Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More on teaching

Last Friday, I posted a link in which someone opined about changing the way we compensate teachers, with a smattering of thoughts on teacher training as well. There was some really good stuff in the comments about this (including this very compelling and scathing review of Waiting for "Superman") which made me think a little more about how I've come to my own opinions on the subject of teaching and teacher training, and I thought that would be worth repeating here.

I would especially love to hear more from people who have been teachers and can speak personally about what helped and what didn't and what they think would work. I know my own opinions are ill-informed, especially when it comes to credentialing requirements, so take what you read here with a very large grain of salt.

My perspective, however, is somewhat unique. I spent one year as a notetaker for Deaf students and five years as an Educational Interpreter. For a few of those years, I was the staff substitute, which meant that I saw lots and lots and lots of classrooms. I saw them on a day to day basis, not just when they were preparing for evaluation. And I saw them without the investment of being a parent or particularly worrying about how a child was performing in the classroom.

Now, this was over 10 years ago, but from what I remember the vast majority of the teachers I saw ranged from good to excellent. Excellent teachers could be found in every community and at every level. I remember one spectacular fourth grade teacher who dressed like an executive lawyer with four-inch heels. I remember one amazing 7th grade science teacher in an inner-city school who brought incredible energy to her class. I remember one suburban high school social studies teacher who caught my interest so much that I forgot to interpret.

From what I saw there were two things that made some teachers more skilled at teaching. One thing that seemed to make for a compelling teacher was their own interest in the subject matter. And the other thing that made a classroom teacher more effective was experience.

The teaching itself was both a gift that they had and a skill that could be learned, but I'm not sure any credential program can make you love history so that you want to share that love with your students.

I honestly don't know what teaching credentials offer. If you know, please enlighten me!

One of the reasons I question credentialing programs is because private schools don't require them and yet people clamor to get into them. If the credentialing confers such great benefits in teaching, why would people want to leave the public schools that require it to go to the private schools that don't?

So why are so many public schools doing so poorly on tests that measure their performance? I wish I knew. But I don't think it's because the teachers are "bad teachers." Whatever that means.

I thought this story about a large high school in Massachusetts was very intriguing. I really don't know how much to believe about anything I read regarding education, but I want to keep an open mind. What this school discovered seems at least worth exploring.

Here's the story: in 1999, after reviewing their dismal test scores, the leaders of Brockton High set up a restructuring committee.

The committee’s first big step was to go back to basics, and deem that reading, writing, speaking and reasoning were the most important skills to teach. They set out to recruit every educator in the building — not just English, but math, science, even guidance counselors — to teach those skills to students.
The rest of the story is a compelling account of overcoming resistance, bucking the received wisdom, and stick-to-it-iveness. I really don't know if this is a viable general model, but it's a great story. Here's hoping their success can be replicated.


Songs of a Soul Journey said...

I like your observations, here. Since I volunteer quite a bit at the school my children attend, I can attest to the fact that there is a lot of good instruction being offered by fine teachers who are challenged by the strictures placed on them by the institutional system they happen to be working within.

When I read the letters of people who say that we must take punitive measures (such as cuts in pay or layoffs) against teachers whose students have low test scores, I think of meteorologists, who get paid their salary, even if their predictions are 100% wrong.

Punitive measures against creative and hardworking teachers will not result in better teaching or better student test scores; they will only drive teachers from the field of teaching, or at the least, drive out every ounce of enthusiasm for the job.

And then what?!

Songs of a Soul Journey said...

Check out this very important article in the New York Review of Books:

If we put education in the hands of big business, the achievement gap will widen. And the owners of the charter franchises will be making money hand over fist.