Wednesday, April 25, 2007
I visited a small Charter School in the north of Chicago, it sprang from a community based initiative to bring young adults (16 to 20 years) back into the education system. They had 86 students, seven teachers and five counsellors. Their nearest High School had 2,000 pupils, classes of between 30 - 40 and only three full time counsellors.
Funding their school was a real problem with money coming from over 12 different streams, so staff spent a long time preparing bids and then reporting and monitoring. Some children came into the project with a very low reading age. The Principal felt that money spent on these children now was better than wasting $30 - $40,000 keeping them in prison - America has over 2 million in its penal institutions.
The unions are not keen on Charter Schools because most of them do not recognise them and pay and conditions are usually below the rates for the local School Board.
Touring through the school most of the pupils were focused on learning, they had a high drop out rate but had rescued many of from from years out of education, over 50% had children of their own. The Principal had developed his own methods to run the school and he shared the job with another teacher, he told me he didn't believe in the myth of the super teacher, the 'sage on stage'. Space was limited and they wanted to develop more art and music programmes.
The contrast with the second Charter School was stark, true the pupils had finished so we didn't see the school 'in action'. But this was a grim office block where the school occupied a floor, the classrooms were small and had very little natural light, the walls were breezeblocks painted white. The canteen was so small that lunch times were staggered and one group finished lunch at 11.10 am - no break until the finish at 3.30 pm.
They had a rather peculiar way of encouraging good behaviour, the boys were being taught "Leadership' and could win a natty blazer, the girls were learning about "Etiquette". Unsurprisingly the girls had voted with their feet and there was a preponderance of boys in the school.
If the alarm bells were ringing, the Klaxon was going off when we looked in at the staff meeting. They were watching a training video featuring 'Mr. Motivator' - Harry Wong. It was the kind of 'praise the Lord, you have been saved' talk where no questions are ever permitted and teachers are made to feel bad.
Part One in 'The Effective Teacher' featured a hand-out to beat all hand-outs. Two main points were, 'I believe that every teacher can be effective, and 'The Effective teacher Affects lives' (get it?).
Then we had three qualities of an Effective Teacher-
1. Is a Good Classroom Manager
2. Designs Lessons To Reach Mastery
3. Has Positive Expectations That Students Will Be Successful
Just to make sure each separate point was repeated in larger fonts on a separate piece of paper. Now I know that Ofsted proceed from the view that teachers are a clueless bunch of bozos, but even they could not get away with this. Most of the staff were first year teachers (NQTs), but this is the type of stuff you would learn in the first week of college.
Is this what teaching in the wealthiest country in the world has been reduced to? After three years of training are there really teachers that believe you should be a Bad classroom manger, prepare Boring lessons and Expect failure?
I'm just waiting for Harry's next videos, 'Is The Pope a Catholic, and 'Do Bears Defecate in the Woods'?