(Spring 1998)


Who Are We and What Do We Bring With Us?

During our first two meetings, we introduced ourselves, spoke about our backgrounds and identities, shared some expectations for the course, and reflected upon the qualities of the worst and best teachers. A few important issues and themes emerged from these experiences, so before getting to a more formal "course description," I'd like to take a little time and reflect on the implications of these first two meetings for the rest of the semester.

In terms of racial, ethnic, and ideological identity, we are quite a diverse group: Black, White, Hispanic, American, European, Italian, Anglo, Irish, Caribbean, Moroccan, Slavic, Israeli, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Anarchist, Socialist, Nationalist, Luddite, and Libertarian. In addition to English in all its varieties, we speak many languages: Spanish, Haitian Creole, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, French, German, Berber, Hebrew, and Arabic. Some of us have traveled the world and lived outside the US in places like Africa, the Mideast, and Central America; others have never left Brooklyn. We are also quite varied in terms of gender, class, age, and life experiences: some are the sons and daughters of civil servants, while others are from professional or highly educated parents. We have people in their early twenties not yet out of college alongside grown women and men returning to college in the midst of a career change. Some of us have raised children, others are barely out of adolescence. Many of us hold jobs, and a few of us are working full time as teachers; others are full-time students and have had no teaching experiences. It's a dizzying array of identities, the surface of which I'm sure I've only barely scratched.

In speaking of our expectations for the course, we generated an equally diverse set of responses. Briefly, our expectations seem to me to be of three types: 1) getting a handle on content (i.e., Global Studies), 2) learning some effective methods and materials (i.e., lesson plans and curricula), 3) figuring out how to plot a course of professional development (i.e., certification and licensing). Many of you spoke of finding a balance between content and method, or of wanting to clarify issues of curriculum and standardized testing. Some have their eyes on a broad vision of the future, while others want to just get through tomorrow. More specific concerns range from the mundane to the profound: concerns with getting a paycheck, controlling a group, and writing lesson plans reside right along side calls for liberatory education and reformulating American citizenship. How to deal with fear, the clock, and the bureaucracy rank high on the list of some of our personal concerns. Some of us desire anecdotal sharing and informal networking experiences, while others seem to need a highly structured how-to experience. Literacy is a hot topic, as our first two evening workshops suggest. In short, as with our identities, the diversity is astounding.

When we generated a list of qualities based on collective recollections of our worst teachers, the chalkboard quickly filled with terms and phrases like: boring, arrogant, talks too much, lies to students, is disrespectful, authoritarian, regimented, time-bound, screams too much, has poor hygiene, acts stupid, lazy, racist, biased, sexist, doesn't listen, and appears detached from reality (to name just a few). After constructing this nightmarish composite of our own worst teachers (Franken-teacher?), we proceeded to negate each quality, generating a list that included terms like: empathy, sincerity, honesty, listen to students, be respectful, balanced, objective, show kindness, flexibility, self- criticism, and know your material (again, to name only a few). This list was met with murmurs, ranging from "you'll get eaten alive" to "where've you been all my life." While some of us appeared to want this list to be a magical recipe for being a good teacher, most seemed to realize that we were simply negating our own recollections. Interestingly, the best teacher list seemed to need some elements from the worst teacher list, depending on the context (i.e., institutional, personal, academic). While I'm looking forward to reading your responses to this process, for now it seems quite clear that our perceptions of our own worst and best teachers are complex and intertwined.

Someone once said, "complex problems have simple solutions and they're always wrong." Taken together, our identities, expectations, and recollections present what appears to me to be a complex problem of how to proceed with the course. To approach this complexity with a simple cookbook of teaching techniques would do an injustice to many of our concerns. Likewise, treating the experience solely with a "touchy-feely" humanism would leave unattended other major issues. Purely practical or totally theoretical approaches won't solve many of the complex problems we raise. What seems necessary is a combination of technical, theoretical, humanistic, philosophical, and practical approaches. With these concerns in mind, allow me to describe what I believe will be a useful way to spend our time together this semester.


How Will We Make Use of Our Time Together?

In addition to working at a cooperating school, all student teachers take a weekly seminar, Teaching Methods for Social Studies. The seminar follows the Brooklyn College academic calendar, and usually meets for 4 hours on Thursdays, late afternoon and early evening. However, the methods seminar is not where you learn how to teach (neither is student teaching, for that matter). Most people really learn how to teach in their first two years on the job. Student teaching and methods courses can certainly survey the landscape, and they will help you get some basic skills and maybe even your foot in a door or two. But the rest is up to you, and it takes time. In short, don't expect any "magic teaching pills" in the seminar. Do, however, expect hard work, long hours, continuous frustration, and occasional exhilaration. Plan your schedule accordingly.

