Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The fruits of full socialization by America's educators

It's a few days old now, but there is a post over on The Chronicle about teaching test prep to secondary students. The author, "Mr. Blake," concludes:
In the end, the summer gave me still more motivation to score a job at a college or university. After all, I'll get along with the students better when they've been fully socialized by America's hardworking educators—when Hank's sublimated his energy into high test scores and when Betty's read some Maxine Hong Kingston and Gish Jen, and overcome her literary prejudices.

But I admit I'm looking forward to other perks of an academic job, as well—most important, a regular salary and a few months of escape from America's most precious resource.
There is a lot wrong here, but I'll leave most of it to other CMers. I'm going to focus on the comparison between college and secondary students.

This shocked me because I've TAed college students and done the test prep thing with secondary students. Working with the secondary students was definitely better. Why? Because when a 14-year-old whined that he didn't want to do the work and asked how many points he'll lose if he only does the easy parts, I could blame it on his being 14, being there because he is forced to, and doing work that doesn't "count" for his transcript. (Of course, I just told him to read the instructions and do his work to the best of his ability.) When one of my 20-year-old college students did the same thing in a required major course, those excuses didn't hold up.

My college students surely hadn't sublimated anything into high test scores. They got high test scores because the tests (not designed by me) were horribly easy , and my boss wanted easy partial credit on the short response questions. They whined and missed class and expected me to make it up for them. They gave me doctors' notes signed by their mothers, told me their fathers would kill them if I gave them bad grades, and claimed their plagiarizing was due to formatting errors.

I loved my secondary school kids. They were energetic and funny, and when they complained, they usually knew I wasn't going to take it but were just going to try it anyway. I was excited to teach a college class because I loved teaching so much after working with them. (Oh, and I let them call me by my first name, and although some of them insisted on calling me "Teacher Arrogant" and "Sensei Arrogant," it was never a problem.) But my college students were lethargic and boring, and when they complained, they thought they really could get out of doing their work and still get great grades for their transcripts. If "Mr. Blake" expects to find only keeners in college classes, he is in for a rude surprise.


  1. And there I go, forgetting to put a title on my first post. Ahem, I shall take my punishment without complaining.

  2. Thanks to whoever fixed it before. I did finally find the "edit" button. Guess I'm just a College Misery flake.

  3. A few months ago, I was *brutally* slammed on RYS for suggesting that teaching secondary students can be enjoyable and rewarding, for many of the reasons you mention. People were really angry, and quite a few accused me of lying about my job. I still don't understand the source of the anger. I suggested that some of the people who are languishing unhappily in adjunct limbo might find intellectually rewarding careers in strong secondary schools. It's not a path for everyone, obviously. But I'm baffled as to why a suggestion meant to help academics find meaningful work in a saturated job market would elicit such violent opposition. Despite all the complaints, are professors still a little idealistic about university life?

  4. Dolan, I don't remember your post, but I suspect a lot of the slams have to do with the fact that primary and secondary schools don't want to hire "unproven" former academics. In my state, I'd have to pay for almost 2 years of more schooling to be certified to teach in a high school. I can't afford it, and they might not want me with my high-fallutin' non-ed degree anyway.

    Plus, let's be serious for a moment, some K12 schools have serious discipline problems that we eventually see when the flakes get to college. Some K12 schools might be a pleasure to teach in...just like some colleges. Generalizing will only work to a certain point.

    BUT...the big but...I bet if the government offered grants for people with advanced subject degrees to re-train via K12 teacher certification, we'd see a transformation in the K12 world, perhaps for the better.

  5. I did say "strong secondary schools", but I agree that I should have been more specific. College-preparatory independent schools rarely require teaching certification, and education degrees are not strongly valued as a rule. Independent schools usually require faculty to hold graduate degrees in one's field, and are excellent places from which to make a transition from college-level to secondary teaching if that is what one wishes to do. Discipline problems are rare, and there is a great deal of academic freedom in the classroom. It's a good gig, if it's what you want. I'm not an evangelist for high school teaching; it's not for everyone. I've just landed in a professional niche that I happen to enjoy, and I don't recall anyone telling me that this was an option when I was in grad school. It occurs to me that some academics who favor teaching over research and aren't finding what they want at the college level might be happy here, too.

