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Archive for July, 2011

On your mark, get set, go!

There’s a “relay” going on to prepare teachers like “champions.”  A race to assure the teaching profession is practical, technical, and where teachers “can study Vygotsky later,” said Tayo Adeeko, a 24-year-old third-grade teacher at Empower Charter School in Crown Heights. She was referring to another education school staple — Lev Vygotsky, a Soviet theorist of cognitive development who died in 1934. “Right now,” she added, “my kids need to learn how to read.”

See Ed’s School Pedagogical Puzzle (New York Times, Sharon Otterman, July 21, 2011)

As a professor who has designed, studied, and enacted pedagogical applications of Vygotskian theory, I could easily argue that to teach reading effectively, you need to integrate theory with the practical “how to” which has been widely supported by literacy experts and practicing teachers.

But there’s something scarier than leaving a theoretical knowledge base out of teaching reading going on. What’s scary is that no one is scared about preparing teachers like skilled labor:

“Teacher U was founded by leaders from three prominent charter school chains — Achievement First, Uncommon Schools and KIPP — in part to provide a setting where their own teachers could receive master’s-level training that was tightly focused “on stuff that will help you be a better teacher on Monday,” said Brent Maddin, the program’s senior manager of teaching and learning, and Relay’s future provost. “

To make a crude analogy, if I am learning to become a blacksmith, I also don’t learn how to be a pipefitter,” Mr. Maddin said of Teacher U’s focus on pedagogical technique. “I also don’t read a ton of books about how to shoe a horse. What I do is I show up and shoe horses.”

We need innovation in teacher education preparation and with teachers and teacher educators studying how they can improve their teaching.  That’s my scholarship and practice.  I am a pragmatist and a researcher. I believe in creative ideas that challenge the status quo. But when prospective teachers are taught that there is “right” way and that is the way, (e.g., using a technique in which teachers learn to hold out until their students give them answers that are 100 percent accurate) that diminishes the role of teacher to a technocrat and not a professional who can adapt pedagogy based on a differentiation of students’ learning.

Teaching and teaching teachers is not like constructing a perfect puzzle or shoeing horses. High quality teaching entails a level of understanding dilemmas in practice and making contextualized decision-making like any other professional, and yes, even applying theoretical understandings into practice to improve students’ learning. It’s certainly not a relay.