Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Teaching: Between the Idea and the Reality Falls the Shadow (NYT)

The link at the bottom of this post will take you to the NY Times article (registration required).

Excerpts: "Today, education schools face pressure to improve from all directions. A flurry of new studies challenges their ideological bias and low admissions standards. Critics now question their very existence, with competition from fast-track routes to certification threatening their long-held monopoly on training teachers. The soul-searching has accelerated with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which demands a "highly qualified" teacher - state certified, with a bachelor's degree and proven knowledge of subject - in every classroom by the end of this coming school year. "

Diane Ravitch:"There is a disconnect of professors of education just not being capable of equipping future teachers with the practicalities to be successful."

From a summary of Steiner and Roizen's review of School of Education curricula: "they found little effort to present opposing schools of thought. The general posture of education schools, they concluded, was countercultural, instilling mistrust of the system that teachers work in. Among the texts most often assigned were Jonathan Kozol's "Savage Inequalities," an indictment of schooling in poor urban neighborhoods, and writings by Paulo Freire, who advocates education to achieve political liberation."

On how the Education Schools could be changed: "There is consensus that apprenticeship along the lines of medical school - students learn the science of medicine in the classroom, then practice it in a hospital, supervised by faculty doctors - is a better model than traditional student teaching, which is often done for a semester or less and is loosely supervised, if at all, by university faculty."

The NYT article seems to have struck a chord. The story seems to be racing around the Internet. But beyond the harsh indictments are some important considerations about the future of teacher education.

The analogy between teaching teachers and teaching doctors is a good one. Teaching, like medicine is what Aristotle referred to as a 'practical art'. One cannot teach or practice medicine on theory alone. Wisdom in teaching as well as medicine depends on personal sensitivity, an intuition for what is important, a rich fund of knowledge, and an ability to know what to do and then to do it.

Teaching is very hard work. Diverse learners in a single classroom may run the gamut from lacking fundamental skills of reading, writing, or mathematics, to advanced kids whose encyclopedic minds that are bursting with facts. Each has very different needs, and both have the potential for getting into troubles if they aren't met. It's a bit simplistic taking sides on whether factual learning should be emphasized -some may need to spend more time on basics, while others should be challenged with higher-order and interdisciplinary thinking.

One thing is for sure- student teachers would benefit from learning from in-class mentors. There's a bit gap between the lesson plan and child in front of you. With all the advances in brain biology and our understanding of learning and learning differences, we also see a future where effective teaching is as diagnostic (and for this mentoring would be very valuable) as it is didactic. Math teachers in a school where 89% of kids are failing to meet standard, need practical information about specific patterns of learning 'blocks', and comfort with a variety of teaching styles so that they help students learn in a way that builds on what they can do. For this type of 'hands-on' teaching, nothing beats in-class learning and the close mentorship of a wise and insightful senior teacher.

Who Needs Education Schools? - NYT

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