The Future of Education

Yesterday, after waking up and selling some Brighton handbags in the morning, I took a trip down to the city for a Meetup event discussing The Future of Education. The panel of speakers included San Kim, co-founder of ShowMe, Jen Medbery, founder of Kickboard, Brian Tobal, co-founder of Veri, and Danya Cheskis-Gold, Community Manager of Skillshare. I’ve been meaning to attend a Meetup for a while, and this just seemed like something I didn’t want to miss. These are the types of companies I hope to one day become involved with. I’ve played around with ShowMe (great idea) and Veri, and I’ve taken a few Skillshare courses. (I love Skillshare!) The only company I wasn’t familiar with was Kickboard, which is a tool used in schools that allows teachers to efficiently record data on student work and achievements.

I had never been to Dogpatch Labs before… that was a cool experience in itself to see several different start-ups all working in their respective areas around one large studio. Bryan Birsic moderated the event. It was nice to hear these four people discuss their respective company and the plans they see in the future for both their company and education in general. Each of these companies has a very different goal in the education sector. Veri and ShowMe can be used as tools for self-learning, or they can be used to make in-class lessons more engaging. Kickboard was really created to help school teachers become more efficient, while Skillshare is trying to reinvent our idea of post-secondary education, making its easy and affordable to take classes on anything you’re are interested in. Because of these differences it was occasionally difficult for some of the panelists to address each issue, but there were certainly a few common themes.

I think the most fascinating parts of the discussion were in regards to our accreditation and College/University system we now have in the United States.  When hiring for a position, many companies in this country still look to make sure a person has a Bachelors Degree before they even consider moving a candidate along in the hiring process. You would assume college graduates typically show heightened responsibility and self-motivation, but a college education may not provide the exact skills needed for many jobs out there. We already see instances when a company hires someone without a college diploma that has experience in the field instead of hiring a college graduate. In a start-up community, where engineers are worth their weight in gold, if the company was given the choice between a college drop-out that codes like a god and a mediocre coder with a Graduate degree, it obviously would make more sense to hire the guy with god-like coding abilities.

Jen Medbery made a good point that although this is the case in certain industries, (start-up companies being a big one) a Bachelors Degree is still a common requirement when applying to many different job.  Also, unlike coding, where you are given opportunities to show off your skills at hackathons, GitHub or your own personal site, there are a lot of professions out there where it is almost impossible to prove that you can do the job before you actually start doing it.

This talk made me churn a few thoughts over in my head. I mentioned in a post several days ago that I do see great value in a college education, but in many instances it probably won’t fully prepare you for your eventual career. But what I find more annoying is this: after 3.5 years of working for good grades and an entire semester of student teaching, all I have to show for my efforts is a Diploma, several History papers, and 2 flashdrives filled with powerpoints, worksheets and lesson plans I created for my students. As thrilling as that might sound to you, I’m not sure that is the type of stuff I should bring on my next interview. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if at the end of your college career your university forced you to compile your best work into an online portfolio? If from the first day of school you weren’t just working towards graduation, you were actually creating a tangible item that demonstrated your growth and development over the course of college? If our Career Resource Centers stopped teaching us how to write the “perfect” resume, and helped us develop a comprehensive compilation of our skills.

I know there are a few colleges out there that already do this type of thing. But not all of them do, and college is expensive and comes with false hope that there is a job waiting on the other side. Considering the time and expense the average college graduate devotes to their education, I think it only makes sense the students walk away with more tangible items than a diploma.

That last bit was a tangent, but I’m happy I was able to attend the event and I really plan to go to more in the future. Just like in Skillshare classes, it is great to get together with a group of like minded individuals, I talked to some very cool people last night. I also really enjoyed being around people involved with innovative education companies. It refreshed my desire to eventually become a part of that industry.

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The Importance of a College Education (changing your mind set)

Recently I have seen a lot of articles that address the question of whether or not it is worth it for recent high school graduates to receive a college education today. All of the authors bring up different points for why a college education may not be the best choice for many prospective students. Here are some of the most common points that have been addressed.

