Educating Educators

Imagine a room of about thirty students. At the front the instructor drones on about a topic only tangentially related to the listeners’ everyday lives. But this isn’t a high school English class. No, it is a professional development seminar, and the students, in this case, are teachers.

General consensus has it that teachers aren’t nearly as good as they should be. I’ve talked about this myself in a few of my posts but people rarely speak of impeding teacher quality, lackluster (at best) teacher professional development.

Where’s the backup?

Nothing is probably more crushing to new teachers than stepping in front of a class and suddenly realizing their carefully honed lesson planning strategies they were taught amount to nothing a live class.  This realization prevents many teachers from continuing past their first or second year.

Teachers need support, and in many cases the only effort their management offers to help them are massive, low-cost motivational speakers who give practically meaningless advice. In fact, professional development sessions are a  convenient time for teachers to schedule an “illness” or appointments which they can’t possibly miss. At least one instructor says he would kill for a class on differentiated instruction in his content area, which sounds like a pretty straight forward idea, but very, VERY few schools actually have that level of instruction for their teachers.

We are failing to teach our teachers, and are failing our students in doing so. I’ve run into teachers who have methods that range from “if it ain’t in the book I ain’t teaching it,” to methodically planned out lessons that they use every year. Very rarely do I hear of a teacher working to improve their craft, and those who do often move on to teach new teachers who are promptly abandoned once they make contact with an actual classroom.

What is this strange feeling?

There is some hope. Richard A. Ingersoll’s recent research shows that increasing support for new teachers, which he calls Induction, increases test scores and teacher retention.  He presents this information in a typically unengaging manner (I don’t blame you if you don’t listen to the whole thing.)  Similarly, the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) system educates a small group of teachers in methods specific to their field, which they in turn test at their own school. It sounds like common sense, and it has shown some success, but this is the first time it is really being talked about.

It is pathetic that we heap insults on our teachers without addressing where we have been failing them, not unlike how we treat our public school system these days. (I don’t suppose that there is a connection). However I am glad to see that meager, halting, incredibly slow progress is being made to better prep our teachers to do confront that challenge of a live classroom.

Donny got a BA in English, which he thought meant badass, but then he got to the real world. Now he realizes it means bitter academic. Donny did a stint in grad school with a focus on education, which made him angry enough to start writing columns. While education is still his main focus, Donny now wants to apply his academic rigor to other mundane activities.