Monday, October 18, 2010

Teachers "Too" important? Seriously?

I recently read the following on The Answer Sheet, a Washington Post Education Blog. It was from noted UVA Psychologist Daniel Willingham. "Teacher Quality is the most important in-school factor that influences kids’ schooling. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing." Now this guy is way smarter than me and no doubt in some ways I trust him more than I trust myself, cause come on... I mean he studies the brain. But that last part struck me. Not a good thing...what does he mean?

I often think a teacher can't "make" a student learn anything. This fits with the view of one of the first great teachers, Socrates, and also with my times in the classroom when I felt less than successful. Teachers motivate, support, guide, nourish, redirect, comfort and inform. I would not dare suggest though that teachers are "too" important(after all I am one). Of course they are too important...just as parents, family and experience are too important. I guess the only time teachers get really noticed by those who don't have direct contact with them is when they are doing a poor job. That is where too much of the focus can go. I personally think it is the non-teachers that are too important to the classroom(that comment requires a bit of interpretation).

"Any teacher who can be replaced by a computer, deserves to be"...this hangs on my wall and helps remind me that I need to do more than just instruct. When teachers do a wonderful job they deserve commendation and recognition. But to see that teacher's approach as "the way" is a perilous path indeed; a simplistic and maybe outsider view of what teaching really is and always will be about, the interaction between student, teacher and what is to be learned. I think Willingham was stating that curriculum maybe helps avoid the pitfalls of bad teaching. He also acknowledges the unintended effect this has on some of the best teachers.

These are lessons hard to remember in our data driven society. In our compulsory public schools kids are still kids and need good, no, great teachers around to help them out. Too many of our young people just don't see schooling as a priority and sometimes great teachers can change that (sadly only some of the time). I only have a BA and frankly wasn't that good of a teacher starting out, but I now feel I have become a very good teacher despite the lack of higher degrees and training. I continue to grow but it is hard to look too far forward since the only real way a teacher can become more important is to leave the classroom for an office. Something I consciously choose not to do.

Let's keep teaching on a human scale and not lose sight of the power of relationships within the research. Let's allow schools to generate ideas for reform from within rather than dictate what they must do and stifle their creativity and flexibility. If you're not sure whether Teacher Quality should be the most important thing in a kids might be looking at the classroom from the outside. Socrates might tell you something like this..."Who should guide and shape the minds of the young?" Giving them the questions (the curriculum) is only one part of the process. This must also be accompanied by the moral example set by the teacher for the student to observe. It was perhaps the personal influence of Socrates that made Plato so successful.

No comments:

Post a Comment