Big Schools, Big Cities
I enjoyed your article about ten of the nation's leading teacher-preparation programs ("10 Leading Schools Silence the Critics: Innovative Teacher Prep," November/December 2007). I am familiarwith a few of them already and agreewith your assessments. They all, however,share something in common: They areconnected either to large universities or toestablished schools in larger metropolitanareas. Either way, all are large and tend tosend teachers out into well-populatedareas.
I would like to call attention to the rolesmaller institutions play in trainingteachers in hard-to-place communities,urban or rural. Small colleges all overthe country meet the needs of moreremote places the big universities won'tor can't touch. The University of Virginiais excellent, but those graduates are fewand far between here on the border withNorth Carolina.
I invite you to explore how small collegesare having an impact on the face ofeducation in our country's smaller niches.Thanks for your review and for theFoundation's excellent work.
Drop in on Dropouts
I just finished reading a very grim report,the most depressing I have ever read, onthe Dallas Independent School District,pulled from research conducted by JohnsHopkins University. Then I read Edutopia("By the Numbers: Dropout Data," November/December 2007) and foundonly a brief mention of that report. Thatwas the only article on the dropout issue Icould quickly locate in your magazine.Why don't you address dropout issuesmore frequently? It is the central issue ineducation in the United States.
In your Editor's Note (November/December 2007), you mention thatonly one teacher out of every four you had were excellent, or at leastmemorable. Let me do the math: For teachers, I had one each in grades1-6 and six per grade in secondary school, for a total of forty-two.
Like you, I had three or four "worth remembering" teachers, but fourout of forty-two is hardly one in four -- closer to one in ten. Given thatour kids now have six teachers in elementary school, and seven teachersper year during grades 6-12, that adds up to fifty-four teachers.Assuming they have only four memorable teachers, the ratio drops likea rock to one in thirteen or so. I assume you could still call that sad, butI suspect pathetic is more like it.
Go Home, Teachers
I'd like to express my appreciation forthe excellent Editor's Note in the November/December 2007 issue. Havingtaught for decades in private, public,parochial, same-gender, and companyschools, and now in one of the largestschool districts in the United States, Itotally concur that the home visit is sovital. Without the contact with the home,we are seeing only part of the child.Though some people do not understandthe words "home visit," the fact isthey are a very important tool for education.
A Question of Style
As parents, we often forget what it waslike to not know or not be interested in asubject because it was hard for us then orbecause we didn't like the teacher ("Mr.Martin's Oopses: The Best Educators Have Struggled to Learn, Then Succeeded," November/December2007). I have four kids (one each in college,high school, junior high school,and elementary school), and I've cometo understand that often when a child"doesn't like" a certain teacher, it is actuallyan incompatibility of learning andteaching styles. Children want to succeedand enjoy but can be easily deterred byseemingly small obstacles. This article isgreat inspiration for the lessons of workinghard and trying hard.
"How To: Reduce Your School's Eco-Footprint" (October 2007) was a greatarticle, but I'm looking for a solution forrecycling milk cartons. My school usesabout 300 4-ounce cartons a day. Evenmy local municipal-utilities authoritycouldn't recommend a place that wouldtake them. They are wax coated andburn nicely. I can't believe no one wantsthem. Any advice from your readers?
In the September 2007 Dispatches essay, "Unacceptable: Many Teens Aren't Emotionally Ready for College,'" author Jill Flury discussed the need for highschool students to learn skills to handle living independently for thefirst time. She included the need for personal wellness, stress management,financial health, time management, and social skills. I agreewholeheartedly with Flury about the need for teaching these vital lifeskills to all students, regardless of their plans.
Many such classes already exist in the high school curriculum; theyare generally part of the family and consumer sciences department. Iteach a class for juniors and seniors called Independent Living thataddresses all the issues Flury noted. When students ask what it's about,I tell them, "It is everything I can cram into one semester to help yousurvive living on your own."
A semester-long simulation project is part of the class, in which studentshave jobs, checking accounts, bills, roommates, and the related squabbles.They must be able to reconcile their checkbook to pass the class. When studentscome back to visit, they usually ask me if we still do "that checkbookthing" and then tell me, "I use stuff I learned in that class every single day."