Theory in Practice

Tuesday night I sensed a great deal of interest (of course) in what you can expect when you are student teaching, interviewing for postions and and teaching. I had an experience today I want to share w/you. The host teacher (and department chair) whose classroom I visit at Liverpool High School told me that in their most recent senior English dept. meeting the faculty decided to widen its infusion of literary theories into their senior English classes.

This is a large faculty — 20+ English teachers–and many of them are already teaching theory.

She was delighted to hear that Cortland is encouraging reading a variety of texts from multiple perspectives. She also said that she has found previous student teachers (she’s been teaching for 33 years) unprepared to “talk about literary theory.”

The interview at Liverpool includes an on-site writing sample based on a prompt that the dept. devises. She said that many candidates who might otherwise be attractive to the interviewing committee have not been called back because of their performance on the sample. She asked me if students in pedagogy classes at Cortland are “writing enough?”

Cortland Jr/Sr High also administers a writing “test” as a gate for candidates they interview. One of our recent MAT grads was offered his current position there in part because of his performance on the writing sample.

I also learned that one of the Eng. teachers is facilitating a semester long seminar in YA Lit for other faculty. She was eager to talk with me about what [my] students are reading in YA pedagogy classes at Cortland. I told her about the titles you have chosen for your articles and her eyes lit up!

For those of you who do not know the Syracuse area, Liverpool is a large suburban high school, with high expectations for its students, typical of schools in this category all over the country. KES

A sidenote for those of you who have taken 506–this chair deplores the decision at L’pool to discontinue their laptop program. Students still have access to sophisticated technologies at L’pool and enough laptops for whole class use right in the room. Students have wireless access to the internet. No sites I tried are blocked.



Filed under Class Notes

6 responses to “Theory in Practice

  1. sofiapenna

    Thanks for sharing, Dr. Stearns. Although I do not live near the Liverpool area, your example should surely carry to other schools, as well. I’m really happy to hear that theory is going to be an important part of senior English at Liverpool.

    Also, I agree that so many of our YA novel picks for our theory lens articles have been fresh, up-to-date choices! People have found some great new publications. -Sofia

  2. jmdegan

    Isn’t it amazing that Liverpool is able to do all the things that it can (facilitating student access, teaching diverse texts, utilizing theoretical positions) when Syracuse CSD had what, like 20% pass rate on state assessments last year? I remember that it was one of the lowest in the state. What do we make of that inconsistancy?

    What do you think L’pool could do with those laptops their students aren’t using now? Probably nothing like donating them to their less fortunate neighbors.

    I hate to say this, but if you can’t pass a writing test, then you don’t deserve a job. I’m actually a little encouraged by all these hoops (maybe they’re more affective than the NYSTCE crap). I wonder how some of the teachers I’ve observed get where they are.

    I also want to point out that literary theory is (or should be) a part of any graduate literature seminar. Maybe that’s a good reason why we’re “forced” to take Shakespeare, the Romantics, or Faulkner, even in an MAT program.

    I think I sound like I’m in a bad mood. Sorry.

    J. Degan

  3. jillian24

    I’d like to second the point about Liverpool. Liverpool is one of many very wealthy school districts surrounding the city. The number of schools that are just scraping by is much greater, but much less talked about. Still, the issue of educational funding is greatly political. The politicians are blaming the teachers and the public is buying it, as far as I can tell. It’s going to take a change in how we fund our schools if we expect the school district to close the gap created by poverty.

  4. sunyprof

    Thanks for these posts…yes, L’pool is a suburban district with resources. But many of our graduates want to teach in districts just like this. Actually, most of them do.

    The huge disparity you point out is the shame of this country. Jonathan Kozol will once again address that shame in his NCTE opening address TH night in NY. His newest book Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America should be required reading in Foundations. Maybe it is!

    Jerry asks the question about inconsistency, the glaring inconsistencies I see every day in the schools I visit. The disparity in scores is testimony to the yawning gulf between rich and poor in this America.

    What we must make of this inconsistency is that we have a class system in America that keeps all but a few in the “place” they inherit from their parents.

    What U Wisc. at Milwaukee distinguished professor, Martin Haberman, calls the pedagogy of poverty is the best thing I have read on this subject in the last decade. I encourage you to use this link and take a look.

    You can also google the topic and find a pdf of the article that first appeared in KAPPAN I believe. It came out when I was teaching in an urban high school and it was the first thing I had read (at that stage of my career) that explained what I was observing/experiencing. KES

  5. jmdegan

    Of course schools like Liverpool are where most well-educated teacher candidates want to go, and for the very reason that they are being told that this is where the good learning is going on. Our system is self-perpetuating, where “outstanding” teachers go to “outstanding” schools.

    What incentives do teachers have to do otherwise? My wife has taught science (a high demand field) in identified high-needs schools for seven years. But she’s not eligible for the loan forgiveness program designed to draw good teachers to high-needs districts. English isn’t even considered a high-demand field (yet).

    One could wish that a sense of civic responsibility would compell certified teachers to work in those districts, but sadly its just not the case.

    But then again, I also think we need to adopt a socialist health care system.

    J. Degan

  6. allison

    Of course, we could all teach for two years in a high needs school then write a book about it and go on speaking tours. Sorry, I had to say it.

    You’re right, Jerry. Most teachers do not want to be bothered. They do not want to deal with kids who “do not want to learn.” I put this in scare quotes because I think the problem goes deeper than this, and I don’t know how we solve it. Do we need better programs from the early ages? Do we need more outside programs? Do we need more mentors and role models for these students from the early ages? Sure. All of these things and more. Honestly, I don’t think the “priviledged” half cares enough to make this happen. Maybe one day enough people will care- privileged or not- and will try to change things. Hopefully they’ll care before its too late for too many kids…

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