The methods seminar will involve reading and writing, like any other course, but a large part of our time will be dedicated to planning, discussing, and evaluating our Social Studies teaching. This means that consistent attendance and participation are of the utmost importance. In the past, students have found the following books useful and thought-provoking: Alan Singer, Teaching Social Studies in Secondary Schools (a general methods textbook); James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me (American History and Government); Serge Latouche, The Westernization of the World (World History, Politics, and Economics). Actual coursebooks may vary each semester, and will be announced in the seminar.

While most schools and colleges enforce the odd and barbarous practice of prohibiting eating while meeting to discuss important stuff like learning (even arch-enemies Arafat and Netanyahu chow down when they have meetings), in our seminar meetings we'll try to assign a "refreshments committee" each week to make sure there'll be plenty of snacks and beverages on hand. This is for two main reasons: 1) we're all gonna be hungry and thirsty after a long day of teaching, 2) what we'll be talking about is real important and therefore warrants eating and drinking. Everyone will chip in and lend a hand for this endeavor, and it may even contribute to our sense of collective responsibility. By the way, be prepared to share generally in the seminar, whether it be food and drink, or thoughts and words, or lesson plans, teaching ideas, and resources.

As I've already suggested, it will be impossible to address everyone's concerns in this course. However, there are ways to make sure that we do cover most individual concerns along with some broader concerns. By utilizing a combination of workshops and seminars, we ought to be able to cover the necessary ground. Since you are essentially paying for my time each week, I've decided first off to extend the "contact hours" beyond what is officially scheduled. This means that I'll be available for at least four hours each week (not counting office hours and field supervision). At the same time, I recognize that four hours is a long time, especially after a long day at school. So here's what I propose in the way of time utilization: the first and last hours will be reserved for "planning workshops" (3:30-4:30 and 6:30-7:30). During this time, there will be no set content or plan. It will be an optional time that I recommend you attend (remember, "recommended attendance" does not mean "exempt from attending"). If you have specific concerns, this is the time to work them out with me and with the other folks that attend the workshops in any given week. So, for example, if you want to work on a lesson plan or source material for a specific topic, or if you need advice on a certain classroom management issue, or if you'd like to join a discussion group (we've already got the makings of a discussion group on literacy issues), or if you want to network or share experiences with peers, then you ought to be showing up at the planning workshops. Content will be determined by who shows up with what problems. The seminar, on the other hand, will follow more or less the pattern of a typical college course. There will be assignments, lectures, discussions, projects, papers, and the like, and everyone will for the most part complete the same work. By necessity, the seminar will focus on broad general issues that will be relevant to your overall growth as teachers. This dual arrangement will allow us to address the day-to-day concerns we all face without losing sight of our collective responsibilities and some of the broader issues in teaching social studies.

Coursework is of two basic types: fieldwork and classwork. For people in 65.02, this means half your grade comes from evaluation of your student teaching and half your grade comes from your work in the seminar. Folks in 613.1 and 613.2 will be graded separately for each component. People not student teaching receive only a seminar grade. Fieldwork criteria will be worked out with your field supervisor and cooperating teacher, and your grade will basically be derived from a series of visits by the former and an overall evaluation by the latter. Regarding the seminar, the grading breakdown is as follows: 20% for participation (including attendance), 20% for response papers, 20% for journal extracts and lesson plans, 20% for the TV turnoff project, and 20% for the final semester project. Specific details for each will be provided in class. There are, however, some general concerns you ought to make note of now. Response papers will be on various topics, and will consist of 1-2 pages of prose typed double spaced. Lesson plans must be typed but the format can follow any with which you are comfortable, or which you may feel compelled to use. Journal extracts, also typed, come from your weekly journal (note: if you don't keep a journal, now's a good time to start--think of it as a diary from which you will periodically select excerpts to share). The TV turnoff project will involve some planning and organizing at your school. The goal is to implement TV Turnoff Week with your students. check out some books on TV The way you each approach this will no doubt differ, but organizing events is an important part of teaching and this is a relatively innocuous way to get some experience. There are many schools throughout NYC that do a TV turnoff event each year, and it is generally endorsed by the Board of Education, the Teacher Unions, and other official bodies. We can discuss in class some specific strategies for designing and implementing an event for your students. You'll have to hand in some kind of written work, which we'll discuss later. The final semester project will also be discussed at a later date, but it will likely involved some combination of the above work. Although there are midterm and final examinations, they will be informal and serve more as points of departure for discussion than as arbiters of your ultimate