The Brave New World of|
|What our graduates have to say about today's classrooms|
In the foreword to his futuristic novel "Brave New World," Aldous
wrote, "It is only by means of the sciences of life (biology, physiology,
psychology) that the quality of life can be radically changed." Some may
argue, however, that it is not scientists, doctors and psychologists who
control our fate, but teachers.|
Teachers help shape the minds of the future perhaps more now than ever before. Traditionally, young people learned as much about life from their parents as they did from school. With the decline of stable families, a rise in poverty, and a host of other problems plaguing the '90s, a teacher's role in society seems to take on much more significance.
To test this theory, we surveyed eight teacher alums and asked them to describe the unique challenges facing educators today and in the future. Chosen somewhat randomly, they come from all walks of life and teach in vastly different situations. Between them, they boast 138 years of experience. Their collective wisdom has much to say about the function of professional educators in an increasingly complex world.
Our alums were asked a series of
questions and we've blended their
answers in essay form. Specifically, we asked if there is a new or
stronger element of social worker in their job; if they think the size or
geographic location of a school affects learning; if and how they are
dealing with technology; if they feel schools should be held accountable
for educational quality; and finally we asked what education will look
like in the future, and if they feel PLU prepared them for the challenges
they are bound to face.|
- LINDA ELLIOTT,
Eunice L. Swenson '56 BAE
Education Consultant, Homeschool Program
Worker, Retired Teacher
Mountain View, California
Total years teaching: 40
Over the years, my role as a teacher has changed. I have had to become a member of a team of professionals that must address not only the academic and social issues of a student's life, but help them meet their basic needs for food, shelter, safety, love, nurturing and protection.
I definitely feel that the size and geographic location of a school affects learning. It is my experience that a smaller neighborhood school where parents can become involved in the life of the school affects the commitment to learning on the parts of students and parents. Students, parents and teachers do their best when they all feel part of the educational process.
Technology has affected my classroom dramatically. The very functioning of the school is now done by the computer, email, phone and intercom networks. All members of the school district, parents, administrators and other professionals, have direct access to me and to my schoolroom and I to theirs. Teaching tools include the computer, video cameras, VCRs, television, the phone, tape recorders, interactive materials. The rapid change is overwhelming. Many students know more and are more comfortable with technology than their teachers.
Of course schools need to be accountable for educational quality but so do parents and the community. There must be a solid partnership between home and school and the community for standards to be upheld. The school can't do it alone. It takes a whole village to raise a child. Competition does encourage excellence but I am not for the voucher system. A private education is just that, private, and it should be paid for beyond public education. Our country was founded on the idea of a public education for all people. Public tax money should improve public schools, update teachers' skills, provide adequate buildings, and materials and equipment for these schools. This will never happen if there is a voucher system. The public schools will depreciate and eventually become obsolete.
The face of education will change dramatically in the future. Most all information will be accessed via the computer. Teachers will need to be much more the facilitator than they are now. A growing problem in education and society in general will be the isolation of the learner from other learners as they live in a world of virtual reality rather than reality. They will develop their skills independently so new ways to deal with this will happen. The school laboratories will need to be the community businesses themselves. These will be the partners of the future.
PLU prepared me in some basic ways for the challenges I face today. I have lived 40 years beyond my educational days at PLU. At PLU I developed a love of learning. The relationships I had there helped me to develop a healthy self-esteem and to grow as a person. It was a place that provided opportunities to deepen my faith, practice independence, learn to organize my time, discover my strengths and weaknesses, enrich my life with new ideas, the arts and humanities. With these basic tools I then went into the field of teaching and spent 40 years teaching in the public schools of Washington, California, and a military school in Japan. Teaching is my life-long love.
