By Araceli Cruz
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
During one training meeting at Harlem Success, Apatov recalls, she showed a video of a first-year teacher conducting a kindergarten science lesson on measuring volume. The graduated beakers that the kindergarteners were using could measure up to 100 milliliters of liquid. But the students had more than 100 milliliters of water to measure. When they filled the beakers, the water rose above the last line of measurement. The teacher's question: How do we measure the water that is above the 100 milliliter mark?
One little girl raised her hand. "You can measure it with your fingers."
"That wouldn't be exactly accurate, would it?" the teacher replied. "No, it would not."
The girl put her head down, the slightest trace of a pout on her face. The teacher continued the lesson.
"Students give a lot of wrong answers," says Apatov while reviewing the video on her laptop. "Sometimes, students are almost right. Well, we want to hold out for exactly right answers without making the kids feel bad. OK, that's not exactly how we would measure something, but there is some validity in that. So how do you handle that answer? You say, 'Hmm, that's a good start, but could you come up here? Let's compare your fingers with my fingers. Oh, our fingers are different sizes. Maybe that wouldn't be the most accurate way to measure something, then.' "
Apatov recalls that the other kindergarten teachers watching the lesson wondered if the teacher could have asked the question and then allowed the kindergartners to turn and talk to a partner about their answers. This way, all of the students would get to try out their answers before sharing with the rest of the class. The teacher would get a chance to go around and listen to the students' conversations and determine who got the concept and who didn't before asking the kids to share.
The kindergarten teacher in the video, says Apatov, "was actually harder on herself than I or her colleagues were, which tends to be the norm." Subsequent videos of the same first-year teacher showed her using the "turn and talk" method of discussion in her lessons with great success.
It is this type of training and feedback that critics say students in education schools are not getting. "This isn't a traditional observation in which the purpose often is to impugn the teacher," says Moskowitz. "This isn't a 'gotcha.' This is a chance to improve teaching and improve the profession."
"Imagine you had a law school," she continues, "and none of the law firms wanted to hire the lawyers because they weren't well prepared. Do you think that law school would keep on doing what it was doing? No, no, no. But schools of ed continue year after year after year to produce graduates who are not meeting the needs of urban kids—and nothing changes, and it's just maddening. They don't have to change."
New York Education Commissioner David Steiner, however, sees evidence that education schools are beginning to change. It was Steiner who launched Hunter's video-training program when he was dean of the school in 2008. "We're talking about more than 1,400 institutions here," he says. "They are not just going to change on a dime. But we are beginning to see innovation at schools, such as the University of Virginia and Stanford University. It's going to take time for professors to get used to these new tools. We need more experimentation for that to happen."
For now, video training is likely to be limited to education school students and charter school teachers; Steiner notes that public schools would need to negotiate its use through collective bargaining with the United Federation of Teachers. (UFT spokesperson Dick Riley says, "There has been no discussion with the DOE on the issue of broadening the videotaping process.") But that can still have a profound effect on those entering the teaching profession.
For his Methods course, Hunter Professor Jason Wirtz begins each class by showing a video and inviting students to critique it. "I'll say to my students, 'What are you going to do?' " he says. "They aren't really considering how much effort it takes to engage students. They're English majors, so they think they can just talk about a Toni Morrison novel and the students are going to be as intrinsically interested as they are."
Erin Collins, an American Studies teacher at Brooklyn International High School and a graduate of Hunter's Education School, has become a realist. "The more you watch the tapes," she says, "the more you begin to see yourself as a professional. Now it doesn't bother me to see myself make mistakes. I know that it's a temporary mistake, and I can do something about it. It becomes less personal, in a way."
So will other schools of education follow Hunter's lead? According to Lengel, there are many education schools and individual professors who ask their students to videotape their teaching. It's far from the majority, and not a schoolwide requirement, as it is at Hunter, but now that compact digital cameras have made video more accessible to novices, many education experts say video will become a mainstay of teacher training and practice.