Educators work in a world of conflicting ideology, and in the last two weeks I have come to better understand a conflict that is unique to colleges of education. I have had a couple of encounters in meetings and in discussions with peers about grade inflation.
I hear that “most of our students expect an A for their efforts,” and that “the education department has one of the highest GPAs” at the university. In light of the arguments coming from policy makers about the quality of teachers graduating from teacher preparation programs, we must assure outsiders that we are holding the bar high enough for our students. “We need to increase the rigor,” I heard.
In my own classes I have struggled with this conflict. Most of my students are earning As, and in general I’m happy with the work the students are completing. The assignments in the course in question model effective teaching strategies that my students can use with their own students in the classroom, and the course culminates with a requirement that they develop a personal inquiry, complete extensive research and share their findings with their peers. If anything, my students often struggle with the reflection required to consider their own learning needs and address the needs in a research-based format. This type of reflection and problem solving will support their growth for years to come in the classroom.
Despite their initial struggles, my students are very successful with this assignment because I model conferencing strategies that support student learning throughout the process. If I just made the assignment and let the students struggle through it independently, there would be more failure, but what would that teach these pre-service teachers? I’m here to teach my students how to teach, not how to make assignments.
This brings me back to the initial controversy of grade inflation. I wonder why the education department is concerned about inflation based solely on the overall high GPA of our students. It seems to me that we should be concerned if we DID NOT have high GPAs. We are after all, a department of teachers teaching teachers. Our lessons and teaching strategies should be so good that our students are consistently very successful. As instructors, we should be modeling for these future teachers what it means to bring the best research on teaching to the classroom to promote universal success for all of our students. Our expectation of ourselves must be that we are the best instructors on campus, and our students’ success should be a mark of pride not concern.
Last week, I watched as my first group of students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. I’m proud of their successes. In the last year, these students completed a rigorous program put together for pre-service teachers. They met the senior-year requirement that they take four classes (12 credit hours) of coursework, complete a 120 hour internship requirement, and produce a portfolio (complete with artifacts from their internship to support their reflections) in their PDS I semester. In the PDS II semester, they were then required to complete a 15-week full-time student-teaching internship in addition to taking a night class and completing a second portfolio with artifacts from their experience. This is a very challenging program, but they put all of their personal desires and needs aside and rose to the occasion.
My own interns went above and beyond in their schools by offering extra tutorials in the evenings and on Saturdays for their struggling students, and spending their extra time combing through district, private school, and regional websites looking for an opportunity to apply for a position to teach next year. There are very few positions available for these dedicated new teachers. The schools where they interned were unanimous in their desire to keep these interns if only they had openings because of dedication they showed to the students. Like I said, I’m proud.
So when I next hear “the education department’s GPAs are one of the highest in the school,” I’m prepared. My response will be “That’s great! I’m glad that we are setting an example of successful teaching for our pre-service teachers.”