Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What makes a good teacher education?

In the past month the New York Times had an article with the theme of "do we need education courses for our teachers?" The article went on to suggest that perhaps just having people who had completed their college education and had a strong major in any subject would probably be better teachers in the long run having the passion for their subject major. Interesting thought. W do have a lot of unemployed folks right now that completed their undergraduate degree and have a major in some area. Sports medicine, women's studies, political science, creative writing--there are a number of majors that might lighten up the curriculum of a school. The problem is that because the state pays the money to the school districts they get to make the rules of what is to be taught. Not all these majors fit the curriculum. And educational reformers love to say that if they were in charge ALL teachers would teach their major. Sounds like we have some round pegs being fitted into square holes. Things don't just fit easily.

But let's advance the tape a bit. In a more recent follow up article in the New York Times, a number of people wrote in to comment on their thesis. And many of them supported the idea of not requiring education courses stating that they had not learned a thing in these courses. All they needed was time as a student teacher. Several of the writers were positive that the education professors had not been inside a school in years. One writer said that he had taken a number of educational courses and had learned "nothing that he had not already known." Another writer mentioned that he took the courses while maintaining a full time summer job, did not read the text and still got an "A" in the course.

To be sure my heart sunk reading the negative comments about educational courses. I've heard it before but it still hurts. Am I and my colleagues that out of touch with the world of education? I don't really think so. I've spent much time lately pondering where the truth lies. To be fair the New York Times is an east coast newspaper and many of those who responded were from east coast schools. Perhaps I am not as aware of the school situations back in the northeast. My big city school experiences have been in Portland (Oregon), Seattle (Washington) and Vancouver (British Columbia). But many of the respondents to the article of whether we need education courses were fairly vehement against. These were apparently experience teachers too. To be fair there were a number of respondents who said that teachers needed a knowledge of curriculum, an understanding of child growth and development and an understanding of educational theory. I suppose the question really is--how much and when does a teacher to be need this knowledge. The old question again.... "Which knowledge is of most worth?" Plato asked that question many centuries ago....

There seems to be a missed assumption somewhere in all this writing. I sensed that several of the negative writers went to class and said "teach me something--I'm waiting." I'm concerned about the one who didn't read the textbook and still got an "A". Might there have been some kennel of knowledge in the book? And then, when do we know when we have learned...something..anything.

As I said I have pondered and puzzled over how college instructors, particularly, educational professors teach. I had one professor during my doctoral days that never told me a thing. It was a course on "Creativity." I had to take it even though it was not part of my major area. He had us read, create, present, look, and on and on but he never told us anything. We had to come to our own conclusions and findings. It was amazing....about thirty five intelligent people all coming to different endings in the course and feeling like they had learned so much. More strangely, I have reached back into that course many times to look at the creativity of grade school students and to understand what they were trying to tell me. I even visited the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and spent a wonderful day exploring my understanding of creativity. And the professor never told me a thing. Amazing.

I had another professor who I thought was the worst teacher I had even come across. He was terrible. Absolutely the worst. He was in Psychology and believed in the Skinnerarian school of thought of stimulus/response. For every stimulus there is a response. He was a difficult lecturer--he was hard to hear and he basically read from his notes. But here is the kicker--his tests were truly stimulus/response tests. One hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty sentences with a word removed. For example: "For every stimulus there is a correct _______. The correct answer for this professor was "response." I tried to get out of the class but my major professor, the one who advised me, said I had to take it. I was unhappy. So I spent my time in class mentally arguing with this guy. At one point I was sure I had him. He said in class that if you cannot see it you cannot measure it, therefore it doesn't exist. HA! I had him. And I asked in class, "what about God? Can you see God? Can you measure it? I really was pleased with myself. However the professor just said, "No that is something entirely different" and went on. I was upset. I did get though the course and I probably learned more Psychology by mentally arguing with the professor the entire time. To this day, I think he was wrong on so many things. And he really put me off when he dismissed my question on how to measure God.

However, several quarters later I was taking a course on Philosophy from a professor I really admired. He had the class discussing ideas and concepts, then pointing out our differnces and similarities. It was a wonderful course--I was in heaven. But there was a time when I just didn't grasp a philosophical concept of duelism. Didn' make sense to me. dawned on me that that phycology professor was a duelist. Human behavior over here and Religion and Faith over there. And the two would never meet. I finally understood. The wonderment of it all.

My main point here is that learners probably shouldn't come to class and say, "Teach Me." There is a responsibility of the learner to make some effort. Maybe if the professor doesn't meet your standards, try to understand why. Is it the fault of the teacher or the fault of the learner. And sometimes the learning becomes clear many year later.

I also had a professor in School Administration. Now this guy was a poor lecturer. He had been a principal and a superintendent and knew state law forward and backwards. But he still was a terrible lecturer. Terrible. But we graduate student quickly found out that if you stopped Professor Higbee in the halls and asked him a question he was a fountain head of information that was valuable. Many of us even when taking other courses would stop him on his way to his office and ask for advice. He was outstanding. I suppose that sometimes it is the responsibility of the one wanting to learn to figure out how to get the information out of the one who knows.

I have several more examples of interesting instructors. And no, I'm not patting myself on the back for outstanding learning--rather I feel strongly that at times experienced teachers who take a college course need to take some responsibility as to what they learn. And if you don't read the book don't blame the instructor for not making you read it.

I have a philosophical saying that I like. I may have already mentioned it here in this series of blogs. "There is no nobility in being superior to anyone else. True nobility is when you have been superior to who you were yesterday."

I suspect all of us have had teachers that were not to our liking but I suspect we all have learned something from each of them. I'd like to thank a number of teachers for what they did for me.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Les,
    Now the question is how to get good and qualified teachers? Are there any education and training programs for molding out the teaching ability in an individual?

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    Have a nice day.