Mix Three Dashes of Common Sense, A Splash of Respect, A Smidge of the Impossible and STAND BACK!

Warning: refresh your coffees. lattes, cocktails (Hey, who am I to judge?) now because it’s about to get heavy up in here.

I was catching up on my reading this morning, when I stumbled upon this little old commentary by a professor at Williams College. Natch, I was immediately drawn to the title What It Takes To Become a Good Teacher. Call me crazy, but words like this speak to me.

After reading the first few sentences, I was hooked. So much of it seems like common sense to me, but evidently it is more like rocket science for The Powers That Be who are frantically designing new teacher-proof curriculum and assessments and basically doing everything they can to leave teachers totally out of the equation. Listen to this. She writes, “…all those other modifications are for nothing, if we can’t put good teachers into our schools.” And I’m all BAM! IN YOUR FACE! (I’m not sure who I’m talking to, but these sort of statements tend to pump me up.)

Then she cites one of my personal faves Jerome Bruner, who wrote “…you can no more make a curriculum that’s teacher-proof than you can make a family that’s parent-proof.”

BOO-YAH! FACIAL SCRUB! RUB YOUR FACES IN THAT! (Again, not sure who I’m yelling at, but it sure feels good.) (Insert fist pumping here.)

The article continues with this gem, “Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher…” Um THANK YOU. I know I’ve said it many times before, and maybe it makes me unpopular with some, BUT (I will say it anyway) good intentions are not enough to make a good teacher. Honestly, I think it’s lovely that you want to help the children but if that’s all you’ve got or you think that’s enough, you can take your good intentions and go find a lovely place looking for volunteers. I’m sure they’d love to have you and thanks for stopping by.

The article also discusses all the “training” teachers need to become truly great. While I am totally on-board with the idea that becoming a good teacher is a process filled with a lifetime of learning and development, I don’t love the word “training.” (I mean, do we really need in invoke images of circus animals or house breaking a new puppy when speaking about our profession?) But I digress because I really enjoyed this commentary. The author lists a much more comprehensive look at the learning needs of the teacher: a knowledge of child development, an understanding of curriculum and how to make it come alive, an ability to make the tedious fun and relevant, the skill to handle difficult children and communicate effectively with parents, how to assess, how to use assessment results thoughtfully (Instead of just giving more assessments which seems to be the latest disturbing trend and one with which I have sadly had much experience.), and how to keep teaching well when “buried by bureaucracy” (and what she is afraid to say, the ability to soldier on when sometimes working with people who strike you as well, morons.)

“It is also vital that these student-teachers have a chance to develop their skills before they are put in charge of a tough group of kids in a school with problems” Um, hi, fast track teacher certification programs, I’m looking at YOU. What’s up? Not to be a total hater because on occasion truly wonderful people are discovered through your programs BUT if traditional certification routes are criticized for not providing enough hands on time in the classroom with a skilled mentor teacher, can someone please explain the thinking by speeding up the entire process? I’m not hating on those teachers AT ALL – I AM 100% ON THE SIDE OF ALL WONDERFUL HARD-WORKING TEACHERS NO MATTER HOW YOU GOT THERE – I’m just wondering if any of them felt ready for what they faced in their classrooms? I mean, isn’t there a better way to attract smart, motivated, dedicated people from other careers AND also prepare them to be at their best in the classroom?? And if we can all agree that the above mentioned list of knowledge and skills are essential to good teaching, why are we trying to cram this up people’s behinds in like six weeks?

And, while we’re being honest with each other, may I please address almost every preparation program everywhere? I’m just curious, what’s the obsession with teaching us nine billion different ways to organize a lesson plan or sort our manipulatives when really teaching is SO MUCH MORE than basic organization 101 (although I heart organizing) and a collection of discrete skills? I’m just saying…

Now I know the author’s idea that we need to provide free teacher education might be a little out there. I agree with the idea that “…one good teacher is worth ten good assessment tools,” but should I plant the money tree now, or wait until spring? Because we’re going to need a whole orchard here. I think what she’s saying is that our money is being poorly allocated to all sorts of scientific, teacher-proof curriculum when it could be used to fund better teacher prep programs which is true. Not sure how that is going to happen, but true.

