Monday, July 5, 2010

I Couldn't Do Anything Else, So I Became a Teacher

Education, in the largest sense is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character, or physical ability of an individual. In its technical sense, education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills, and values from one generation to another.

Proper education could solve so many vexing problems in society. The simple fact that learning the proper information can benefit life and make it worthwhile is often lost to the receptor of knowledge. Teachers teach; legislators change educational directions; students ride the roller-coaster of educational fad; and, sadly, the educational "wheel" is reinvented each time some prescriptive research supports limited change. The business of education has become "keeping up" with State policies and reaching quantitative numbers to keep budgets afloat and schools at appropriate levels of educational standards. Schools are turning into markets of students.


I contend that every effective teacher I have ever had in class or worked alongside in school became a teacher with individual philosophies and talents often loosely related to those of the State in which he/she taught. And, these great teachers each used individual methods to find their maximum effectiveness. No teachers were actually working "on the teaching assembly line" with strict production outcomes. The State's efforts to make automaton, effective instructors with brilliant research and similar goals and personalities has failed rather miserably. Honestly, I often wondered how poor teachers (those who somehow didn't find their niche) kept their jobs.

Ask yourself, "What do I remember most about the best teachers I have had?" I bet your answers will defy the efforts to categorize them as a university product or as a philosophical follower of research. And, don't misinterpret my meaning. So called "touchy-feely" or "buddy confidant" types may have fostered some guidance but added little knowledge, the reason for their paychecks. In other words, strong teachers found necessay inner and outer resources to perfect their skills and their methods. They had the ability to reach out into the aisles and teach.

According to Ardra L. Cole ("Impediments to Reflective Practice: Toward a New Agenda For Research on Teaching," Teachers and Teaching, Volume 3, March 1997),  working conditions imposed by schools and school systems, the profession, government, and the public at large have taken their toll on teachers. Teachers experience great anxiety, fear, loneliness, meaninglessness, helplessness, and hostility in response to such imposed structures.

Cole suggests that researchers of teaching need to shift their attention away from how teachers think about their work, or that they need to, to consider how it might be made possible for them to do so. Many teachers, now, hate their work due to certain conditions.

The veteran instructors know no magic research exists that solves problems in practice. Their method of dealing with students in the classroom is largely "trial and error" and based on effective communication and mutual teacher-student respect in their initial years. The successful teachers survive while many others either self destruct or merely face non-renewal. But, seldom does the big dog of administration eliminate the teacher contract without gross neglect of duties by the teacher. This part of the the "risk" is understood and often union-backed.

Research for Research's Sake

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. (The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them, 1996) contends, "To those who must make decisions, it is disconcerting that so much educational data have produced so little usable information. ... In a field beset with ideology and politics, it is not surprising that good science is in short supply. But regardless of one's faith in markets or, alternatively, in state regulation, we still need reliable information, which means that we need really good science, not the impostor that now calls itself 'research' in the field of education."

Hirsch believes inadequate theories and slogans, long dominant in our schools of education, lie behind the current inability of our schools to raise the language abilities of students. The dominant ed-school idea that a preset, "one size fits all" curriculum is in conflict with "child centered" education has ensured that no coherent, grade-by-grade buildup of knowledge is offered in our elementary schools. ("How Schools Fail Democracy," The Chronicle Review, September 28 2009)


To shift the discussion of education to the community and to the problems faced by citizens in a community of under-educated or under-informed members, I believe it is necessary to allow many people from different walks of life and different levels of education to teach all about proposed solutions to their struggles.

To limit a community to imposed standards can restrict freedom and severely damage critical learning opportunities. Open meetings and open lines of expression create new information that flows through new ears. To ignore pleas, to "live above" others, and to shut off those with foreign talents is ignorant and detrimental to the process. But, to close one's ears to good and informative information is to remain helplessly victimized by self denial.

"When the grand pooh-bah PhDs of education stand up and blow, they speak with great confidence about theories of teaching, and considering the test results, the bums ought to be thrown out." -- Garrison Keillor 

1 comment:

Carla Kepp Spradlin said...

Mr. Thompson, you were a great teacher. You kept us grounded, but kept interested, too. You taught the students with the books, not by the books.. You made it fun to learn. If you achieve nothing else in this world, know that you made some good impressions on a lot of students and change our worlds. Thank you.