Virginia Richardson

VIRGINIA RICHARDSON:

My name is Virginia Richardson, Virginia Richardson.  I’m at the University of Michigan in the School of Education.  I’m chair of Educational Studies, uh, and also a Professor of, uh, Teacher Education.

Well I think that’s probably our biggest challenge, uh, and---and---let me repeat the question first.

Uh, the question has to do with how we can, um, help our teacher education students meet the diversity that they will face, uh, when they, uh, start to teach.  And the first problem, of course, is that many of the students, uh, at the University of Michigan, and maybe this is elsewhere as well, have not, themselves, grown up with that diversity.  Uh, and so they really don’t know, uh, what it is and what it means and they’re a little afraid of it.  And, uh, so we have to, I feel, work with them in having them identify, uh, understand their own identity, uh, first.  Um, and then begin to work on what that---what this means, uh, in terms of a---a diverse population, a diverse, uh, group of, um, of their colleagues as well as of student that they will be meeting.  Uh, they will also have to have experiences in---if possible, within diverse, uh, classrooms.  And that may mean, um, a lot of videotapes as well as, um, being in classrooms with, uh, diverse populations of students.  So it is a---I think it has to be an issue across the curriculum in teacher education, it can’t just be one course.  Uh, and it has to be something that, we have to have a sense of development, um, of, uh, of their sense of---of diversity because so many of them have had absolutely no experience with it, uh, up until the time they came into the teacher ed program.

Well I think first we have to, um, understand, uh, that these are experienced students, that there is a---a fundamental and strong knowledge base, it isn’t just a belief base, about what a classroom is and what schooling is.  Uh, they’ve had many years, uh, of experience within classrooms and have, uh, a sense of what it means to be a student.  Uh, what we’re asking the students now to do is, um, begin to understand what it means to be a teacher and that’s moving away from a highly individualistic sense of ‘me’, uh, and how I experienced, uh, a particular classroom, or a particular teacher, to understand what it means for the teacher to be dealing with 25 or 30 students, very, very different viewpoint. And so the first step is to understand where they are and to have them understand where they are.  Uh, from there it is a matter, I think, of their being in classroom, um, if only two or three hours a week, right from the beginning.  Uh, working with videotapes again about what it means to be a teacher.  Uh, and having them do their own thinking through of what it’s going to mean to make that shift from being a student to being a teacher.  I actually think it’s possible to do that within a---even a one year period of time, uh, it is much easier with nontraditional students then it is with traditional students, those who are just going through as---as undergraduates, it’s very much more difficult.  Uh, but I think it’s possible and I have, um, done some research on that, uh, shift from being a student to being a teacher.  But it does involve a closeness to practice, um, in classrooms as well as through videotapes, uh, that I think is, um, very important in that process.

Well, a few that, uh, teachers go into teaching and we---we---we look at the reasons that they go into teaching and they’re really very wonderful people with great, um, a great sense of, uh, service, um, to the you---young people, uh, and somehow when they get into schools, uh, some of that is, uh, sort of drummed out of them.  Uh, partially because of organizational issues in large school districts and so on. And, uh, my sense is that---that they have to work, they will have to work as a collective.  There’s---there’s no way in which an individual teacher can change the system.  Um, I think that, and it’s one of the things that I work with my students on, uh, increase service, is that understanding that they will have to work with other teachers and they will have to take responsibility for what it---what---an---and understand what it is that’s happening to them.  Um, such that they, uh, maintain a certain autonomy to---to do what they think is right in---in their own classrooms and in their own schools.  Uh, and it---it’s going to take a lot of work, it does take a lot of work, but it can’t be done individually, it has to be done, uh, collectively.  So developing a sense of collective autonomy, understanding it, being responsible for it and being willing to be accountable as well, um, for it and what---for what happens in the classroom I think is really the best thing that teachers can do to, um, help to, uh, to improve what goes on in their schools and in their school districts.

