Adventures in Teacher Education

Teacher education: Student feelings about assessment

My students share their experiences with assessment during one of our initial classes.

I spend most of my time teaching middle schoolers, but I’ve moonlighted in teacher education for nearly 6 years. I started out teaching one course in the program where I got my Master’s degree. Then I was presented with a new opportunity to participate in teacher education. A professor at another local university reached out to me and asked if I was interested in teaching a 5 week summer course in assessment for Special Education over the summer. The course was for students in an alternative certificate program here in NYC. I was thrilled to try something new, but there were challenges that I hadn’t anticipated. Working in a different kind of teacher education this summer really challenged a lot of beliefs and assumptions that I had about education. Particularly the idea that learning is scalable.

Learning is scalable is one of the CGC principles that really resonated with me. What it means is that our beliefs about teaching and learning for children in a classroom should be able to scale up to a whole school level, to professional development (and, by extension, teacher education), and even to how we run our schools. In theory, if I truly believe that learning is scalable, the same beliefs about education should apply whether I’m working in a middle school or in teacher eduction.

I know that with my middle schoolers I believe that work should be able to be revised as many times as possible until a student demonstrates the knowledge, skill, or understanding that I’m expecting. Basically, I believe in mastery grading and not punishing students for taking longer to understand things than their peers. I don’t really believe in penalizing students for late work, but I found myself more frustrated with graduate students who turned work in late without an email or a request for an extension. I found myself feeling that I shouldn’t be offering students the opportunity to rewrite things because they should “know how to do this by now.” I found it really hard to reconcile my belief that graduate students should possess a particular skill set with my belief in everything above. Was it my responsibility to teach them those things? Or, did they need to ask questions, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and figure it out. Did I really believe, as my Ed Psych professor in college said, that in “grade school you have teachers who teach, and in college you have professors who profess–get used to taking in information and figuring things out.” When I really examine my beliefs, I don’t believe that at all. But I also am not sure I have the time to teach them all of that.

A summer course means less time. It means less time to revise work, so that means less time for students to “get” everything before the end of the term. There is also less time for questions and discussions about assignments, and fewer assignments. There’s less time for me to write substantial feedback on the assignments I do get, so there are fewer assignments. There’s also less time for student-professor contact outside of class. I hope I did a good job of building relationships with these adult students, but I’m not sure.

If I teach this course again, I want to make sure I spend more time getting to know my students. I also want to spend more time practicing what I preach: using formative assessments to figure out what skills I need to teach before a major assignment is due. And now that I’ve taught the course once, I’ll be better able to adjust assignments and content to make time.

What are your experiences with teacher education, either as a student or as an instructor?

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