The term was hard after loosing my placement. Really hard. Everything kind of fell apart. I had to call my cohort leader to explain that I’d been asked to leave. She was unbelievably supportive but it was a hard phone call to make, especially since the whole episode was hazy; it had all happened so fast and there wasn’t much logic to it. I had felt that I was ahead of the game, co-teaching classes and attending staff meetings long before many of my peers were even in a school placement. Suddenly I found myself disgraced and, in essence, “fired.” It was humiliating.
Classes were miserable. It started right away with the first class, “Technology for Learning,” taught by an elderly professor. She had taught a different section of the “Engaging Adolescent Learners” class that I had taken over the summer, and some of my cohort members had been in her section. They had complained that she was “boring”.” I found her friendly and genuine but I barely knew her. However, after the very first day of class in the fall term—actually, literally right after class had been dismissed—one of my cohort members sent a letter of complaint to the department chair of the graduate school of education. She then sent an email to the rest of the cohort encouraging them to also “come forward,” since the department wouldn’t replace the teacher unless many of the students complained. I was taken aback—the class had been a little disorganized and it was clear the professor wasn’t an expert in every aspect of technology. But that was nothing compared with the classes of the summer saga, especially compared with the “Inclusive Classrooms” teacher, who had only ever taught elementary school and been completely unable to run the class at a graduate level.
Once again I felt out of sync with the cohort. They constantly complained that wasn’t qualified to teach the class. She came from a social studies background and—it’s true—wasn’t always well versed in tech. But I felt differently about the class; it wasn’t about learning things like computer programming. In my mind, it was a course designed to give teachers a basic framework and training in how, why, and when to use technology in the classroom. Once we understood the importance of technology, we explored some of the practical applications of educational tools, but those tools were fairly self-explanatory. As graduate students living in an immersive world of technology, most of us don’t need much training in computers. But we do need someone to point us in the direction of good resources for the classroom, and to teach the importance of using technology effectively.
The course was also designed to support the video portion of the EdTPA. The EdTPA is the final collection of my graduate work that I submit for licensure, and it includes video clips of my teaching. The school had issued iPads to each teacher candidate to use in the process, but it hadn’t gone well. Video takes up a lot of storage, and the iPads had barely enough to record a lesson. Certain apps used in the video capturing and editing hadn’t been put onto the iPad by the technology center before we’d checked them out.
I’d already dealt with the annoyances of the iPad over the summer. We’d been required to use them in classes like the disastrous “Inclusive Classrooms.” My biggest complaint was that they weren’t practical or helpful for what we were trying to do. For example, I would need to switch between multiple files, an easy task on a computer with a screen, a tracking pad, and a web browser with multiple tabs. But on the iPad, each of those entities exists entirely apart from the other. I’d access Google Docs in one app, Google Drive in another, Google Sheets and Google Slides in a third and fourth app, and a web browser in a fifth. I’d complained about this over the summer but my cohort had basically rolled their eyes and acted like I was overreacting. I’d adapted by bringing my laptop to school along with my iPad, which was annoying, but solved the problem.
The iPads became a source of ire in the technology class aimed at the professor, even through the professor had nothing to do with the missing apps, nor the size of the iPads memory banks. Suddenly, my cohort “discovered” the same problem I’d been angry about months before. I’d moved past it already, but they wasted no time in telling me, as if it were big news, about the problem and how terrible it was for them. What’s more, I solved the problem of the missing apps in about 5 minutes. It was a simple matter of adjusting the iCloud settings and then the app downloaded automatically. But the cohort spent weeks and weeks complaining about the issue (even though they wouldn’t really need the apps until the winter term) and not one of them could solve it. I tried to explain it to them, but they were more interested in complaining and demonizing the tech professor. It all turned out to be pointless anyway, since the storage wasn’t really sufficient for the videos, and the department ended up ordering new brand new iPads with more capabilities and more memory. Still, the cohort complained about the burden of being “forced” to have a completely optional, brand new, free iPad given to them on loan to use for anything they pleased until next June.
