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.

When kids and parents and community members comment on a particularly gifted teacher, it's the ability to light a fire around learning, through passion and compassion, that they're identifying. In fact, when even the most punitive and pro-privatization legislator rhapsodizes about his extraordinary fourth grade teacher (and why such teachers are rare in "failing" schools), high test scores or rigorous teacher-evaluation standards are never mentioned.

What if there were another source for policy models--policy based on working toward equity, preserving what's good in our vast public school infrastructure? What kinds of policies--not reactions to misguided policies, but new ideas--would educators produce?

Our only possible ethical response to human suffering--cultural holocausts--is to try to take the sacrifices made in humanity's historical tragedies and make them sacred, through remembrance and honor. That's an enormously difficult thing to do, fraught with false equivalencies and cultural misappropriation. But is it wrong to try?

Is it possible to let satire, over-exaggeration and post-modern irony dull us to the fact that some things are always deeply, inherently immoral? Is it wrong to use historic, genocidal travesties or ruthless repressions as analogies for current events? Is it ever OK to pull out the Hitler card?

There's no such thing as a completely objective grade. Compiling, weighting and averaging numbers often leaves a good teacher with a grade that doesn't reflect what he understands about the child in question--what that child actually knows and can do.

We can do much better than "prepare" students for the next educational level. And--should we even be thinking about how to prepare students for an efficient (read: profitable) workplace? Is that our job as educators?

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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