Monday, September 5, 2011

Finland, Teachers and the Common Core

Joanne quotes A case against standards
by P. L. Thomas (originally posted in The Answer Sheet, WaPo)
Since we often choose to demonize U.S. education by international comparison, I suggest we consider the attitude toward the professionalism of teachers in Finland from Henna Virkkunen, Finland’s minister of education:

“Teachers in Finland can choose their own teaching methods and materials. They are experts of their own work, and they test their own pupils.
Hold on to your horses, PL., you're mixing apples and orange Volkswagens.

Teachers in the United States can take four years of college drinking, masquerading as a student of history, attend a 6 week TFA summer course, and be considered the Savior of the Universe -- and some even become decent first-year teachers. Or you can take a couple education classes, student teach with a "master teacher" who ignores you for a couple months and be certified. You can fail out of every other major in college and slide down the slippery slope to elementary education - at which point, you can get As. Or you can participate in Troops to Teachers, which assumes that military training and the ability to order people around is an automatic guarantee of the ability to teach.

None of these methods is a guaranteed loser - some sergeants are really good at teaching twelve-year-olds, some elementary ed students came from the top of their class, and some TFAs last more than a year and really can teach.

The problem is that most of these teachers think of themselves as great but are the last people you want to be "autonomous" and they're certainly not masters of their own work. (NSFS - Not Safe for Sanity)

Finnish teachers, on the other hand, come through a highly selective process, spend years as a teacher-in-training under the direct observation of a master teacher, and generally are all from the top tier of graduating college students. They are all using roughly the same methods because they've been through a lot more training than US teachers and seen what works.

Many US teachers do get to toss cards in the air and arbitrarily decide that they'll teach in a constructivist style with no books and little direction or lecture. Finnish teachers, by and large, stick to what we denigrate as "traditional" methods. Any that deviate from those "traditional" methods have been around for a long time, actually are masters of their own field, and can be trusted to test their students.

US teachers are under tremendous pressure to raise grades on tests (to the extent of 25% pay raise or cut, in some places) and are constantly being second-guessed by everyone and anyone while Finns are not. This over-whelming desire to improve and change means that US teachers are constantly swinging between great and lousy at the whims of the most recent fad.

Fad or Innovation? Wait until your pet innovation fails because the students don't like the "inverted" classroom because of the extra work. (Just to pick one current idea out of the fad-hat.) See how long you are able to continue.

Ideas fail with students all the time but might work with a different group or a different teacher.  Just because ThinkThankThunk can pull off a non-traditional format doesn't mean that everyone else can. Similarly, dy/dan has great ideas, most well worth stealing, but you can't just blindly copy a few WCYDWTs and hope it's a course - there is the other 90% of one of his algebra courses still out there and the always pesky issue of making his curriculum fit your kids instead of his. Robert Talbot successfully "inverted" his college classroom but had mixed reviews for linear algebra and loved it for programming.
K-12 teachers and teacher educators must be afforded the autonomy of professionals--not further bureaucracy and invalid accountability.
Autonomy? Not until you've proven yourself. I don't trust the first-year teacher and I certainly don't trust those who've already demonstrated their incompetence. "Professional" doesn't apply to everyone.

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