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Engel in the Times

Teach Your Teachers Well (NTY Op-ed) – By Susan Engel
Our best universities have, paradoxically, typically looked down their noses at education, as if it were intellectually inferior. The result is that the strongest students are often in colleges that have no interest in education, while the most inspiring professors aren’t working with students who want to teach. This means that comparatively weaker students in less intellectually rigorous programs are the ones preparing to become teachers.

So the first step is to get the best colleges to throw themselves into the fray. If education was a good enough topic for Plato, John Dewey and William James, it should be good enough for 21st-century college professors.

She’s a senior lecturer in psychology and the director of the teaching program here, and a very warm person. I’ve never had much interest in teaching, but I think the op-ed makes many good points. It’s unfortunate that so many of the Ephs who do Teach For America would never consider sending their own kids to the schools in which they work.

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Leaving Mississippi

Anna Morrison ’07 says goodbye to her last two years of teaching in the Mississippi Teacher Corps:

Leaving Mississippi (or more specifically, education in Mississippi) was definitely bittersweet – certainly “relief” might be the first word that comes to mind. I am relieved to be back in an educated state, in a place I love, surrounded by family and old friends. I am relieved that I will never again have to face the pressure, stress, and heartbreak of teaching in the Delta.

But a part of me is distinctly frustrated at the thought of leaving the classroom, or the realm of education. I’d like to work a way back into the education sphere in some way – if not through a career, then peripherally as a volunteer, a board member, a community leader, or even as a participant in a sort of wider conversation about education reform. That was the root of much of my Mississippi woes – I would rather reform the way education happens (to avoid the huge gap in achievement for low-income students) than try to work within a broken system (as a teacher to those low-income students).

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Adjusting for gunshots

As the academic years comes to a close, Wick Sloane ’76 writes a powerful encomium to his students at Bunker Hill Community College. A few snippets below, but please, go read the whole thing, and share it with anyone you know fortunate enough to be a graduate:

Adjusted for gunshots, my student retention rate for this semester is 81 percent, my all-time high. I teach College Writing 1, an entry-level course. The graduating students signing up for their caps and gowns down the hall from my Bunker Hill Community College office now are two years and more ahead of my students. The national policy spotlights are always on the completion rates for community college students. Beyond “a lot more than today,” no one knows what the completion rates ought to be for this struggling, diverse, multilingual, mostly part-time population of 6.5 million, about half the undergraduates in the nation. […]

By “adjusted for gunshots,” here’s what I mean. I did not count in the starting total Cedirick Steele, who was shot and killed in Dorchester on Thursday of spring break 2007. I did count the mother this semester, who could not complete an assignment about a month ago because her son was shot.

I did count the 20-year-old man whose work and home life barely give him time to read the assignments. I spent an hour with him this morning. “I’ve had a bad weekend. Thursday, a week ago, there was a shootout in front of my house,” he said. “Then, Saturday night, one of my friends was shot in the face. I think he’s going to be eating through a tube for the rest of his life.” This student and I revised his plan for completing the semester. He and the mother agreed to complete the assignments over the summer. […]

I start each semester explaining that the national expectation is that only half of them will complete the course. The reason is the complexity of their lives, whether grueling night jobs at Logan Airport or gunshots or sick children. I give them my name and my cell phone and my e-mail. I tell them they can call any time. No one has abused that. “We’re only all going to make it if we help each other. I want you to get the name and phone number and the e-mail of the person to your left and to your right.” They do. “Now, I want you to shake hands with the person on your left and on your right and say, ‘I am committed to you being here in May (or December).’ ” I ask them to walk around and shake hands with everyone in the class, with the same commitment. The students humor me. […] Students have reported two pieces of (anecdotal) evidence, according to colleagues. The first is that I am “crazy.” The second is that they make strong new friendships in my sections. […]

Eighty-one percent made it, adjusted for gunshots. The economy may be stabilizing. Federal tax policies, which offer tens of thousands to students at the schools I attended, Williams and Yale, and nothing to Bunker Hill students, are the same. Those colleges will try to regain what they lost by taking their endowments to the dog track. My students don’t know if they will have enough money to enroll in the fall. That’s a jeremiad for another day.

The Ones Who Made It To May [Inside Higher Ed]

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Eph Teaching Diary: Life in a Low-Income District

Because Williams does not have an Education major, a graduating Eph who wishes to teach has three main options.

1) Enroll in a graduate school of Education

2) Teach at a private or parochial school (they are not required to hire licensed teachers)

3) Enroll in an alternative-route certification program, such as Teach for America, Mississippi Teacher Corps, New York City Teaching Fellows, Chicago Teaching Fellows, and many, many others.

I am not exactly sure of the typical breakdown between these three options for Williams grads who go in to teaching. My (very rough) guess is that around 10 members of the class of ’07 ended up in #2, and another 10-20 in #3. I only know of a few people who were considering #1. (Note: Plenty of students also go abroad to teach – the phantom 4th option on my list). Perhaps someone more familiar with these numbers (the OCC must know!) could chime in and correct me…

I hope to get few writers from each of these categories, but I’m starting these entries with participants from alternative-route (meaning: not through traditional graduate school) programs. Obviously, as a current member of one these programs, its the viewpoint most familiar to me. But I am also starting here because it is the category that has been receiving the most attention recently – news articles, columns, books, and lots of good buzz about how a big chunk of our generation has chosen to devote two years of our lives to improving our nation’s educational system.

Most aspiring teachers who choose that third category will find themselves in low-income school districts that have a high rate of teacher turnover — and a whole slew of problems that contribute to it.

More below the jump…

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Eph Diaries: The Eph Teachers

This is the first post in a summer-long series of “Eph Diaries” about the experiences of recent Williams grads who have chosen to pursue teaching after graduation. As an ’07 graduate, I just completed my first year in the Mississippi Teacher Corps, a two-year, alternative-route program (similar to Teach for America), which trains and places recent graduates in the critical-needs school districts of Mississippi. I’ll be cross-posting some of my own blog entries from this year, as well as thoughts from other young Ephs in the classrooms. Hopefully our stories, observations, and ideas will provide inspiration for other Williams students who are contemplating a career in education.

Perhaps it seems odd that these entries appear over the summer — school is out, we are not necessarily teaching, and our blog entries will often be outdated. I think, in fact, it is the perfect time for these entries – a time in which students and teachers alike can reflect on the year, on what has (or has not) been accomplished, and on what might be achieved when September rolls around again. To those undergraduates adrift in a sea of career opportunities, summer is the perfect time to begin thinking about the future -and hopefully you might gain some insight from those of us newly “on the job”.

So, without further ado, I will give you an entry of mine, recently written, which was required by my program: a reflection of my first year of teaching. This year, I taught Junior and Senior English at a large high school in the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest (if not the poorest) regions in the country. My attempt to reflect on the year is as follows:

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