Lisa (Bloch) Taylor '79 BAE
Third Grade Teacher
Total years teaching: 18
There is a stronger element of "social worker" in my job now. I always knew I would be a role model for my students and would be teaching values, but more is expected of teachers now than when I started. No longer is education just teaching reading, writing and math. I teach in an affluent neighborhood but I see kids who have parents who are too busy to sit down and listen to them, kids who are enabled by their parents, kids who don't know how to get along with others. When I taught in a lower economic neighborhood, I saw kids whose parents thought nurturing their child was a TV and a microwave oven for TV dinners. Whatever is missing at home, many teachers try to address or help the child deal with.
Because Oregon is in a school funding crisis, I purchase materials out of my own pocket to supplement the classroom. I buy novels for reading groups, materials for science and incentives for rewards. Most teachers I know spend around $1,000 each year on their classrooms.
I do not think the geographic location affects student learning. I know class size does. I have a class of 30 third graders. I am not able to spend the time with each child that I would with a class of 24. And each child deserves individual attention every day.
Technology has made learning more exciting. Information is more accessible. Students are involved in real world, meaningful learning. We had a bond passed last year that will put four computers in every classroom in Portland public schools. We are also connected to the Internet and can email anywhere in the world.
Schools need to be accountable for educational quality. I am opposed to vouchers for private education. I am opposed to the "haves" being treated differently from the "have nots." Portland is one of the few inner city schools in the nation that has a high percentage of affluent families sending their children to public schools. We need to keep our public schools strong; that is where every child gets an opportunity regardless of to whom they were born.
Accountability is a big concern. Oregon is in the midst of this issue and has been for several years. Each year there is a new focus, whether it is performance assessments, portfolios, benchmarks, CIM or CAM. Teachers keep doing the best they can while the powers that be decide what they want to test and how they are going to do it. I also am concerned about the way people compare test results from one school to another, from one teacher to another.
The day my school receives funding based on test scores is the day I look for a school where all kids come from two parent families, eat breakfast every morning, have a parent read to them every night, etc. Basing my salary on my kids' performance is just as unreasonable. There are just too many factors I have no control over that influence test scores.
I hope we continue to fund, support and value public education in the future. The educators I work with care about kids, want the best for them, and work very hard. In my experience, teachers have embraced new ideas, been willing to put in more time and money into their jobs, have truly loved kids and the challenge and reward of making an impact on the future. I hope education continues to attract more of these kinds of people. Specifically, it is hard to predict what new trends the future will bring. Whatever the trends, it's quality people education must attract for quality learning to take place.
I was offered my first job at my first interview. My principal was very impressed with my recommendations and the way my file was put together. He asked where I learned how to do that...at PLU. He also was familiar with PLU teachers and interviewed me because I was a PLU graduate. Education has changed. It would be hard for any college to prepare a teacher for all of the changes that are to occur. I worked hard at PLU. My methods classes and student teaching gave me experience in working hard. Many of the skills I learned at PLU I use today; lesson planning, unit planning, effective education, discipline strategies, etc. Yes, PLU prepared me for the challenges in education today.
Erik Melver '96 BA
Fulbright Scholar English Teacher
Aewol Middle School
Cheju City, Chejudo, South Korea
Total years teaching: 1
The purpose is to connect generations: one generation attempts to prepare the next generation to deal with the current status of the world. Because connection requires a sacrifice on both parties' part, the emotional element in the classroom has to be as much a part of the works as the ABCs. A teacher can't possibly deal with the wonderful chaos of 700 adolescent minds, however, the teacher can lead by example. The teacher can show, everyday at work, what is exciting to him/her, how he/she reacts to current events, and why it is important to act that way. If you can put the human-ness back into what you do, then students will react with their own human-ness. There is a saying in theater that is along the lines of "...know your audience." Like the actor who is in tune with what reactions the audience gives to a performance, so must a teacher open him/herself to the misunderstandings, attacks and personal biases of his/her students. The relationship is what is important, even if we have to pack up and go our separate ways at the end of the day.
