Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Really Matters in Teaching & Learning - Some Thoughts

The article I have previously mentioned from The New York Times a few weeks ago is quite similar to an article that was recently published in The Atlantic Monthly. This particular article focused on the person who is in charge of teacher selection for Teach for America. Teach for America (TFA) evidently has compiled lots of information on what makes a great teacher and how to tell. The final step of the TFA selection process is a 5-minute lesson. Interestingly enough, I applied for TFA as a senior in college in 2004 and was rejected (on account of already going into the teaching profession and getting certified).

In both articles, there seems to be this sense that someone has it all figured out. The key to unlocking student learning and discourse has been found, according to these cases. I do not think they do at all, in fact. I do agree that there are small things that can make a positive difference how things work out in a classroom. Regardless, I think both articles really did not say much about student learning, which is a much more complex affair. Also, the examples in both articles did not strike me as example of extraordinary teaching, the type of teaching that puts the learners in charge, thinking hard, working together, and enjoying themselves. Hmmmmmmm............

To me, the articles focus more on the individual teacher working in the isolated classroom, with the ultimate goal of making his or her students do better than most of the other students in the school based on test scores. Neither article said much about the context surrounding teachers, as if the school and the community do not matter much (I guess, in many schools, ideas about bother really are not developed and put into action. Routine and rules do the thinking, sadly).

Here's another take on the article. A student teacher I know in DC is working in a small charter school with middle school students and a very dynamic, student-centered teacher. The student teacher created centers where students work independently for at least half of a block period. She has caught on quite well on how to manage a very complex classroom structure, and the students respond very positively to her. She's doing a fine job. There are times when she could use her materials to get more thinking out of the students by changing her questions and changing the types of work she's assigning the students. 

This teacher claims she had read The New York Times article. She and her student teacher were watching a piece of video tape together. Basically, she was having students read, and she would ask some questions along the way. The student teacher saw the same sort of shallow questioning and rushing over material that I had seen before. As they were talking about the tape, she said that she had read the NYT article and had tried a new strategy based on what she had read. She was cold calling on students to read, as suggested by the article, which made every student follow along better because they did not know if she was going to call on them. 

Indeed, that might have been the case, but there is a difference between following along and understanding and enjoying and thinking new thoughts in any classroom. The student teacher was still seeing her mentor teacher rush over material for the sake of an assignment that required them to read and do too much in too short a time. The materials were good. Her assignment was fine. But what was happening in the moment on the tape with the students was not very good, if by good we mean that one could get excited by students' thinking. Isn't that what learning is all about?!

Both articles that I read seemed to miss this point. What do you think??

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