I love BYU. I really do. I had wonderful experiences, met incredible people and am grateful I chose to go to school there.
The thing I don’t like so much about BYU is what I actually spent most of my time there doing – studying to be a teacher. The secondary education programs are notoriously awful. I heard rumors about the horrors of the McKay School before I started the program, but I wanted to be a teacher, so I ignored them and entered the program anyway.
I’m not sure if I regret taking the path I did because I am pretty happy now. However, my undergraduate experience would have been much better if I had chosen just about any other major than the one I did, and I’d probably be better at whatever it was that I was doing than I am at what I do now.
I’ve thought a lot about my program over the last few years and have decided that the people in charge at the McKay School must just not know how truly awful the quality of education they are giving really is. I’ve talked to many other students, both in secondary and elementary education programs at BYU, and have discovered that my experience is not unique and that the problems I faced are widespread.
I’ve been drafting a letter to the McKay School for several months, hoping to detail my experience in a way that would highlight the weaknesses I saw, but not come across as bitter or hostile, thus hopefully prompting much-needed reforms.
I’d like to send this letter within the next week or so and I’d like some perspectives on what I’ve written before I send it, especially from graduates or current students of the McKay School. Let me know how it comes across and if you would listen to what I say if you were a college dean reading this letter. Thanks in advance for your help.
To whom it may concern,
I graduated from Brigham Young University last spring with a degree in History Teaching. I began my program in Winter semester 2011 and completed it after a teaching internship in the 2014-2015 school year. Upon graduation, I was unable to find employment as a licensed teacher and am currently working at a junior high as an attendance tracker.
As a recent graduate of the McKay School of Education, I feel I have a current perspective of many elements of my program, perhaps a perspective unique from that of the administrators and professors of the college. I have some concerns about the way the various education programs of the college are formatted. I feel strongly about the importance of education and of the importance of good teachers and these beliefs prompt me to write this letter. I believe that the administrators, professors, and other employees of the McKay School share these convictions and strive to create meaningful, rigorous programs that will train qualified teachers. It is under these assumptions that I write this letter, and I hope that it will be thoughtfully received, as the intent behind it is well-meaning and not condemnatory.
Throughout my time as a student in the McKay School, I encountered setbacks and disappointments, several of which almost caused me to abandon my lifelong goal of becoming a professional educator. In my earliest days at BYU, I received advice from the advisement center in the McKay School which proved to be incredibly damaging while applying for jobs several years later. When I asked an advisor about the advantages and disadvantages of both the History Teaching and Social Science Composite majors, I was advised that a History Teaching major would be more marketable as it shows a depth of expertise that principals would look for and that a Social Science Composite Endorsement would lack. In the final months of my teaching internship and the summer thereafter, I applied for over sixty certified teaching jobs in five states. Every one required a Social Science Endorsement. I am currently spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars beyond my undergraduate work to take the additional eleven classes needed for me to get this endorsement, time and money that I would have preferred to spend pursuing a graduate degree. I wish I would have known as I began the education program that my declared major lacked the marketability needed for me to find employment.
Additionally, I found that the majority of my education classes did not adequately prepare me for the challenges I would face in a classroom. Many of the classes were largely theory based, lacking any useful application or purpose. Most of the assignments in these classes seemed nothing more than a series of hoops through which I was required to jump. My classmates and I failed to understand how what we were learning would have any real-life application, ironically something that we as teachers are always encouraged to demonstrate to our students. The limited time I spent in classroom observations for these classes (if any time was required at all), did not help connect the dots.
Before I began my first day as a teaching intern, I had spent no more than ten hours actually teaching a class in a public school. This includes my 276 class, practicum class, and all other secondary teaching classes. During these very rare teaching experiences, I was never observed by a BYU teacher or professor and received only limited feedback from the teachers in whose classes I taught. I believe the vast majority of my teaching experience and expertise came from teaching experiences outside of my formal education at BYU.
When I actually began teaching in my own classroom as an intern, the support I received was no more plentiful. I met my BYU mentor on only two occasions, once briefly in August and again in March. On neither occasion did he watch me teach or give feedback. In the time between these two meetings, I received either brief and unhelpful, or no responses to the emails I sent him. From what I understand, this was an unusual and alarming situation for the McKay School. However, when the college was made aware of the neglect on the part of this man, I still received no help, support, or information. Thankfully, my mentor teacher in the school where I taught was supportive and provided me with the guidance that I failed to receive from the university where I paid tuition.
A doctor would not be permitted to perform an open heart surgery after only having observed such an operation. A pilot would not fly a plane after only having watched another do so. Common sense would dictate that a teacher should not enter the profession with similarly limited experience.
Throughout my time as a student, I was often frustrated by the lack of information available to me. When I had questions about classes or licensing or graduation, I was bounced between the College of Education and the College of Home, Family and Social Sciences, under both of which my major technically fell. Neither advisement center seemed to be able to help, but suggested that I visit the other. In dividing secondary education majors between two schools, there is a danger in neither school taking responsibility for providing students with the help they need to be successful both before and after graduation.
There were some elements of my program that I found to be effective. My 276 class was enlightening and its professor inspiring and helpful. Additionally, Dr. [name has been changed], from whom I never took a class, was always willing to help and guide me when I asked for it. Studying backward design and creating entire unit lesson plans in my method class were some of the most useful things I did in helping me prepare to enter a classroom. But overall, I feel that there were alarming gaps in what I was taught in the education program as an undergraduate student.
I do not expect that the College of Education should reform its programs based on the experiences of one graduate. However, I would hope that these concerns would be carefully considered and that the validity of such concerns be investigated. I have spoken with many other McKay school alumni who share my opinions and together we hope that changes can be made that will help better prepare future graduates and make us proud to have earned our degrees from an institution that constantly strives to improve the quality of its instruction.
Again, the purpose of this letter is not to complain about perceived injustices, but rather to ensure that administrators within the college are made aware of certain shortcomings and weaknesses in its programs. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.
Jesslyn Ann Poulson
Class of 2015