprised with the results since "teachers always report that their college education hasn/t prepared them for the realities of the classroom."

I wonder, however, if many of us don/t agree with the college profs about the nature of a successful classroom. We just know that before a classroom can be a place of active, life-long learning, many other things must be in place, importantly, how to set up and manage that classroom!

Another serious reason for dialogue between practitioners and teacher

If you want the full study, it/s $10 + 2.50 for shipping and handling to Public Agenda, 6 East 39 Street, NY, NY 10016.

—Judi Fenton


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