July 16, 2008


Here's a nice juxtaposition from Teacher's Magazine's Blogboard on playing the teacher card*.

First we have Ryan's statement from I Thought A Think:

I think it can be universally accepted that teaching requires a certain skill set to transmit information to the students and get them to retain it. There's a science to teaching, and there's an art to teaching. I don't think it's out of line to suggest that if you haven't practiced the craft then you don't really have an authentic understanding of what's involved.

And then we have a comment from one of those teachers, Haley:

I agree with Ryan’s thinking in that it does take one to teach to fully understand the detailed process. Most people do not realize all of the details that are put into teaching and how every one of those details play a critical role in the learning process. For instance, in order to cater to all students’ needs, it is essential to incorporate different teaching styles to meet the varying learning styles students possess. It is imperative that teachers create lessons that are developed to meet the needs and interest levels of all students. I bet a lot of people did not even realize that there are different teaching and learning styles.

Moving right along.

*Playing the teacher card means claiming that teachers have some special knowledge with respect to education policy and should be deferred to.


ms-teacher said...

It's not that I think we need to be "deferred" to on educational policy, but it sure would be nice to have a place at the table.

Tracy W said...

Ms-teacher - what would a "place at the table" look like?

Anonymous said...

The "teacher card" argument applies to every job: "You can't understand the intricacies of doing [my job] well until you've practiced the craft."

KDeRosa said...

I agree. I made a similar point over at Ryan's blog:

As a lawyer I have special expertise in preparing cases for trial. If I were to opine on the minutiae of trial prep and a laymen were to challenge me, I would not rely on my status as an expert. Rather I would explain why I thought I was right and he was Wrong.

ShortWoman said...

I am not a professional football player. Yet, I know what a touchdown is, and I know a fumble when I see one. I know "That must hurt" when somebody gets tackled.

I am not a professional teacher, yet I am smart enough to step back and say "Method X works better than Method Y for most students, regardless of 'learning style' or skill of instructor," or "Johnny doesn't seem to really get multiplication yet, so maybe he shouldn't begin division." The latter is of course a huge problem if you are trying to teach more than about 3 students at the same time.

I think some of us layfolk have a problem when teachers won't explain their opinions about the "art" of teaching, won't justify the "science" of teaching, and instead fall back on "you aren't a teacher, so how can you know?" Well trust me, any of us who are parents have had to do some teaching. We know about capturing attention and rewarding success. We have learned the hard way the things that do and don't work. And frankly, if most of us heard there was a magic pill to cram stuff into our kids' heads, we would gratefully purchase them in bulk. We are not pros, but frankly some people with licenses aren't either.

Ryan said...

It's a good dialogue, Ken; thanks for picking up on my original post as well.

To play with shortwoman's analogy a bit, the fundamentals of football should be understandable to pretty much anyone. It's the intricacies of the game that are harder; knowing what a wing-T or cover 2 are, for example.

In teaching that same sword can also cut both ways. I have parents complain about the math timing program ("He's just not a fast kid!"), and while they know their child best I have certain computation standards that all the kids should be able to get to, and that's why we have the timings. Similarly I've had requests for curriculum turned down (Reading Mastery) because even though I could provide research from here to eternity on why it worked it didn't look exactly like what the person in charge thought reading instruction should be.

In some respects teaching is a cynical endeavour, particularly towards expressions of "You should do it this way, because it works." Far too often that "It works!" is based off of research that's either flawed or anecdotal.

When the teacher says no to a reasonable request, though, the observer is right to be frustrated.

Brett said...

@shortwoman In some ways your comments are spot on but in others they represent a perspective about teaching that can be most frustrating.

We all tend to project our own learning experiences as well as our teaching experiences with our own kids into a teaching setting. One of my biggest frustrations as a teacher has occurred when I meet with a parent who says this works for my kid why can't you do it this way. The problem is I can't script a learning experience in an infinite number of ways. This where your comment about the added challenges that occur when teaching more than 3 children at a time. The art or science of teaching increases in complexity when the size of the audience increases, there are simply more variables (i.e. students) in the equation.

That said as teachers we certainly could and should respond more as you and Ken had indicated, we need to help those who question understand what "art" or "science" principle is driving our decision-making. Understanding is what we are (or should be) all after in these situations I believe, and the answer of "You're not a teacher you wouldn't understand" certainly doesn't accomplish increased understanding. So where does the fault lie here, in both places. The teacher who doesn't help a parent to understand and, often times, the parent who is only seeking to be understood. Unfortunately, this same tragedy often gets replicated with greater consequences in the political arena.

ms-teacher said...

To answer your question, Tracy W, I will provide an example.

Two summers ago, I, along with a few of my colleagues, attended the big DI conference in Eugene, OR. The reason we were to attend this meeting was to implement the DI program, REACH, for students who were 2 to 3 years below grade level.

I came away from this conference with profound knowledge of how a good DI program should work, especially when working with the particular population of kids that I teach, namely low SES, highly diverse, high number of single parent households, etc.

Not one administrator, either at our school site, or the District attended this conference.

The particular program we were to implement calls for small class sizes. This is based on the extensive scientific research that has shown that smaller class sizes are the most effective. This is because part of my job as a teacher is to listen to the students read and immediately make corrections in decoding so that the student doesn't continue to make the same mistake and thus, never becomes a proficient reader.

After two years of implementing this program, I can unequivocally say that it has failed. However, it isn't the program, really, that failed, it was the implementation of that program.

Administrators were unwilling to follow the guidelines as set forth in the program. Administrators were unwilling to listen to teachers, like myself who attended this program, that if we were serious about getting these kids on grade level, then we would do was has been scientifically proven to be effective.

Furthermore, many REACH classes became dumping grounds for students who were behavioral issues for other teachers. I had one student that was given to me for a three hour block because no one else could effectively deal with him. His test scores showed that he didn't belong in my class and when I questioned my administrator about his placement, I was told that it was because of my good classroom management skills. His disruptive behavior, while I was able to manage it, still dampened my effectiveness to teach those kids who were struggling readers and many of whom wanted to learn how to read.

Guess what class I am no longer willing to teach? Teachers are routinely left out of decision making at school sites and to be quite frank, I have stopped trying to be a part of my leadership team.

Tracy W said...

Thanks ms-teacher for asking my question.

So that I can check my understanding of what you have written, can I try to summarise in my own words, and you tell me if I'm right or wrong?

By a "place at the table" you mean that school administrators take teachers' feedback about implementation seriously?

I am forming a hypothesis that the major problems with schools is that school administrators get no inescapable feedback about how the school is performing. By "inescapable" I mean feedback that no one with five functioning senses can ignore, eg if you drive a car off the road you get inescapable feedback that you are no longer on the road. If your company is spending more money than it has then eventually you are going to get inescapable feedback when the bank refuses to extend credit. School administrators lack that, the good ones seek out feedback and act on it, but it seems very easy for administrators to avoid it. Your example here seems to match my hypothesis, but I am aware I may be biased by my favourite theory.

ms-teacher said...

Tracy W - you hit the proverbial nail on the head, but even more importantly, I think that many of us would just like to be heard. Programs are implemented all the time by those who are not in the classroom on a daily basis. Good programs (DI for instance) come with guidelines that have been researched to be effective. School district spend millions implementing programs, but then try to make it fit into their criteria. Then when the program fails, guess who is blamed?

I can say that DI has unequivocally failed in my district. I still believe in DI because of the research behind it. Yet, I will not teach REACH because of my frustrations with my District. However, that does not mean I'm abandoning DI. I make a very concerted effort in my lesson planning to implement DI in every lesson that I teach.