College of Education: KU

by Steve Wyckoff on February 16, 2010

For the 34th and 35th time I had the opportunity this week to speak to students in the College of Education at the University Kansas. Twice each semester for the last nine years I’ve had the opportunity to speak to students in Dr. Mike Neill’s class. These are students who hope to become teachers. Usually there are 80 to 100 students in each class. That means that over the last nine years I’ve had the pleasure to interact with between 2,800 and  3,500 students. Okay, so if you do the math it should have had the 35th and 36th time right? Well they missed one day a couple of years ago because school was dismissed because they won some basketball game. You may remember 🙂

Anyway, these are always some of my favorite days. I have the opportunity to interact with students who are pretty much fresh out of high school, but also are committed to becoming educators. In many ways it’s refreshing and uplifting. In other ways it’s depressing.

Let me explain. I always love their enthusiasm and their commitment. They possess a passion for what they think they’re going to face. They are bright, engaged, and ready to take on the world.

The depressing part, I always visit with them about authentic engagement. The flow that learners are in when they are so engaged they lose track of time. I tell them it is my opinion that the most important thing they can do is to create learning experiences that are so engaging that their students are regularly authentically engaged. But then I ask them how many of them were authentically engaged on a regular basis in high school.

Yesterday was most one of the most depressing days when I asked this question. Not one hand was raised. Think about it, these are young adults who want to spend the rest of their life in school, and yet none of them were regularly authentically engaged in high school.  Normally, there are only five or six students in the entire class who were regularly authentically engaged in high school, but still to have no students raise their hand was a little bit shocking.

Through our dialogue it was clear that they understand what being authentically engaged is. They even talked about their school experiences that were authentically engaging. They listed them, year book, drama, athletics, and other experiences that were almost all outside of the core curriculum.

When we talk about the core curriculum students in this class through the years have rarely, if ever, identified them as authentically engaging. Interestingly enough  when students did find a class in the core curriculum that was authentically engaging to them, that is typically the subject they are preparing to teach. I hope they don’t model their teaching after the teachers they had simply because it was authentically engaging to them.

The other thing that I’m always aware of when speaking to the students is how pervasive the thinking is that the way our system operates is the only possible way the system can operate. I wish that we had more time to talk about how the system could be modified in order to engage students and yet still learn the things that we want students to learn, that usual in education time limited how much we can accomplish.

Other interesting topics we cover: standardized tests, which always realize a conversation; the need for individualizing instruction; innovation; and our system is pervasively focused on preparing kids to go to four years college rather than preparing them for their life. – Steve Wyckoff

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