The idea of praxis, as Paulo Freire describes, is that a teacher can take action to genuinely transform a students’ practice when they know more about the specific problems students are having. In my case, when I as a professor, understand the problems my student teachers are having in their student teaching classrooms, I can address those specific needs. In that way, I am learning ‘with’ the students and not simply lecturing ‘to’ students or doing something ‘for’ students. That means, as much as possible, I need to find out what students’ need and work ‘with’ them to address goals together. In this post, I will explore three challenges students teachers have that draw them away from my class work on literacy instruction in kindergarten-sixth grade classrooms: 1. pressing issues that draw students away from class learning, 2. the need to pass state assessments, and 3. student teachers are just beginning their profession and don’t often know what their problems are in literacy instruction are.
First, students are distracted and pulled away from my class work in many ways :
- Student teachers are overworked. Personally, students half of my students are very busy with their full time internship as student teachers. In two other classes I am teaching, the students are in classrooms for two day and also carry at least 15 units. So students have a double load: teaching in a classroom and a full schedule of classes to take and prepare for.
- School is a priority. What makes it more complicated is that students’ priority is typically the work they do in the classroom for two reasons. First, students depend on their mentor teachers for letters of recommendations and so they try to work hard in the classroom to show that they are eager and skilled. Secondly, student teachers prioritize work with students because it is real work and not practice for the future. Children are vulnerable and must be treated with care and so they become a priority. Also, after 19 years of education in preparation, student teachers are eager to do real work.
- Student teachers have personal needs outside the classroom. The most challenging is the need to earn money to support their university education. Students also often have children or parents to take care of. Finally, some students are not very good at self-care in high pressure situations and don’t make sure they eat well, sleep, and exercise. Generally, students who don’t take care of themselves are less capable to learn the content because they are physically not feeling their best.
The second challenge to teaching ‘with’ students is that they have to pass two state assessments: the Reading Instructional Competency Assessment (RICA) and the California Teacher Performance Assessment (CalTPA). These are not genuine goals for students, but rather goals that students must take on in order to become teachers. Since these are goals set by the state and the profession, these are not the student teacher’s goals and there is a sense of alienation from them. I have to teach, not only how to teach reading and writing to children, but also how to pass the test. Students have to be told what the attitude of the test is. They have to learn how to construct answers. They have to have extensive experience in case study assessment. The format of a paper and pencil test is different from the teaching performance. So, must practice answering tricky questions about potential problems they may not be facing in their student teaching, but may face some day. So these are not genuine problems student have in teaching, they are problems they have in getting their credential.
Finally, as beginning student teachers, they don’t often know what problems they are facing in the classroom. Student teachers can observe a teachers without understanding why they are doing what they are doing. They don’t understand the teacher’s intent. Edutopia claims that teachers make 1500 decisions a day. That is too many decisions for the mentor teacher to explain to the student teacher. Student teachers need to have experience teaching and making those decisions, before they know what those genuine problems are going to be. Also, student teachers are often in classrooms with students that don’t match what is being taught at the university. For example, some student teachers are in a sixth grade class where only science and math are taught. In my university classroom, I would like to teach ‘with’ students by exploring the problems they are having teaching phonics or reading comprehension in their student teaching, but they don’t even have the opportunity to face that kind of problem if they are in a sixth grade teaching science and math.
All these challenges, prevent or distract students from having genuine problems to address in my university classroom. I just want to go over some possible big picture solutions that could address these problems. For the first problem of having many distractions, provide more financial support to students who must work or take care of their children or elderly parents. For state standardized tests, it would be a solution to take them out entirely, but it would also be appropriate to align their student teaching with a performance assessment to be done simultaneously. When student teachers don’t know what their genuine teaching problems are, I could provide case study problems or videos of students performing and mentor the student teachers about the thought process that I would go through to assess and instruct individual elementary students. I could also just ask students how they are planning to teach which creates a problem for the students. Those would not be genuine problems a student has, but it might simulate a real problem and help prepare teachers for the thought processes they will have to go when they teach in their own classrooms.