  • 4 million college graduates are currently preforming jobs that do not require a college education. (I am one of them!)
  • The average college student will leave college with $20,000 in student loan debt. (Luckily I am not one of them.)
  • There is an ongoing debate over whether or not a college education directly prepares someone for the workforce.

We also know that there are thousands of college graduates that are currently not employed at all. So If 4 million college graduates have a job that they did not even need a degree to obtain, why would so many students put themselves into debt that will take years to pay off in order to go to school?

I also agree that college is not the right choice for many high school graduates. And considering only 28% of the country has a Bachelors Degree or higher, it appears many people in this country have also realized college is not for them. But I think that we should change our mindset on what a college education is supposed to do for you, especially in undergrad. I think that if the general population had a better attitude about what college actually is, we would see that college would begin to offer us more opportunities than we realize. A lot of people have misconceptions about what a college education is supposed to provide, and these ideas just aren’t true. Because of this, many people invest a lot more than they should in college, thinking they will get more out of it than they actually do. And becuase of this we wind up reading articles about whether or not college is really worth it.

These are some of the misconceptions (in my opinion) I commonly see about college:

  • You go to college because it will make it much easier to find a job.
  • You go to college because it will directly prepare you for the workforce and your future job, as long as you major in the field you plan to work for.
  • College education= Career, not job. $$$, not $.

All of these ideas have some truth to them for sure. But they are not the whole truth. I think this is the reality:

College is a very important part of your resume. And a good school will offer you a better education. But college is just one step (a large step for sure) on the staircase to getting a job in your dream career field. Just going to college won’t do you much good. While you are there you must go the extra step. Become involved in something, anything, and work on that while in school. Become involved in activities that correlate to your eventual career of choice. Join a campus organization or volunteer your time at a non-profit. Create a blog to post your creative writing and photographs, edit a video on an interesting topic. Internship in a field that interests you. Take something you enjoy and work very hard to show how much it means to you. These activities will mean a great deal more to your future employer than your college transcript. (Assuming your didn’t fail every class.)

If everyone had this mindset, I don’t think we would see as many students with $100,000 in student loan debt (how does that even happen?) and many people would have a difficult time justifying the $50,000 per year tuition bills some of these universities are charging. The price of higher education in this country is something that just doesn’t sit right with me at all. I actually think it is the key reason many people are discussing whether or not college is “worth it.” I went to a state school, and my final tuition bill after 4 years was less than or equal to one year at a private institution. Although I might have missed out on a few connections or benefits, I think you would have difficulty arguing that those students benefited 75% more than me and my classmates.

So even though I may have just insulted higher education and explained that I do not consider college a clear path to gaining a job, I still think that college is a very valuable experience for a lot of people. These are some positive aspects about college that I think are pretty universal:

  • You learn to move outside of your comfort zone and live and with people outside of your immediate family.
  • You learn how to manage between the extreme freedoms that college provides and demands and work that it requires. (Time management skills, hangover management skills…)
  • You discover who you truly are outside of the life that your family and friends created for you.
  • For many college is the first time that you realize that education can be empowering and engaging.

These aspects are a lot more abstract then the misconceptions I listed above. I think the honest truth is college is a gamble for many people. College is a time to grow, a time to fail, and a time to succeed before the pressure of “real life.” It teaches you how to make mistakes and create good things before you actually hit the workforce. In essence, I think the college experience is what you are paying for when you send a child to school. It doesn’t guarantee a job, it doesn’t guarantee success. At such high tuition prices these days, this is not what many parents and students with hefty loans want to hear. But although the benefits of college may not be as clear and tangible as many think, I believe a college education is tremendously valuable just the same.

Book Review: Relentless in Pursuit

A few weeks ago I finished “Relentless In Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America” by Donna Foote. I began reading this book to research more about Teach for America since I had applied to the program. This book is the record Foote kept of the experiences faced by several TFA corps members during their first year teaching in 2006 at Locke High School in Watts, CA. At this time Locke was one of the lowest ranking schools in California and has some of the highest drop-out rates. Since that time Locke has become a Green Dot charter school so I am not sure how it is preforming currently, but in 2006 it was pretty rough.