Since connection to the world would be unrealistic without what students experience at home (video, computer, automation of all kinds) it seems hypocritical to not include those elements in the classroom. I was not expecting to see such a modern and expensive approach to this idea in Korea. In my middle school I have a fully automated English laboratory complete with video overhead projection, headphones and tape cassette, a giant TV, a computer, plus what all standard classrooms have (blackboard, whiteboard, chalk). The only person who seems intimidated by all this stuff is me, the one who has to use it. Unfortunately my stay is only a year - it seems it would take about five to master using all the contraptions that are available. It's ironic that classrooms need more and more stuff to keep pace with a computer age that makes itself obsolete every six months. To maintain an expensive lab takes phenomenal expense: pens, transparencies, diskettes, light bulbs, and fuses, not to mention the utter devastation if power is out or a serviceman has to be called. Are students getting a better education or are the bank accounts of computer, TV and video companies making the only leap?
In the US there is a constant argument for the same education for everyone and so tracking of schools, nationwide, is a big part of agendas come election time. In Korea each school competes with all the others, like companies vying for status in the community they serve. Furthermore, quality is dictated by what numbers schools attract with the gizmos they have to show off, and as the numbers in a school increase, so does the money allocated to its budget from the board of education.
This is a good system, except, in order to get the numbers in the following fiscal year, the tennis team is often more important than the tennis players' education.
In the future, the sky is the limit. I hope the creative sparks that all kids have are better utilized to help be a part of the solution to the problems our generation is trying to prepare them for. I see education doing the same things that education has tried and still tries to do: prepare students, while still making tons of mistakes and never seeming to get it 100 percent right. What is difficult is that the only tracking we have is hindsight, which is lousy when it comes to efficiently making the right solutions across the board. Perspective is nice, but often, 10 years too late. Maybe in the future we will find a way to stop looking 10 years back and find a way to look tens of years into the future.
Brian Laubach '84 BA
Chemistry and Journalism Teacher
Lakes High School, Pierce College
Total years teaching: 12
I believe urban, suburban and rural settings affect what the teacher needs to be aware of. Financially for the school district it also sometimes has a bearing. This in turn affects what you do in the classroom. School support from the public varies too on your school setting. I work at a suburban school which has strong parental and community support. However, I imagine a rural district would have a greater turnout than mine as it is more the hub of the community. In any setting, the community sets the tone of your school. They are an important and viable force that must be incorporated into the school's focus and mission.
It seems technology invades every part of our lives and it is difficult both with time and money to keep up the pace. We must remember that students with a strong background in the basics can adapt to the ever-changing technology. We can learn with or without computers and electronic equipment. The ease at which we learn or the quickness with which we can do a task is the only thing that varies.
I think schools should be accountable, however, it always seems like the state in its infinite wisdom tells us what to do, rather than letting us decide for ourselves. Our district is in the midst of finishing an outcome-based curriculum guide for K-12 science. It, however, has become very limited in its scope due to state constrictions. Instead of being a document that would set the course of science education in our district, it has become something to meet state guidelines. The teachers were buying into the process, but now with the process almost over, you begin to wonder what it was all about.
As we approach the year 2000, I think education in the US will lead more to tracking the student. High school will end at the 10th grade and the 11th and 12th grades will be either for a select group moving on to college or a remedial group. At the end of the 10th grade, students will be given competencies tests. If they pass them, they move on to community college or some advanced course within the high school. Those who do not will remain in high school, but the courses they will take will focus on mastering the 10th grade exam. Those 16-18 year-olds who have passed the exam will go to the community colleges and then proceed to four-year schools from there.
PLU's program of getting future teachers out into the classroom as much as possible is a valuable asset and should be continued. I believe the more experiences you have in various settings the better off you will be as a teacher. Yes, I feel I was prepared for my job. The art of teaching, however, is not something you have learned - but something you continue to learn.
Carol J. (Walters) Nelson '63 BSN
Community College Nursing
Spokane Community College
Total years teaching: 30
Although nothing in my job description relates directly to social work, I find that I am a resource person in directing students to appropriate social resources. When working with the adult students, one is faced with problems of the single parents and their children, some in abusive relationships, some with children who are destructive in many ways, almost all with financial problems, and many with low self-esteem through loss of jobs or changes in life situations. I think that many adult students can do well at the community colleges, which usually have smaller campuses close to their homes and have smaller classes than the larger universities.
