Living in the San Juan Islands means my news comes to me over the internet. So I pick and choose what I want to know. Google sets me up to read about the latest in education and what teachers are doing. I'm also pointed to those opinion articles that describe and sometimes denounce our educational system. My wife and I both read different articles and we have commented to each other the number of writers who start off by saying we need to get rid of bad teachers. Not just poor teachers, or ones who are having a difficult time or those teachers who have a difficult class.....but BAD TEACHERS! As usual I mutter, growl, sometimes shout obscenities at the computer screen and always ask, "What is a BAD teacher?" Those of us in academia are always "defining our terms." This word or phrase means ......." Then if you disagree with the definition we then have a starting point to discuss.
After this morning's review of the "Bad Teacher" articles, my memory started to click in and I got to reviewing one of my student teachers that I had a number of years ago. I'll call her Steph, short for Stephanie but she was not short in anything else. Rather tall girl with a pretty face that had a smile that will light up a classroom. She was working her way through college, having some position on campus as well as a waitressing job in the evenings. At that time I would always meet with the five or six student teachers that I would be working with for that quarter or two and lay down some guidelines like, no jobs--teaching is a full time job, no time off during the week, don't say anything in the teachers room except good morning or can I get you a cup of coffee? And be in the classroom before the classroom teacher gets there every morning. Oh, yes, volunteer to grades some papers the first week you are in the room.
So Steph quit her waitressing job and was at her school and her classroom early the first morning of the quarter. The principal and I had selected an experienced fourth grade teacher that I knew--a very excellent teacher with the kids. Very smooth and helpful. Good teaching skills and very understanding when a child didn't understand right away. Patiently, she would go over the material until they got it. I knew she would be an excellent cooperating teacher for Steph.
But it didn't seem to start out that way. After the first week where the student teacher is suppose to watch and get a feel for the classroom (and to volunteer to grade some papers), I returned to the elementary school, walked into the classroom during recess and had a chance to talk to Ms. Lee, the cooperating teacher.
"I don't think this student is going to be a teacher!"
"Oh, dear, what is the problem?"
"Well, she is so plain and has no presence in the classroom. She doesn't get the students attention and her clothes are terrible."
(Using my best counseling technique of repeating the last part of the sentence) "...clothes are terrible?"
And my cooperating teacher went ballistic about what my student teacher was wearing to class. I was dumbfounded. I didn't know what to say. Steph didn't have top of the line clothes and they were drab to some degree but I didn't think the fourth grades noticed. But my cooperating teacher, Ms. Lee, was unhappy.
I took Steph aside and asked if she had any other clothes she could wear? She shook her head, no, and tears started to form. Hang on, Steph, let me see what I can do.
I did talk to Ms. Lee several times during the next several weeks and she was always down on Steph. While clothing seemed to be a focus of the complaints, other things started to become known--doesn't pass out the papers correctly, doesn't keep the kids quiet, favors girls.....and on and on. As I watched Steph working with the fourth grade children I didn't see these problems. And always the clothing, not suitable for teaching.
By the beginning of the fourth week, I told Steph that this would be her last week, not because she wasn't doing a good job but because I began to think we had misjudged the situation in which she was placed. And if I would "wash her out of the program by Friday, she would get all her tuition back" It was hard on Steph, really hurt. She wanted to be a teacher....and I thought she could become a good one--but in a different situation. Ms. Lee thought I was doing the right thing--getting Steph to change her major. Which I wasn't doing.
What I did was ask the Student Teaching Office to find another position for Stephanie. I wanted an elementary school out in the county. Nothing near the school where Steph was first placed. Between the Student Teaching office and me we found a school in another county that had been asking for student teachers to come to their school. This would be a first for them.
So I talked to Steph and told her that not only was she going to go back to a fourth grade classroom but she would be our ambassador from the College of Education and seeing if this school would be a good mix for future student teachers. I wanted her to feel good about herself. Yeah, yeah, success breeds success and we hadn't done a good job with Stephanie.
[But an aside: at least in the State of Washington, all undergraduates seeking a teaching certificate must do a POSITIVE student teaching experience under the watchful eyes of the College of Education in a regular public school classroom in their field of focus (read Major, meaning elementary or secondary). But here is the clinker in the woodpile--public schools don't have to accept our student teachers! There are some public schools where the principal doesn't want student teachers in the school environment. So we have to find other places. Some schools want student teachers for different reasons. I knew one school where they wanted a student teacher for one class because when that teacher had a student teacher to supervise he did better teaching according to the principal. So there is this little dance between the College and the Public Schools as to where and how we place our student teachers. The student teacher's final report is a compilation of the Principal, the cooperating teacher and the supervising professor. All have to sign. And as a supervising academic I don't dare criticize the public school. ]
Okay, back to Stephanie. The next quarter Steph started a county away in a country elementary school. No one mentioned her clothing and everyone, and I do mean everyone was excited to have her in the school. She was invited into other classrooms, given groups of children to work with--the difference in attitude toward Steph begat a different attitude IN Steph. After a week I went down to visit her and the first thing she did was take me out into the hall and give me a big hug. Tears again but they were tears of happiness. We finally got it right in the Student Teaching office.
Steph had a great student teaching experience at this elementary school and we both highly recommended that this school be put on our list to have student teachers placed in it.
Although teaching positions were difficult to get around that time, Steph interviewed well and got a teaching position in a different county elementary school in a third grade. They loved her! Really! And she conned me into bringing my story telling class out to their school and each of my story telling students got a class to dazzle with their stories. As they sometimes say, a fine time was had by all.
Several years later I read in the local newspaper that Stephanie had been selected as Teacher of the Year in that school district. I went out to see her and to give her my congratulations. She was embarrassed by it all and told me, "I just wanted to be a teacher." She was and still is.
I've always wondered about Ms. Lee. A fine teacher in her own right but I wonder why she was so short with Steph. Was she threatened by the student teacher? Did she really think clothing was that important? I don't know. I never had her for a cooperating teacher again and we never talked about Stephanie. I wonder too if she saw the same article in the newspaper.
Bad teachers? I also wonder if there are teachers who are in the wrong schools, the wrong place, without sufficient support who are considered bad teachers. I wonder......
To Stephanie and all those teachers teaching kids how to enjoy learning.....Thanks. Have you thanked a teacher lately?