Sunday, January 2, 2011

What those first three years do for you.

Spencer has this list of things that all good teachers should be able to do without. He heads it with "How to Get Rid of Bad Teachers" but I think that needs to be qualified.

Some time ago, in his TED talk, Bill Gates opined that teachers don't improve after the first three years. He was saying, in effect, that test scores were the only thing that mattered and that brand-spanking new teachers improved their students' scores for three years only.

Okay, so Bill was wrong. (Is that sentence redundant?) What I think happens is that teachers grow into their jobs for the first three years. They start out by knowing very little and by making a ton of mistakes, teaching badly and inefficiently, and using methodologies that were just learned in education school - methodologies that don't work with actual students or anyone who isn't an education school guinea pig. Whew!

It takes about three years for them to figure out some truth. Some snippets are picked up from trade magazines, some from the kids or parents, but most are from the more experienced faculty once the newbie has gotten over his misconceptions about the "Old Guy" and the OG's total rejection of Shiny New Pedagogical Thought. "Old Guy doesn't use learning styles!?! WTF!?!"

That's when he learns what education really is and what it entails.

Excepting with respect to the newbies, I'd like to comment on Spencer's list:
Take away the Teacher's Guides and if they claim that they are unable to teach, they are right. They can't. As long as you're at it, take away the standards and the curriculum maps. Any decent teacher should be able to know what is vital in his or her content area.
Teacher's Guides/answer books are a convenience, not a crutch. Real handy for the repetitive and annoying work of producing paperwork that your building requires. There is probably a set of lesson plans tailored to the standards - photocopy them for your anal-retentive principal to get him off your back. Then go teach the class. Copy the curriculum map and hand it in. Then consult it once a month to stay roughly where you want to be. Taking away the standards entirely seems good in theory but not so much in practice. There needs to be some kind of plan, some kind of guidelines so the teachers don't go off in random directions.  Some of the best programs in the country have been fairly tightly controlled - Escalante's, for example.
Take away the computers. Tell them that there's no electricity. Even if it's a computer class, there's still a lesson to be learned. If they can't teach without the gadgets, then they aren't teachers. They're technicians and they have no business in a classroom.
To make a point, yes. Everyone should be able to "wing it." A blackboard is a whiteboard is a smartboard. But to say that ALL classes could do this for more than a couple of days is denying the use of available tools. Saying "you COULD walk to school, it's only 4 miles" is different from making it a common occurrence. There are topics that make no sense without tech and topics that have been phased out because tech took over.  Like it or not, some things are gone.
Take away the School Discipline Program and have the administrators leave for a day. If they can't lead a class without the intervention of an administrator, they probably need to leave.
Maybe. Maybe not. It seems that all teachers have the need for capable administration at various times although I've never seen one who required help every day.In that rare case, this is a valid point.
Take away the grades and get rid of the homework. Toss out the token reward system and the points and the gold stars. If they claim that they can't motivate a class without these things then they're missing a big part of what it means to motivate.
Homework and grades aren't for motivation. They're for practice and measurement, respectively. The token reward system is often effective, especially for the younger grades. Just because I don't use gold stars doesn't mean it's bad practice.
Take away the classroom for a day and have the teacher lead a group of ten kids. Meet outside. I don't care where. A lake, a river, a mountain, a busy intersection of the city. If the teacher can't see how the subject connects to life and struggles to get a point across without a Word Wall or a chalkboard or a set of worksheets, then the teacher is missing the point of education.
Whatever. I was never big on "class outside" and I fail to see where this ability is all that important.  Many things don't translate outside real well.  To say that the teacher is missing the point of education if they can't move into some random mountain meadow and teach algebra ...