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Two Weeks to Admit Teaching Is Hard

I've frequently maintained that reformers who are quick to criticize teachers have no idea how hard it is to teach K-12. Two professors from Sarah Lawrence College made my point after spending two weeks teaching at Yonkers Middle High School in Yonkers, N.Y. ("We Taught Summer School-and Survived," The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 7).

What is notable, however, is that they felt drained after only two weeks teaching "environmental writing." I wonder how they would feel if they had to teach four more subjects each day for an entire school year? Let's not forget that a typical teaching assignment involves different lesson plans because few, if any, teachers get to teach five classes of the same subject each day.

The experience of the two professors, Marek Fuchs and Linwood Lewis, also underscores the importance of pedagogy.  Despite their advanced degrees in their respective subject fields, they found themselves "in serious trouble."  How could they not?  It's one thing to possess subject matter expertise and quite another to know how to teach it.  They quickly learned that telling is not teaching. They also found out in short order the need to improvise as their students' reactions changed.  

Public schools cannot selectively enroll whom they wish.  By law they have to take all who show up at the schoolhouse door.  As a result, the range of abilities is huge.  A lesson plan that works beautifully with one class can easily be a disaster with another.  Veteran teachers know that it takes only one miscreant who is bored or upset to hold an entire class hostage.

Despite the proessors' revelations, however, I doubt the drumbeat of criticism of public schools will abate. There is simply too much political capital to gain by persisting in the attack on teachers. But I give scant weight to reformers who have not taught in a public school.  Fuchs and Lewis now know what I'm talking about.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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