  6. I think it's easier to get a secondary-school gig without an education degree in the U.S., where there are more independent schools. In Canada there are some private schools but basically you will need to go back for a minimum of a 1-year diploma, during which time of course you aren't being paid, and there are some provinces where you'll need a full B.Ed, which could be three years. Plus they're hard programs to get into; in Ontario, for example, I have several friends with multiple graduate degrees that have been turned down from certificate programs for being over-educated (no fooling).

    So it's not that it isn't a great gig, if your tastes run that way. But it's impossible for a lot of us to get that gig.

  7. I can imagine that many college instructors (of various titles) find the idea of teaching secondary unappealing because that's where the flakes they have now come from. So, instead of dealing with late-adolescent flakes, they imagine they'd be dealing with early-adolescent flakes and their attendant identity issues, puberty, etc. And in many schools, I am sure that's true. The instructors would also have to deal even more with parents, bear greater legal responsibility for their charges, sit through six to eight hours straight of teaching (minus lunch and a prep period), and be beholden to state standards.

    My particular position was quite unique, and I wouldn't necessarily recommend teaching test prep as a way to step away from the college flakes. I had the benefit of working at an independent company whose owners knew nothing about education and little about the subject I taught. Though this brought its own challenges, it also left me free to design my courses as I wished. Most of the kids' parents didn't speak English, so I rarely had to interact with them, passing messages through my bosses. The courses were over in six to twelve weeks, and I rarely had more than 30 students at a time across both my test prep courses and my tutoring assignments. It was a fine gig, but I don't believe there are enough such positions to employ all the flake-tortured adjuncts in academe.

  8. Ms. Dolan, I'm calling you out. If this was you on RYS, you deserved everything thrown at you and then some.

    The author of that post wasn't simply extolling the virtues of teaching high school; the author of that post displayed a complete lack of regard for the author of another now-unavailable RYS post by Rick from Ruidoso -- a post that listed legitimate grievances -- as well as complete and total flakitude about how the business of higher education really works.

    Also, mocking someone who makes less money than one does displays classlessness of the highest nature.

  9. The only benefit to teaching at the college level is that you don't have to deal with parents. What with hiring and promotion decisions based significantly on children's petulance (course evals), and can't even say that we are still free to give them the grades they deserve...because we aren't. Teaching for a living seems only moderately better than blowing tourists in Vegas for a living. If I had it all to do over again, I'd get my education and learn a trade.

  10. I'd get my education and learn a trade.

    Isn't blowing tourists in Vegas a trade, Cap'n?

    Or is that what you mean by "education"?


    Seriously though, I agree. I'd have less debt and make more money as a carpenter.

  11. Dear Ms. Dolan,

    I saw your RYS post that got so horribly slammed, and I think a large part of it was the snobismus that "if you ain't one of us, you ain't worth squat." This sentiment is common among academics, particularly ones suffering from Impostor's Syndrome (which was recently mentioned on College Misery). It's common among other people who consider themselves "elite," too. Once, I saw a military jet fighter pilot say exactly this when asked whether he couldn't be making more money as commercial airline pilot. Another time, a nuclear engineering student in one of my physics classes said something much like this to me (and what was all the more odd about this was that I hadn't even asked him anything). It never made sense to me: if more people were to become nuclear engineers, wouldn't that make making a good salary as a nuclear engineer harder?

    I think another reason you got slammed was that many of the slammers didn't read your post carefully, nor did they think about it much. It is certainly true that many American high schools are hell holes, and we all know it. Not all of them are, however: I went to a public high school that's still pretty good, and it's in a state not particularly noted for its schools, too.

    I wish you all the best in your teaching career. I think it's likely that you have a much more important influence on your students' lives than if you were yet another exploited college adjunct, and just about any job beats the chronic anxiety and constant reminders of how little one is respected one gets as an adjunct. I know, I was one of the few lucky ones who managed to escape it. I hate to say anything bad about adjuncts, since having been one I know what living like a serf was like all too well, but I think another reason why your post was slammed may well have been plain old jealousy.

    - Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

    P.S. That's FrankenSTIEN!

  12. I've found the link Greta references. And I'm with her. Connie from Coopersburg got what she deserved in that exchange.



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