It became a no-win situation. There was some minor confusion about homework at the beginning of the class. The cohort never forgave the professor for that transgression. Every week they would come in and complain that they didn’t know what the homework was, so the professor would spend the first 15 minutes of class explaining, not only the homework, but where to find information about it on the class website (right on the home page). Students were still confused the next week, so she, again, explained it and then also offered multiple places to find the information in addition to the home page. Students then started complaining that there should just be one place to look up assignments for the sake of clarity; personally, I found there was one place: the home page. And just because the information was available elsewhere, didn’t in any way make it “more confusing.” It took a minor effort in organization and personal responsibility on my part, but I never had any trouble figuring out the assignments, and I didn’t find the class particularly challenging.
This pattern went on through the term right into finals; one student overslept and missed the final because “the power went out and (her) alarm didn’t go off.” I found that hard to believe in the modern day of cell phones; either way, missing a final at a graduate level doesn’t speak much to professionalism. Besides, the final required only that we do a small, creative, tech-related project and then do a 2-3 minute presentation on our work. The girl seriously threw a fit– with the cohort’s support– because she had to stop by the professors office on a lunch break (when she was already on campus anyway) to do the presentation. She could not understand why she couldn’t just skip it, even though it was a graduate level final and every other student had to do it.
There was also the tired complaint about social justice. Through the entire term we didn’t go one class without hearing someone complain about how we weren’t being sensitive to social justice issues because we were “assuming poor kids have access to computers and Wi-Fi.” No one was assuming that. As the professor pointed out, not teaching kids the technology skills would be a disservice to them. From my perspective, as someone who is actually poor and only just got a smart phone and Internet access of my own within the last year, this was such a ridiculous complaint. Yes, sometimes it was a little more complicated for me, but the truth is that even most poor people have some basic Internet access. They are also used to being resourceful. The deck is already stacked against the poor, so there are bigger concerns than not having Wi-Fi at home. Just for an example, I held a job all through high school and college. That was a disadvantage, because it meant I couldn’t go to expensive private schools, had more on my plate and fewer opportunities, less time to socialize and make friends, and couldn’t afford many of the luxuries that my classmates took for granted like cars, parties, and gadgets. Not once did I worry about the inconvenience of doing homework in a computer lab or somewhere there was free Wi-Fi.
The tone got downright disrespectful, with students bitching in class, without troubling to keep their voices down. The cohort particularly made the teacher cry in class on at least one occasion. I got really uncomfortable with the entire situation. On several occasions I voiced my discomfort to members of the cohort arguing that, regardless of their views, we should be respectful. They always came back with bullshit excuses like, “but she isn’t respectful of us.” I saw no evidence of that (and as any playground preschooler could tell you), “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Beyond that, what really got to me is that the cohort continued the behavior to the bitter end, ignoring my requests for a more comfortable and respectful atmosphere. It was more important to them that they could attack a respected professor than it was to honor my comfort and safe learning environment. What’s more, I felt that, for my cohort, the biggest issue with this professor was her age. They took one look at her elderly state and pushed her aside as an invalid who couldn’t possibly know anything about technology. To me, that seemed hypocritical to the highest degree, considering how much they talked about social justice and how much of the program focused on it during the summer. I kept wanting to scream, “Have you learned NOTHING?!?”
Other classes were frustrating, as well. We had a class in strategies for teaching reading and writing in various disciplines. Our cohort is full of music majors, plus a math major, a couple of science people, and two social studies majors. Music majors were especially vocal about how irrelevant the class was for them, despite the fact that the Common Core requires all teachers to incorporate literacy into their subject matter, and it will be part of their assessment as teachers. They kept making the argument that “music is a language” so just teaching kids sight reading was the equivalent to teaching reading and, therefore, they didn’t have to do anything more. There might be some truth to that, but I felt they were radically oversimplifying the definition of literacy and twisting it to fit.
Methods was hard too. It started at 4:30 and went to 8:30. Most of the music people got out early and were on their way home by 7pm. The ELA majors, on the other hand, usually went to at least 8pm. It was a brutal way to end the 12-hour day we had every Wednesday, especially since we barely talked about ELA methods. We just talked about how to fill out the damn EdTPA lesson plan template. For and entire term, we beat our brains with EdTPA terminology, and never really got around to talking about teaching.