So, snaps for talking about the breadth and depth of teaching with such respect, sister.

Just something for us to mull over while you enjoy the shit out of your three-day weekend. HOLLA!

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  • These 'crash courses' in teaching are the result of some in our society operating under the notion that teachers are basically over-paid babysitters.


    Thanks for the linky-links!

    January 17, 2010 at 7:56 pm
  • First, I laughed out loud at the "training" as circus animals or potty training a dog. My wife and I (in different schools) bark on the way to 'trainings'. Arf, arf. We are both highly respected teachers with Masters degrees…We shouldn't be made to feel like being taught how to turn on a piece of equipment is something we couldn't have figured out on our own.

    Second, I honestly believe that teaching is a calling. Either you are gifted or you are not. No amount of sitting in endless meetings will coerce you into being better…in fact, it might be just the opposite. Professional Development (or Painful Disaster, as I call it) has never made me a better teacher or person.

    The main problem from my 23 years in the classroom is that many of the NOT gifted people climb the ladder to be NOT gifted administrators. Since they have never understood what good teachers do, they continue to make poor and misguided decisions. YES, there are exceptions to this…there are gifted people in leadership positions, but they are rare.

    Speaking of poor choices…I will be enduring an entire DAY of Painful Disaster tomorrow instead of having the day off. How will we be wasting the time? Arf,arf.

    Thanks for your posts! They make me laugh and make me think…a great combination.

    January 17, 2010 at 8:12 pm
  • Great article! I think that new teachers should be teaching side-by-side with expert teachers for the first 2 years, rather than being expected to basically work for free for a year doing student teaching in 2 different classrooms. I don't know about other states, but California seems determined to drive people out of the teaching profession by burying them in paperwork in their training program and when they get into the classroom.

    Mainly I'm just tired of being slammed by the public as being lazy, stupid, and only in it for the union benefits and vacations. Bitter, party of one, your table is ready.

    January 17, 2010 at 8:24 pm
  • I also agree that teaching is a calling and have said so to many people, many times. My husband and I even have the argument that f we won the lottery he would quit work immediately and I don't feel that I could because teaching isn't my job, it's who I am. I love this article and all the ideas it explores. I think I may copy it and anonymously drop it in the staff room and quietly see what happens….

    January 17, 2010 at 9:20 pm
  • Thanks Mrs. Mimi – I don't always agree with you, but you always give me something to think about. In this case, though, I find myself in complete agreement.

    In my province, the two main universities go about teacher education in very different ways. The larger of the two has two years of education classes following two years of arts/sciences. The smaller has a direct entry B.Ed. program which puts education students into classrooms (briefly) from the get-go.

    My first experience as a teacher was in my first year of Education, and it was invaluable to me in helping me determine that, yes, this is really what I wanted to be doing. For others, it was equally invaluable in closing the door to education and directing their energies elsewhere. This is in the first semester of a four-year program.

    I cannot fathom how any teacher prep could be done in any manner in only 6 months, let alone 6 weeks. I am glad more people are motivated to get into the teaching field, but given the typical longevity of a TFA (fr'instance) teacher, I don't think the rushed training is doing them any favours.

    January 17, 2010 at 9:45 pm
  • You seriously brighten my day! Prepare to be blog stalked from here on out!

    You always have a funny way of addressing sometimes boring and touchy subjects!

    January 17, 2010 at 9:45 pm
  • So, Mrs. Mimi…when are you going to get into (gag) politics, where we really need you?! We've GOT to make some changes from the top!

    January 17, 2010 at 11:28 pm
  • Between an undergrad dual major (special/elementary ed), a masters, and getting high school certified, I've taken 5 methods of teaching classes. Um…. perhaps DOE missed the part where I learned how to TRANSFER KNOWLEDGE and that I can take what I learned about teaching elementary science and apply it to teaching secondary social studies…

    Um, yea, you grabbed my hand and led me to the Soap Box today.

    January 17, 2010 at 11:28 pm
  • I agree with KCL…They (some in our society) think all you have to do is "tell them" and they learn. Hence, Teach for America, and other quick pathways to teaching.

    The basic premise of the article is wrong, though. I firmly believe that we need good teachers, and schools can be improved, however, we also need the "outside world" to reduce the 25% of our children who live in poverty.

