Think about the race to get into limited-admission charters. Think about urban districts that hire Teach for America teachers, because of their competitive pedigree, rather than fully prepared teachers who grew up in the neighborhood. Think about pep assemblies to prepare kids for standardized testing--which has now turned into another stack-ranked statewide competition.


Is there a template for the process of learning to be a good teacher? Are there indispensible tools--like common standards, materials and assessments? Or is it an "every man for himself" sort of thing, a long sequence of trial and error and observation, fitting what works into a cohesive whole--building a profession?


Has practice-based teacher leadership come a long way in the last decade--or has the concept become co-opted and marginalized by all the organizations and funders that want to own it?


A true teaching profession would mean no longer risking a career by flying against district policy when the students in the classroom need something "unofficial" in order to grasp concepts, love learning, or identify and own their skills and talents.


College ready? It's not about test scores. It's about having the self-awareness to choose IHEs and fields of study wisely, in an era when people are likely to have more than a dozen grown-up jobs. It's about having a clear purpose for attending college. If the primary purpose is cashing in, OK. But there are other reasons to get a rich and varied education.


Like any number of silver policy bullets--the Common Core State [sic] Standards, teacher evaluation by test data, and for-profit charter schools spring to mind here--requiring additional physical education in schools is not the go-to remedy for a clear crisis, in this case, rampant childhood obesity. It (like the aforementioned bullets) is simply something we can do, when the real, long-term solution seems impossible, out of reach or "too expensive."


I'm certain I am speaking for teachers everywhere when I say this: Pedagogy is a real thing. What teachers--and professors--do in their classes matters. It impacts learning, application and motivation. And pedagogy is not simply technique--it's not a bag of management tips and tricks. It begins with knowing your students, having a clear picture of what they need to learn, devising and adapting strategies, sometimes shooting from the hip. And paying attention to your results.


Teachers who host rich conversations in their classrooms (whether in kindergarten or high school civics class) do so by asking juicy questions, and not presuming they have the one right answer. Lots and lots of questions. Provocative and probing questions that make students uneasy or curious. And they practice, practice, practice. Discussion--taking turns, sharing viewpoints, deconstruction of ideas, asking questions--is a learned skill.


A principal who enthusiastically attends a conference planned entirely by her teachers, to learn with them? Teachers who won't let their spring weekend together die, after three decades? Precious time set aside to talk about things that matter most in serving the 500 children in their collective care, as educators and parents? If that's not natural and authentic leadership, I don't know what is.


If instruction--teachers' core responsibility--is going to shift, it will happen because teachers decide to re-think their mission and the parameters of their work, not because lawmakers adopt the Common Core or devise teacher evaluation systems largely based on standardized testing, in hopes of getting federal money. The moment for genuine teacher leadership may indeed be now, although not in the way Arne Duncan thinks. Let's step up.


The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land 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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