I got a comment on my previous post about IMPACT evaluations that I was going to respond to in the comments section but realized my response would probably be too long and decided to turn it into a post. In response to 'Attorney DC,' an anonymous commenter wrote the following:
"@Attorney DC -- w all due respect, you have a truly naive and inexperienced view of the working world in general. The principal-teacher relationship is part and parcel of managers-subordinates in just about any field. For example, anagers, very frequently, do not have visual contact with subordinates in many (the majority?) or organizations, pub and priv, today. (Secretaries are a weird example, btw, because that is one job that is definitely disappearing.)
The more you, and today's teachers, talk about the uniqueness of the teaching job, the more it sounds defensive and evasive. Again, I'd love to, and do, to a great extent, and indeed did as a student and active parent, try my darndest to put teachers on a pedestal. That refers to their importance. But teaching is one of the most common jobs there is, we all know something about teachers and teaching, and tho we can appreciate the challenge, it is just not all that unique if you analyze its skills and activities. It deserves respect, by all means, but not "protection" from mgt feedback, evaluation, getting fired, etc., because of its unique processes and skills, etc., because they are not unique."
Is the commenter right? Is teaching really something that we all know about? Does it only deserve respect because it's important?
I really don't know. There's a big part of me that wants to say it's highly specialized. This part of me thinks that because everything I thought excellent teaching was changed drastically after a few years doing it. I realized that many people made judgements about teachers and what they do without fully appreciating the complexities and subtleties of the job, as I suspect is true with just about an profession. I also think this, in part, because I've learned that teaching a classroom of students who all differ wildly in their exposure to the material and reading comprehension is a task that requires significant skill. I also tend to think that if this is not the case, then Wendy Kopp is more right than I admit: TFA really can do all the things they say they can.
But then I have experiences like the one I've had this week. I was awarded a grant to do a field study in China for the coming month with the Institute for East Asian Studies at Yale, which is devoted to increasing awareness of China's reality amongst seconday educators. So, for this week, I've been sitting in seminar after seminar in New Haven about China's ethnic minorities and the Silk Road. At the end of these seminars (the last one was today - I'm leaving for China in an hour), some of these teachers got up to present on effective pedagogical strategies for getting the content across to students. These teachers were all from suburban environments, and I was one of only there who'd taught in a public school. So the teachers got up and told us about books they'd assigned, presentations they made their students do, and simulations they had their students run. This all sounds great, but I noticed that their instructions on how to engage students went something like this:
"Here's a great book. Have your students read it. When they're done, they could make a poster showing what they learned."
"Here's a simulation I ran. The kids learned a lot. You should try it."
When questions were asked about standards or assessments the presenters seemed not to have a clue. I noticed nobody talked about building background knowledge or engaging learners who were behind the rest of the class. Nobody mentioned effecitve ways to group students for their particular activities or how to scaffold the book they wanted their kids to read. When one presenter was asked how they dealt with students with special needs, he replied, "That's not an issue." The same guy got a group of 30 parents to spend over $1000 to help him carry out his schoolwide simulation.
When I think of these teachers, I think maybe the anonymous commenter is right. Just about anyone could do what they do. It's not hard to tell your kids to read a book and make a poster. (I don't mean to downplay those teachers' accomplishments. They're committed educators who all have great reputations, otherwise Yale would not have given them money to go on a month-long trip of China. And their kids learn a ton, but I suspect it's largely because they know how to learn and are committed).
So I guess it might depend on the environment you teach in? Or maybe how seriously you take yourself? I guess I would agree with the commenter that lots of people can be teachers, and a lot do a mediocre job with it. But I think that if you asked a random professional (say a fireman or a lawyer or a doctor) to do what I do effectively with minimal training time, I really don't think they'd help the students learn much at all. I really do believe excellent teaching (especially in our most challenging environments) is a highly specialized skill that requires significant expertise in a number of areas (content, classroom management, personal skills, vast knowledge of effective learning strategies for a wide variety of learning styles). And I certainly don't mean to suggest I'm an expert at it.
Anyway, I'd like this conversation to continue. I appreciate those that comment on the issues rather than petty things (I'm starting to see why many bloggers use comment moderation). I think this conversation has very real implications for where this country goes with ed reform.
And on that note, I'll be out for a little while. As I mentioned above, I'll be leaving for China pretty soon, and if you know anything about the People's Republic, you know they're not the most friendly to bloggers (especially where we're going - in the region of the former state of Tibet). So please forgive me for my absense and have a great July.