I think this book is a great read for anyone that is interested in joining the TFA program. It gives a thorough explanation of how TFA started back in 1990 and how it has evolved through the years. It also shares the trials and tribulations of four TFA corps members trying to get through their first year of teaching in a school where most students didn’t show up and gang violence was an everyday occurrence. Funny enough, I actually finished the book on the day I discovered I was rejected from the TFA program.

Before I even applied to TFA I knew I had several issues with the program, and this book just emphasized those issues. Firstly, the book explains how many of the teachers at Locke High School in 2006 were actually permanent substitutes that were not certified to teach. As a certified teacher that cannot find a job, you can imagine this sends chills down my spine. Secondly, a lot of the difficult issues these first year teachers experienced bothered me. I believe all first year teachers are going to experience issues, so that was not the problem. What disturbed me was I had also dealt with most of their issues during student teaching. These were not new problems. Things like poor class attendance, student disrespect and distant, unreliable parents are universal issues in highly populated urban schools right now, they are not unique to schools like Locke. As these corps members struggled to figure out how to create lessons and deal with the difficulties of first year teaching, they all made mistakes along the way. Once again, this is to be expected for any first year teacher, and I think these corps members did a great job, but it just reemphasized the fact that these kids were no different than me. I had faced these issues student teaching, and I would face these issues again in my first year teaching.

So I suppose my main issue with TFA is this: although the program is one of the most competitive in the country, accepting roughly 2,000 corps members out of over 35,000 applicants, corps members themselves; extremely ambitious, ivy league graduates with a resume filled with leadership positions, look just like me when they start teaching. But unlike me, they will leave TFA in two years, complete with a Master’s degree and a resume of gold.

In addition, the inner city schools that these corps members are teaching in do not just need corps members, they need certified teachers. But the problem is there is no incentive for certified teachers to teach in the Mississippi Delta or Miami. My mother has 10 years of teaching under her belt, a Masters Degree in English and has taught in inner-city Las Vegas schools for the past two years. When she comes back to New York this summer I promise you nobody is going to thank her for the selfless work that she has accomplished there. She will just be another certified English teaching struggling to find a job closer to home in this tough economy.

I think we need to have another type of program that is similar to TFA, but only accepts certified teachers. They will continue to have the support system of TFA corps members, and they will also teach in urban schools and focus on closing the achievement gap. It will work towards getting dedicated, certified teachers in all schools across the country. And most importantly, these teachers will be praised and respected the same was TFA corps members are after their 2 years of service.

I apologize for this rant-type post. Back to my original point: if you have any interest in what TFA is all about I would highly recommend this book. I found in interesting and highly informative.

Ideas for Teaching

Hello, long time no chat. This week is my last week at foursquare. I know I will have a lot of free time next week so I keep procrastinating about a new blog post. I keep thinking, “Oh, I’ll have so much time to do that next week.” This is true, but I thought I would post something today.

I would also like to mention that today I was rejected from Teach for America. I didn’t even get to the interview stage. I felt pretty poor about myself for a few minutes, but you know what? I have my whole life to become a good teacher.

Here are some of the things I plan to do when I become a teacher.

1. Have Clear Academic Expectations for Students.

  • Create an website for myself (possibly through the school if they offer it) to post class assignments, class expectations, assessment dates and my contact information. This could be a resource for students with computers at home. It could also be a way for parents to monitor their students assignments.
  • Always post the days objectives and homework/assignments on the board.
  • A portion of the “Do Now” time at the beginning of class will be reserved for copying down assignments.
  • Rubrics, Rubrics, Rubrics! I would create them when necessary, mostly for essays and projects.  We would always take some class time to go over the rubric material. I would remind the students to check over the rubric after completing their assignment to make sure they had completed all the requirements.
  • Provide a review day before every test
  • This goes along with the rubric, but I would always devote some class time to fully explain a project or essay. I would also take time to periodically remind the kids to continue working on the assignment on the days leading to its due date.