The changing role of technology puts a tremendous stress on our budgets. It is hard to keep pace with the changes in the medical field and have state-of-the-art equipment in the classroom. Also, we are having to learn how to make the best use of computer technology in the classroom and how to teach through distance learning.
The face of education in the future will be accountability for what one teaches and will be based on outcomes. In other words, I must ask always, "Have the students learned as much as I think I have taught?" The teaching methods must change so that the students' minds are engaged in the learning process and we must show that the students have learned.
PLU did not prepare me directly for the today's classroom because I was interested in nursing, not teaching, while I was at PLU. However, in the nursing program all the classes were taught first on campus, and some people did not see how we could become good nurses without spending more time at the hospitals. The same was true when I began to teach in the Associate Degree Nursing Program at Spokane Community College. Having been taught by good and dedicated nursing faculty, I learned to teach. In retrospect, I was well prepared at PLU to face challenges in whatever area I found them.
John Axelson '75 BA
College Psychology Chair and Professor
Holy Cross College
Total years teaching: 15
Teaching at a small private college involves working individually with students. One of the reasons I went to PLU and that I chose to teach at Holy Cross is that faculty at these types of schools consider their students more than names on a class roster. While academic and intellectual goals remain my primary responsibility, it is not uncommon for students to seek my advice on personal or family problems.
One of the important things that should happen when one goes to college is to have the opportunity to be around different types of people, new places, and most importantly, new ideas that challenge assumptions. PLU and Holy Cross share the fact that they are both small schools with rather homogeneous student populations. "Diversity" is an important issue in our society and in particular in higher education. In addition to establishing racial and ethnic diversity, it is important for smaller schools to attempt to attract students from diverse social-economic levels and geographic origins.
It is a constant challenge to keep up with the explosion of technological advances. In addition to the challenge facing instructors, academic institutions need to provide the necessary equipment and technical support. Several of our faculty already use multimedia presentations (e.g. Power Point presentations). Many of us use email to communicate with our students and it is becoming more common for students to turn in papers and lab reports on the Internet.
I find that many of the technological advances used in my research program have the potential to improve my teaching. I also think one has to be careful not to be seduced by technology for its own sake. I can spend countless hours working on a multimedia presentation that may or may not be an improvement over what can be done on the chalk board. Nonetheless, integrating information from the World Wide Web into course work will become more and more important.
Formal evaluation of faculty currently takes place within the tenure and promotion process. At our school, junior faculty are evaluated by senior faculty within the department and then again by a campus-wide committee of faculty elected from all departments. We are evaluated in three areas: teaching, scholarship (research and publication), and service to the college community. Course materials and student evaluation forms are the primary tools used in the evaluation process. Although I agree that students should have input into the process, student evaluations should not be the only tool used when measuring excellence in teaching. Unfortunately, one the strongest predictors of how a student will evaluate a course is the grade he or she receives. This often puts junior faculty under a great deal of pressure to give high marks in order to receive positive evaluations. The exploding costs of private education has created an unhealthy attitude of consumerism. Students unfortunately are often more concerned about their GPA than whether they are being educated. Some students take an employer-employee attitude toward their instructors.
I am very concerned that our society is moving toward a split-level educational system. Fewer and fewer families will be able to afford to send their children to private schools. If the quality of public education continues to decline, everyone will suffer. For those of us fortunate to teach and attend private schools, we have to remain committed to not leaving public education behind. Also, we have to work hard to create new ways for lower-income families to attend private schools.
The most important thing about my education at PLU was that I was fortunate to have teachers who encouraged me to pursue graduate work. The two people who stand out in my memory are Jesse Nolph and Jerry LeJeune. In very different ways, these two people helped me gain a love for learning. In addition to supporting my efforts, I have a clear memory that they both made me aware of my weaknesses. When I started my graduate training, I knew that I would have to work hard, but that I had the ability and background to compete with anyone. I will forever be grateful for their treating me with encouragement and honesty.
