Post Academic

So Now Teachers Are Supposed to Be Mental-Health Experts?

PhotobucketI’m not very happy with a recent New York Times article wondering if Pima Community College did enough when handling the apparent mental disorder of former student Jared Loughner, the alleged Arizona shooter. The implication is that if Pima Community College somehow handled Loughner better, these people wouldn’t have died and Representative Gabrielle Giffords wouldn’t be in a hospital with a head wound. Here’s the line that set me off:

After the release of detailed reports the college kept of Mr. Loughner’s bizarre outbursts and violent Internet fantasies, the focus has turned to whether it did all it could to prevent his apparent descent into explosive violence.

“Did all it could?” Is that saying it’s Pima Community College’s fault? So now teachers are expected to be mental-health experts, on top of everything else they do?

Blaming the community college seems awfully easy, but the college told Loughner and his parents–in person–that he couldn’t come back because of his behavior unless he had a doctor’s note. (You could ask whether or not his parents got him that help, but the damage has been done.) It appears that the college was genuinely concerned about the welfare of other students, and they acted on it. This is good, right? Colleges are still working on responses to dangerous students after the nightmare at Virginia Tech, and it seems that Pima CC had a plan in place.

A teacher could have devoted every spare minute to Loughner, and it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest because a teacher is not a psychiatrist, and a psychiatrist is probably the only person who could have helped Loughner become a functioning member of society instead of an alleged mass murderer.

This article is proof that teachers need to make their job duties clear. They are not psychiatrists. They are not psychologists. They are not babysitters. They are in the classroom to share knowledge and provide instruction. Society should be thinking about improving mental-health services and whether or not they should be administered through social services, the health-care system or even schools if appropriate programs are installed. Asking teachers to do more and be more aware isn’t going to do much if the rest of society isn’t also helping to figure out how to handle those who are dangerously mentally ill.

All charges alleged until proven under law. Old Austrian Schilling note with Sigmund Freud. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Teach: Tony Danza: “I’m always afraid they’re gonna unmask me.”

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on October 6, 2010
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PhotobucketTeach: Tony Danza” follows the actor, whom we all know and love from “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” as he teaches an English class at a Philadelphia public school. This could have been a goofy reality show series, like “Tommy Lee Goes to College,” but the first episode shows just how hard it is to be a teacher. Danza enters the school full of hope, and by the end of the first episode, he looks exhausted. For those of you who constantly hear how easy teachers and professors have it, you should recommend this show to your critics.

The show is far from perfect. It’s over-edited, and there are too many framing scenes in which Danza and the teachers spell out their motives in an obvious fashion. Some of the kids look like they’re already auditioning for the next reality show. But the show does reveal how uncomfortable it can be to stand in front of the classroom. It’s hard to convey information and keep people interested at the same time, and being an actor helps only so much.

Being an actor actually isn’t Danza’s main problem in the classroom. He makes several classic mistakes that first-time teachers–both high school and college–make. For example:

Never act as if you want to be liked. The moment Danza walks into school for his first day, I felt uncomfortable because he so clearly wants approval from his supervisors and his students. This might be because he still has an actor’s need to please people, but teaching isn’t about pleasing people.

More after the jump! Image of Tony Danza at the Indianapolis 500 parade by Matt B. from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Taking Teaching Seriously by … Actually Training Teachers

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on July 14, 2010
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PhotobucketConsider this a response to a response: Tenured Radical wrote about the New York Times’ article on how fewer students are getting into Teach for America. Tenured Radical asks why people think Teach for America is so great in the first place:

I dislike TFA because I am a teacher, and I am quite clear that you don’t learn to teach in five weeks, much less teach students who have a range of social, economic and developmental problems; who are often hungry, in pain, angry or frightened; and who come in unruly waves of 40-50 every 45 minutes.

Whether you like TFA or not (I am undecided, for the record), Tenured Radical’s point that five weeks isn’t enough time to train a teacher is crystal clear. It isn’t.

Like most TA’s, I got thrown into the deep end of the teaching pool with my first comp assignment. I was trained in terms of teaching and composition theory, but I had no clue how to handle day-to-day tasks or how to deal with problem students. I pulled a whole lot out of thin air. Of course, I also got the vibe that teaching was a temporary thing for me, to avoid as much as possible, so why do I need to train for it?

Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.