The split between my cohort and me got worse over time. I think it started in the summer, but it became pronounced very quickly in the fall term. Partly, it was natural: I’m introverted and quiet, especially when competing with big personalities and loud voices. I tend to get pushed to the side in social circles. The other part was situational: my cohort started going to a bar during downtimes on Wednesday, when we had 12 hours of class. They would go before methods. Then they would go again during our break and come back to class having slammed a few beers. Sometimes, they would go after class also. I went once or twice, but the truth is, I can’t afford to go to bars, especially not three times in one day. This is partly my fault, but I don’t usually feel welcome unless I am specifically invited, and I was almost never invited, or didn’t know they made plans. I didn’t want to feel like I was tagging along unwanted. As they disappeared behind the oak doors of the Cheerful Tortoise and built camaraderie over the foam of beer and mutual disgust with the technology class, I became increasingly isolated. I spent a lot of that time catching up readings and homework, most of which my classmates never bothered with.
It wasn’t just the bar scene that separated me from the cohort. I became frustrated with their attitudes. The experience was hard on all of us, but normally I feel like I’m the negative persona. But during the entire term, the expectation that the students do any sort of homework or classwork was alway met with such resistance, as if it were unreasonable to ask any more of us than to show up to class (most of the time). At some point, I felt, we needed to just quit complaining and do the work. After all, getting a graduate degree, a teaching certificate, and completing a full school year of student teaching in just one calendar year is hard. We, as adults, signed up for it, knowing full well it would be tough.
At first, I’d thought I just had an easier time of it, since I wasn’t working in a placement two days a week and had more free time. Then I realized that most of my cohort was scooting by with the minimal effort only on assignments that had to be turned in. When we peer-edited each other’s work—work that I’d put hours of effort into—I found they’d slopped together some shoddy notes at the last second and no more. Group presentations alway fell to me to plan, prepare, and execute. I still worked a few hours a week to help with bills, while no one else had to hold a job. I didn’t miss a class all term but many of them missed several. To my surprise, many of them often left their placements early when they weren’t really needed, called in sick, or took little breaks. Many of them had started their placements long after I had, and many of them were still just observing, while I’d taken on a lot of classroom responsibility during my time in my placement.
I tried to listen patiently to their woes about the technology class, the workload (which they mostly weren’t doing), and their trials in their placements (for which I had nothing to offer of my own). When it came time for me to voice my thoughts about a class or event, they would listen for the most part, but then courteously shrug it off, as if I was concerned with something entirely insignificant and off-topic. I noticed people stopped sitting next to me unless there was nowhere else to sit. I was always last to find a partner when we did group exercises. People were always polite to me when we interacted, but it became a forced small-talk sort of discourse. I started to feel like I was in fifth grade again as cliques began to form and I found I wasn’t part of any of them. I’m perfectly fine being alone, but I also didn’t want that fact constantly rubbed in my face.
As the term wore on, I slipped into a severe depression. The placement office hadn’t found a new school for me and never once communicated with me. (Privately, I believed it was retaliation for expressing “concern” for how far away my placement was back before grad school had even started). This meant I got an “incomplete” in my fieldwork, since I needed a simple evaluation while teaching from my university supervisor. I felt the support network washing away beneath my feet. My cohort members were consumed with their own concerns and traveling in very different directions than me. My bank account was dwindling and I had little time for anything except my work. The classes all seemed to focus on the same monotonous dribble and EdTPA. I’d been humiliated time and time again. It felt like every aspect of grad school had been a fiasco. It didn’t matter that I worked hard, got good grades, or did a good job. Like every aspect of life (it seemed) it was about privilege, connections, and being popular.
While everyone else reveled in their successes at teaching and started thinking about applying for jobs, I felt I was just starting the process and that I’d barely learned anything, despite the work I’d put in. When the term finally ended, I was hanging on by a thread. Counting the original application process to the school, I’d already sunk a year of work into the program. I was angry and exhausted and wanted to quit. The holidays arrived, and I still had no idea if I would be back at the start of winter term.
Photo credit: Viljar Sepp via Flickr