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Teaching is a Skilled Position

Steven Pearlstein writes about the digital revolution in math education and it’s implications for the future of education in the US (via Matt Yglesias):

If education moves to a teaching model in which students learn through online tutorials, exercises and evaluations created by a handful of the best educators in the world, then how many teachers will we need preparing lesson plans and delivering lectures and grading quizzes and tests? Surely we’ll need some for one-on-one tutoring, or to run small group discussions, or teach things that can’t or shouldn’t be taught online. Despite assurances to the contrary, however, there’s likely to be fewer than we have now — fewer but better-paid with more interesting jobs — just as has happened in nearly every other industry that has gone through a similar transformation.

As a social studies teacher, I find this very alarming.  Maybe this could work in math classes, but I doubt you would get as many people wanting to teach.  Part of the reason why, is that teachers don’t want to teach scripts or be tutors. They want to be teachers! Teaching is a skilled job.  This virtual revolution would be just another recent step in the de-skilling of teachers. This type of teaching would make teachers nothing more than, “low-level employees or civil servants whose main function is to implements reforms decided by experts in the upper levels of state and educational bureaucracies.” (Education Still Under Siege by Arnowitz and Giroux p. 33).  I didn’t become a teacher and study study education and pedagogy so that a bureaucrat, who knows nothing about my students, my classroom, or my school, can tell me what and how to teach. Good teaching is personal and contextualized and should be student centered.

For social studies education (which I teach), I believe this would result in even more explicit indoctrination of students which I refuse to do.  I will teach critically thinking skills, but I will not teach students how to be patriotic because that is for them to decide and not for me to dictate to them.

Technology is great, but it will be a sad day when people think it can eliminate teachers.  (I think back to the online classes I took in college and those were a joke.) Maybe it’s self preservation, but I’d like to think I bring more to a classroom than a tutor could.

In the same vien as this, Matt Yglesias and I decided on Twitter that we should cut war spending and eliminate poverty to improve education or something like that.  This should be our first goal in education reform: eliminating poverty, Paul Thomas:

Focusing on tests, schools and teachers allows political discourse to keep our attention distracted from the social failures reflected in our schools, not caused by our schools.

Poverty is the main issue in education and our society, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look to improve other facets of education: like our teachers.

Yglesias and I also decided would also pay teachers more and justify it by having our teacher education programs being more selective like medical schools.  I just finished up my masters of education and so I have some ideas on teacher education programs.  First, I think that teacher education programs are important, especially when they are done right. I wrote about how student teaching is an important part of it. It’s important to get time in a classroom and is part of the reasons why I question TFA’s practices (And because it’s a stepping stone for most, not a career). Dana Goldstein’s recent piece also highlights another thing that education programs should be doing:

Finnish teacher-education programs also include significant course work in pedagogy—exactly the sort of instruction former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein recently called useless. All teacher candidates must write a research-based master’s dissertation on an issue in education policy or teaching practice, and will then spend a full-year as a student teacher reporting to an experienced mentor.

Teachers should study education thoroughly.  I became a better teacher during my research and writing my masters paper and through my student teaching experience.  I was able to implement my praxis in the classroom.  Many teachers (at least in the undergraduate program at my school) just parrot a lot of what they are seeing around them and don’t think about reasons why and implications to what and how they are teaching.

Most schools want their teachers to start on the masters right after they get hired, anyways.  Why not have them study for their masters before they become teachers in the first place?  There is a couple of reasons why I like this idea.  One of the reasons why is that some people have defended bad teachers with this reasoning: This is their livelihood.  They trained to be teachers. Ok, I understand this, but there are bad teachers who need to get out of teaching. (Nothing pisses a good teacher off more than seeing a bad teacher, I guarantee you that) Therefore, I would propose that all potential future teachers should get an undergraduate degree in a content area and then go for their masters in education.  This way if teaching doesn’t pan out for said person, then they would have their undergraduate degree to fall back on for other employment.  Granted, one problem would be cost. Two more years of school and living expenses. To solve this, we should subsidize graduate degrees for our teachers.  Our future program would be more selective (my education program only needed a 2.85 gpa in content area). This way we should feel ok about investing in future teachers by paying for their masters degrees and give them a living stipend because we are attracting high quality talent. Education should be seen as a natural resource not a burden or expense.  The other benefit of this would be that we could more easily justify higher initial salaries (E.D. Kain) for teachers.

We would demand more out of the future teacher corps and we would reward them for their hard work to educate future generations. But I tell you what these highly qualified teachers are not going to do, which is sit by and watch youtube education videos and then act as tutors to students. They are going to want to plan and implement their own lessons.  That is the essence of teaching. And that takes skills.

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