2. Have Clear Behavioral Expectations.

  • Create a class contract. This is an idea I would like to play with if I ever teach. On the first day of school the students would be required to think of important rules we should make that everyone would abide by for the whole year, and we would put this in a class contract. We would talk them over together and I would show my main rules that I thought needed to be in the contract. (Respect others, come to class prepared, complete homework, etc) The next day I would come in with the finished product. The students would be responsible for signing the contract and agreeing to the terms and conditions. I would post a large copy of the contract at the front of the room. Students who disobeyed our contract would be dealt with accordingly.
  • Similar to what I was just saying, class rules should be posted somewhere in the class.
  • There should be a punishment policy. Something like “Minor offense/1st offense= warning. Offensive behavior/2nd offense= lunch detention. Major offense/3rd offense= referral and ejection from the classroom.” I hate taking kids out of class, but sometimes when they are a distraction to others, it needs to be done. Also, a lot of kids also stop misbehaving when the threat of being kicked out happens. (some kids are unfazed though, unfortunately.)
  • Sometimes other punishments can happen. For example, if groups are trying to gain points during a review game, i could deduct points for bad behavior.
  • NEVER ARGUE with a student. The second you argue, the second that you have validated the claim that they actually have a point to argue against.
  • Along the same lines, keep your cool. Kids are entertained seeing a frazzled, angry teacher and you also lose respect.
  • When things get too chatty or crazy, switch assigned seats.
  • Have plans that should cover the entire period to eliminate down time.
  • Call/email parents. It matters!

3. Have a Routine.

  •  Have a “Do Now” every day when the students walk in. For me, this typically included copying down homework assignments and some sort of short answer question about the previous days material.
  • Post Aim/Objectives on the board everyday. (This is required by many schools.)
  • Unit Vocab Sheet: I created a vocabulary sheet that the students brought to class everyday. We would fill out the definitions in class. This sheet became a great study guide for the students, and a really easy A when the students handed it in for a grade on the day of their test each unit.
  • Always provide unit review sheets/Unit Review day. I’m a big fan of creating a review sheet and playing a review game the day before a test. This way the students realize if they are unprepared and it ensures that they did at least a little bit of studying/review before a test.

4. Differentiate.

  • I LOVE routine, but that doesn’t mean you class needs to be boring!
  • Make sure lessons and assessments are both differentiated often.
  • Differentiated Assessments include: Tests, Quizes, Homework, Essays, Art Projects, Computer Projects, Group Projects, Presentations, etc.
  • Relate any content material you can to current events! Sometimes new events pop-up that coincide well with the content material. For example, a lot of people have been referring to Occupy Wallstreet as an act of civil disobedience. If you are teaching Indian Nationalism or the Civil Rights movement… incorporate this new stuff!
  • Try to work with another teacher to pair units together. For Social Studies you could work with an English teacher to teach a history Unit that coincides with the literature they are reading in English class. I also think you could do Geography based things with a Science teacher.
  • I love class field trips, but make sure the trip can relate to what you have been studying. If the students can take a trip and see the knowledge they gained in the classroom is relevant in other places they will be more engaged in the the trip. Also, make sure they go somewhere interesting! (I went to way too many Revolutionary War battle sites as a kid.)

5. Work Hard.

  • Have lessons fully planned at least a week in advance. Make sure you have all the materials and copies you will need as well.
  • Make sure your unit plan has clear objectives and a basic time line of events/topics before you start.
  • Keep your room and desk clean and organized.
  • Only assign work that is meaningful, don’t give kids busy work for homework.
  • Return work in a timely fashion. This will show the students that you take their work seriously.

6. Be Involved.

  • Go to the students extra-curricular events. (Talent shows, concerts, games, plays, meets.) You should know what achievements your students are making in and out of the classroom.
  • Chaperon trips, advise clubs, coach teams if time allows.
  • Praise students for positive achievements. Call parents when a student has made great improvement!