I think it’s a challenge; it’s one we haven’t worked through completely.  Um, I have worked with practicing teachers in that, um, domain, and, uh, what I have found is that the first step in all of this is for teachers to understand what it is, actually, that’s going on in their own classrooms.  To move away from, um, a---what I would think is a---a more simplistic sense of education as being simply about achievement, uh, and perhaps even about subject matter, to one that, um, in---in which they are willing to---to take a look at the moral dimensions of their classroom, the moral elements of---of---of how they go about, um, facilitating moral development in their students, which they all do.  Uh, and as they come to know it they---uh---that they resist at first, that that’s even happening.  Um, because I think for so long, uh, that that aspect is seen as tied totally, almost, with religion, uh, and so they don’t want to talk about it or think about it, um, because it might be something that they shouldn’t be doing.  Uh, but as they begin to, uh, take a look at their own tapes and---and think about what’s happening with their students and, um, the kind of moral decisions that---that they are making as teachers.  Um, they begin to develop a sense of what’s going on and, uh, they become very articulate about it and, um, take responsibility for it.  Now, um, that’s about where we are in our, uh, in our---in our work and to move that back to the teacher educla---education classroom is something that really should be done and should be done quickly.  Um, and I’ve played around with it a little bit, um, but I don’t have, yet, um, a good sense of how to introduce that, uh, dimension in the teacher education program.  There are several people around the country who are doing this, uh, and I think doing it in very interesting ways.  Um, and I think it’s critical; we can’t leave that aspect, um, out of our teacher education programs.  Uh, so it’s---it---it’s sliding in, in a way, um, and---I mean you won’t see cl---you won’t see specific classes in this, at this point.  Uh, but it is coming in the door and I think in very interesting ways and I’m really excited to see what will happen with it in the next ten years.  I think it’s very important for our teachers.

Yeah, I think that there are two aspects to that question, I mean, the whole constructivist movement, if you look at what teaching for understanding means.  Uh, it means knowing what every single---how every single student in that classroom is making sense of mathematics or science or---or---uh---or---or literature.  Uh, and that means of---engaging with each of the students in---in individual dialog, um, in order to figure out what they know and where they are and---and how they’re knowing.  Uh, that seems to be remarkably difficult, uh, if you have, uh, 25 students in a class.  Uh, we also have the, uh, the situation in---with the diverse learners, that’s almost a---one can almost think of that as a separate literature that say, you know, you have to deal with the---with the issues of the diverse learners and, um, deal individually with them.  Uh, we have seen many instances, and have on tape, many instances in which, um, teachers have made decisions on the basis of one or two students that we can see strongly effects all of the students in the classroom, such as a spelling test in which the teacher, uh, gives so much time between saying the word and having the student write it down because she’s very worried about, uh, certain---one certain student in the classroom that chaos begins to develop, um, because the other students are well along.  And so we have those kinds of situations, um, and we---and it is almost, uh, an impossible task, it seems to me, when you have such variation in the classroom.  I act---I honest---a---really am thinking that it’s probably an impossible task even in teaching for understanding.  Uh, to be able to have that very deep sense of how a student is making sense of a particular subject matter.  So I’m wondering what we’re doing here, uh, actually, um.

Well I think the first thing that happens is that teachers in classrooms are suddenly surrounded by, you know, there may be three or four adults in the classroom all at one time.  Uh, and so the whole notion of teacher as manager takes on a new dimension, um, to manage the adults in the classroom as well as, uh, as the students.  I’ve seen, uh, experienced teachers do this remarkably effectively, I mean it’s---it---it’s just a different kind of a classroom that you walk in with---with the adults, uh, and the students all working very hard together, uh, very---working very well together.  Um, and you wonder, really, how that teacher got there but that teacher is always a very experienced teacher.  And, um, my---my sense is that what ha---I think the really critical piece is what happens with teachers who are in their first couple of years of teaching and, uh, how---how do they, first of all, learn about teaching at the same time as they have this other, uh, in a sense, um, imposition of many other adults in---in the classroom.  Um, and I think that’s where we have to be focusing our attention.  They have to know about, um, a---they have to know about---a---s---small groups, large groups, all the kinds of grouping activities within a classroom.   They have to learn to---to talk with the adults in the classroom in a very different way than they usually do.  Um, they have to learn to, uh, facilitate, uh, organizations within the classroom to allow, um, the expertise of these different individuals to---to, um, be used well.  Um, there’s a lot that they have to know.

I think what you’re, um, asking is, um, is the relationship between the academic program at the university, the teacher Ed academic program at the university and, um, and their field experiences.  And, uh, I---I don’t think we, um---we’re st---even though we’ve had that problem identified for a number of years I s---I still don’t think that we’re doing a particularly good job, uh, with this other than in, um, professional development schools.  Um, in which there is, um, a very strong relationship between the, uh, teachers in a school and the university instructors.  And there is an understanding, um, of what goes on in the university, uh, as well as an understanding of what goes on within in that context.  Um, so---it---it---there’s not as much of a disconnect.  Our problem, really, we---we have a program in---in Detroit, there’s a huge disconnect, there is---it’s massive.  Um, also because of culture, um, we have primarily white students (coughs) going into Detroit, uh, into the schools in Detroit, and, um, and---and---and having to learn a different culture as well as learn about teaching all at the same time.  And they---that’s a lot of learning.  Uh, and there is---because we’re in Ann Arbor and this is in Detroit there is a m---m---major disconnect between what goes on, um, in the academic program and what goes on in the classrooms in the schools and trying to keep track of that and keep in touch with it is remarkably difficult.  Uh, it would be nice if we could have all professional development schools.  That would allow, um, the university people to understand the diversity in the schools that their students are working in and help the students work through that.  As well as work through the kind of theory practice connection.