    It's left up to us to make up for it. Schools can help…but we can't do it all.

    Our society shows how much we value our children by the support the schools get, and by the health and well being of our future. It doesn't seem to me that we (as a society) value children very much.

    "Poverty is not an excuse. It's a condition, like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on this planet, and so does poverty. "

    โ€”Gerald Bracey

    January 17, 2010 at 11:28 pm
  • I really enjoyed this post! I am a career changer trying to get into teaching as an art teacher. I was initially going to do an alternative certification program because I didn't think I could quit my job to go back to school for my Masters in Teaching. (I have no educator training at all, just a Bachelors in Art Studio.) Then I got laid off several months ago and have decided since I'm not finding any other jobs I may as well go back to school! I'm relieved that I'll get some guidance and "training" and some experience before I'm tossed into a classroom. The alternative program would have required me to earn my certification while teaching. I was terrified of the thought of having to start teaching completely unprepared. I agree with all the points you made, and one of my biggest fears is that I'll be one of the bad teachers. ๐Ÿ™

    January 17, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    TJ – Glad I could make you laugh – sorry about your Monday. Arf?

    Lea – Your table IS ready and I'm sitting at it with you! Brilliant! I may have to borrow that line sometime!! Man, am I sick of that too.

    English Teacher – you have to let us know what happens if you do!

    Ginger Snaps – thanks for the props! (virtual high five here.)

    Ian H – Thanks for writing and thanks for your feedback. My prep program also had me in a wide number and variety of settings which is now invaluable. It just seems so common sense…

    Stu – (insert me clapping) I couldn't agree more. Schools are far too often the scape goat of larger social problems. And you're right, poverty is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles we face. But as far as this article is concerned, I think our education dollars are better spent preparing and supporting better teachers than they are in developing methods to control them. You are thoughtful and wonderful as always.

    Rach – welcome to the soap box! The view up here is nice, isn't it?

    The Pannells- I took a TON of policy classes. (gag) I thought that was where I wanted to go for a long time….who knows about the future…(cough)

    Surfie – best of luck! No doubt you will be fabulous!!!

    January 17, 2010 at 11:36 pm
  • Arf is what my wife and I say when we go into "training"..if they are going to treat us like dogs, we will bark like dogs ๐Ÿ˜‰

    January 18, 2010 at 12:04 am
  • you're hilarious! Great thoughts!

    January 18, 2010 at 1:59 am
  • you're hilarious. good thoughts!

    January 18, 2010 at 1:59 am
  • Oh boy, I could definitely have written this post. And also, I feel like all I do is assess anymore, not because I want to but because every day I am given a new assessment that I *have* to do! When do you want me to teach? Oh…and on the same point, I keep getting pulled out for "training"- yeah I'm trained enough, now can I teach please?

    January 18, 2010 at 2:55 am
  • I came through an alternate certification program, and I think you are very right that so many of us are not prepared AT ALL for the classroom. I have a master's degree in English, so at least I knew my subject forwards, backwards, inside and outside. And two of my courses were in child development and social behaviour, so at least I knew why students acted the way they did.

    But all of the USEFUL stuff, no one ever taught me. Like anything about classroom management. Or how to create materials (handouts, worksheets, tests) when you don't have those awesome programs that do them for you. Or…jeez, I can't even remember what I didn't know when I started. But I was blessed with many great models and even a good mentor or two. So now, six years later, I rock the classroom!

    To those who think "yeah I might like to try teaching": if you don't feel it in your heart that this is what you're meant to do, find another choice of career.

    January 18, 2010 at 5:23 pm
  • GREAT article! Why do people think teachers don't need to be smart, or that we aren't? (My 140 IQ gets really offended at that.) One of my biggest pet peeves is that saying, "Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach." Really? (Though I FIRMLY believe "Those who can't teach, administrate.") My sister is good at her job but sucks at showing new people how to use the computer programs. Teachers have to be smart to break things down so kids can understand, and also to relate what they're learning now to what they will need in future grades.

    I still say a great reality show would be to drop ten business people in a school and see how long they last. Maybe then we'd get the respect we deserve.

    January 20, 2010 at 8:18 pm

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