Julie (Ellertson) Magaña '90 BAE
Third Grade Teacher
Ft. Kobbe Elementary
DoDDDS (military base), Panama
Total years teaching: 7
A child who has come to school well-fed, clean, with emotional needs met and necessary materials is a child who is ready to learn. If any one of these elements is missing, that need has to be met before that child is ready to learn. Often the sense of support and the emphasis on the importance of education from home is what is missing for the child. The child's confidence in his or her ability is diminished in these situations, so development is slow and we as educators then have to try to fill these gaps.
Although a limited comparison, as a former teacher at Stanley Elementary Magnet School in an underprivileged area of Tacoma and at now Ft. Kobbe Elementary School on a military base in Panama, I have experienced an interesting difference in support from home in the importance placed on education and the teacher's authority. I don't have more parents in the classroom to help, but parents are often given duty time off for conferences and attending special programs. Even though military families often struggle to make ends meet, children witness a work ethic in the home. Every student in a governmental school on a military base has at least one working parent and has the opportunity to witness the direct relationship between training and promotion. My students understand the idea of progression as graduation to the next rank. This possibly limited view is still a foundation for building the idea of life-long learning and development.
With the changing role of technology, it is practically a must to have more than one computer in the classroom, and at least essential to have a computer lab. I have found that having a lab is more effective if the choice has to be made between that and classroom computers because it is more effective to train in a situation where all students have access at the same time. Our classroom use of computers has evolved from solely using educational computer games and typing lessons to using CD encyclopedias to research information, and training students in word-processing skills, to now actually training third-graders in file management and soon embarking upon Internet usage.
Schools need to be held accountable for educational quality; however, I think the avenues being used to try to qualify schools are not the best. I fear a national curriculum would put the focus back on covering content, though certainly, there is content that is essential. I don't have the answers, but I believe standard driven requirements are best.
Evaluation of teachers should be more stringent. The standards they are asked to meet should not be vague, but just as specific as the standards for students. I believe that at times with tenure or permanent status granted that teachers are not required to meet new standards. There needs to be a certain level of professionalism if educational quality is to be met.
I feel PLU prepared me for the challenges I meet. At the time I went through the education program, practicum experiences were provided as early as sophomore year. This enabled me to observe early on and make a good decision about pursuing the field or not.
Some of my initial beliefs have changed, most have been built upon, but none have remained exactly the same. College cannot fully prepare you for the practical experience, even with apprenticeship situations like student teaching, but it can provide you with those same critical thinking skills and awareness of information and resources that need to permeate all educational levels.
Allene Edmondson'76 BAE,'83 MAE
Junior High School Teacher
Naselle-Grays River Valley School
Total years teaching: 20
The element of social worker in my job has definitely changed. More and more students are coming from dysfunctional homes, lacking basic social/ethical guidance. Increasingly, schools and teachers need to instill a sense of value into today's youth. Further, so many families find it necessary that both parents work to make ends meet. This situation makes me feel that my students need me more than ever before.
We are very lucky in our small district that we have access to many of the technological advances and our district has set technology as a goal. Also, being part of a small rural district has many advantages. Where else could students look out the classroom window and see deer or elk grazing on the lawn? We are also far behind much of the violence and gang-related activities of the large urban areas.
I think schools and all the hardworking teachers in them strive to ensure the highest possible educational quality for their students. I believe a partnership must exist between all members of the "team," this being administration teachers, school district personnel and supplemental staff. I believe there is no excuse for students "slipping through the cracks." Testing is a way to ensure that all students are monitored throughout their school experience for success.
Education will remain a challenge to all the people involved. We must continually strive to do our best for young people as our fast-paced world rapidly brings even more changes.
PLU was a very positive experience. The staff was always supportive and encouraging. As far as preparing me for the classroom, I don't think I could have had a better education anywhere else.
, Summer 1997
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Last Update: 07/17/97