Well, one would think, initially, about a lab school, but then in they’re prepared in a lab school that’s not exactly today’s children.  Uh, I think what would epitomize it would be, um, a, um, again, a professional development school in which the teachers, um, are working with the university people in inquiring into the improvement of, uh, education within their own school and that the student teachers, um, are a part of that process.  Uh, to prepare students for today’s children, in a sense you want to---prepare teachers for, uh, every child, uh---today, tomo---and tomorrow and ten years from now.  Uh, and so the question is how---you want to develop it in the teacher education students, um, a way of---it’s almost a habit of mine, um, for determining the nature of the context that they are working and how to, um, develop their own teaching to meet the needs of the students.  Uh, because if we just prepare students for a particular---say we have a professional development school in Ann Arbor and it’s a particular context.  And, um, and they’re prepared in---with the Ann Arbor students.  Uh, and they end up teaching in Flint, um, Michigan, or they end up teaching in Tucson, Arizona or wherever.  Uh, it’s---it---it’s a remarkably different context that they will be in and they will be in with very, very different students.  And so the question is, how do you prepare them to assess that, to develop an understanding of the context that they eventually end in.  That’s the important, um, thing to work with the student teachers on.  Um, because you don’t want to---you don’t want them---them to assume that where they’re going to teach looks like where they’re student teaching.

Yeah.  Well no, it’s---it’s good and I, uh, I do know their work and, um, I’m in complete agreement with it.  Uh, and uh, and the question of how you develop that disposition in, um, pre-service, uh, education, um, I think that we have begun to be able to do this.  But---however it needs continual support.  Um.

Well---I---the---the reference point here is, and I haven’t been repeating your questions and so I’m sorry.  Um, the---the reference point here is how you develop in, uh, teachers a---a---the sense of reflection, um, in---in continual, uh, ----some notion of continual improvement and, uh, and---and the way to do that is through inquiry, uh, and reflection.  Uh, and, um, what has happened of---er---in running into many, many teachers, I’ve worked with many teachers in professional development, uh, and in inquiry approaches is that somewhere along the way this has gotten lost.  Their---their habit of mind, some of them, uh, will say to me, ‘you know, I used to be reflective, uh, but I haven’t been for about, you know, 10 years.  I’ve just been doing the teaching.’  And, uh---so somewhere that---that gets lost.  So even though you work with pre-service students and develop some sense of---of reflection, and it’s hard to do if there’s disagreement as to whether you can do in pre-service teacher education, I think you can.  Um, but somewhere when they get out into the schools, if they don’t have any support for this process of inquiry, this process of reflection, uh, and they don’t, they’re not able to work with others who are doing the same thing.  It gets lost, it does get lost. And so it’s important that that is continued.  We have found, in working with teachers that they---that they will continue it, at least for a while, I mean, we’ve done longitudinal studies of---of teachers who have worked in an inquiry process, um, continuing to ask questions and make changes in their classrooms and asking good questions about what is happening with their students and---and where they are within their context.  Uh, and that does continue, I don’t know for how long.  But I know that at least two years after the professional development they were still asking those questions.  But also trying to find other teachers that they could work with to do the same thing, because they weren’t getting any support, um, within their school districts and from their principals for this kind of activity.  So I think that there are structural issues here that have to go beyond the individual teacher and the---and the---you know, individual classroom to what happens and how it is viewed, um, within the---a school district and within a---within a school.

Well I think for that we, um, have to work with a different group of people and I think that we are---we ought to. Um, I think we have to work with principals and school districts, um, to---uh, to help them maintain that sense of---I mean, that’s a wonderful that our teacher education students have about what---what it is they’re going to be doing.  And, uh, to see them go out and lose all that, um, begin to talk about their students that are never going to learn, and all---all kinds of, um, of---of notions.  Uh, it’s in part because they’re not getting the support that they need, uh, as they---as they he---head into, truly, learning how to teach, which is unfortunate.  So I---I think that within our, um, we---we---we have to work with groups, we can’t just work with individuals, uh, when we work in professional development.  We must work with, um, at the schools, just---I mean the most---I think the research that is done the least is at the school district level.  And, um, we work at the school level, we work at the individual classroom level, but we don’t work at the school district level.  And I think that we---we really ought to head in that direction.  Um, I started to do some of that, um.  There are---the most, you know, if you look at the school districts in the country, the---there are more school districts that I call a two-high school-school district.  These are school districts that you really can work with.  Um, and it can---it’s not easy, but it’s very exciting.  And if we can work within the school district to---to provide the support necessary for maintaining that sense of---of wonder, excitement, zeal, um, on the part of new teachers, it---it can make a huge difference for our students.

Well I s---I would see, by the way, that first---if there’s survival piece going, maybe, two years, um, a little bit more than one year, anyway.  Uh, and then the next chunk going almost up to five years.

Yeah, the entry-level teacher requires survival help for probably a little over a year if not up to two years.  Uh, the---the---the teacher who becomes competent, um---becoming competent is probably year’s two to five, maybe two to six.  Uh, and, um, that teacher needs a different kind of, uh, support.  Um, that’s a very good time to help teacher with a---help teachers with subject matter, with, um, technology, with all kinds of curriculum, um, strategies within in the classroom, with notions of, uh, teaching assessment and so on.  Uh, and after that, um, as they begin to focus, in fact, on student learning, um, then---I think that they need, uh, a kind of professional development which does head into the inquiry approach such that they, um, maintain and develop their own sense of autonomy and, um, and worth and development within their own classroom.  So I think three---there are really three forms of professional development needed for the---for the development of a teacher.  This---that survival stage, um, y---you need to be available; somebody needs to be available, uh, very quickly at certain times.  Uh, when their classroom management falls apart, uh, they need some help immediately, um, with how they’re looking at it and what they’re going to be doing the next day.  Uh, and that, um, ---it---it seem to me we can do that through, in part, through technology, uh, e-mail is very useful at that stage.  But it would also help if there were a teacher down the hall, um, who would be right there to help.  Uh, and that’s very different from the next two stages, so.

I have worked with secondary, I have worked, primarily, with elementary.

Well I think it is, I think secondary is a mess.  We’ve recently re---re-done our secondary program.  Um, I still wonder where the pedagogy is.  Um, you know, I think you’re right.  Uh, it’s found within the methods courses, right?  I mean, science methods, supposedly (laughs) is where you find the pedagogy in the secondary program.  Now, some secondary programs include a course on teaching, uh, but not all of them.

Sure, my assessment of the assessment movement.

Primarily, down.

Uh, I have, uh---I guess I focus on, um, the---unanticipated consequences of high stakes testing.  Uh, I see it too much surrounding us in the schools in what the teachers are doing, and, uh---and in the research.  Uh, if---if it were not high stakes I think it would be, I mean, in terms of what goes on in classrooms with teacher assessment, is absolutely essential.  But somehow when it becomes state level or federal level driven, it becomes, um, high stakes and teachers begin to act in different ways, uh, in terms of what goes on in the classrooms.  And if they don’t, uh, they’re liable to be in trouble.  So I---I feel that the high stakes movement has---has driven, um, changes in teaching, changes in the curriculum, um, that have not redounded to, um, help students at all.  And in fact, there’s a recent study that just came out, I don’t know it you’ve seen this one by Berlinen on high stakes testing.  Big study, um, in---in---um, various states, taking a look at whether, in fact, high stakes testing has improved achievement and it hasn’t. (Chuckles)  Uh, so it’s very expensive.  A lot of people are making a lot of money off of this.  And so one has to ask the question, would it not be better to spend the money in a different way?  Um, to improve the schools in the urban areas, to stop the roofs from leaking, from making them places that are---that are nice for kids rather than just horrendous, um.  So, I mean, there’s a lot of a---there are a lot of questions about the assessment movement, um, obviously the teacher has to know what, uh---how the students are doing.  And this does not happen all the time.  Uh, that’s what we should be focusing on, um, and do the parents know.  But the kind of state level, federal level testing that is going on is, um, I think, very detrimental.

Uh, I think I would focus, with my grandchildren, on, um, not so much on the cognitive aspects.  Um, and think about it in respect to my own kids and what they went through as well.  Uh, I have no doubt that they will do fine.  Um, however, I would like the places to be, um---I’d like the schools to be places that are safe.  Um, safe for them in terms of being able to, perhaps, be different. Um, and not be, uh, harassed by their, um, student colleagues.  Um, to be in diverse settings so that they can learn about, um, different cultures, different students.  Uh, and learn social skills about how to behave with other people.  Uh. So those are the kinds of places that I would like them to be in.