Posts Tagged ‘teacher’
Yesterday I reflected on what I might do if I could change the way teachers are prepared. This is Part 2 of a few more scattered thoughts.
I think that every modern teacher needs some experience on Managing Expectations. These expectations are their own and those of their learners, the learners’ parents, and the teachers’ superiors. I think that teachers are sometimes blind-sided by unrealistic expectations from many quarters, so much so that some leave or remain unhappy because of them.
I also think that teachers need a strong dose of Valuing Values. I think most teachers join the profession for the right reasons, but they lose sight of what is important (the learners and learning) when grades and exams become the focus of schooling.
Valuing Values would be like the Group Endeavours in Service Learning (GESL) in NIE. It is an active reminder of who, why, and how we serve.
GESL is also a wonderful example of what I mean by an experience instead of a course. It actually straddles more than one university semester and causes disruptions in administrative thinking about what counts and how to count it.
Another critical experience is knowing the difference between Assessment and Evaluation. This would essentially be another name for assessment literacy. Teachers would not just learn about different ways of assessing and evaluating, but also when to use which strategy or tool.
For example, this experience would not just be about designing good multiple choice questions (MCQs). It would also be about deciding if MCQs are the right choice for assessment or if learners need to be assessed (given a number or letter grade) or also evaluated (given value or worth).
I think that preservice teachers also be taught How to Reflect. Here teachers learn how to create space to think, set aside time to reflect individually and collectively, and use different strategies to reflect.
I am not sure if this should be a core requirement or something like writing support. But I am leaning on the former because not everyone is naturally reflective.
While I might have described these elements of teacher preparation in the context of preservice teachers, it might be necessary to extend experiences like Managing Expectations into inservice learning. After all, it is only then that teachers learn to temper idealism with healthy dose of reality.
So these are just a few ideas that have floated in my mind over the last few years. I thought I should capture them in a net regardless of whether they were fully formed or not.
This is Part 1 of a list of experiences that I think preservice teachers (PSTs) should have.
The first core experience is Understanding Today’s Learner. This is not an excuse to rehash educational psychology, but to embed it and update it in today’s context.
For example, there is no point just rehashing social constructivism as a descriptive model of how people learn if there are no authentic examples to try out in class both as learners and as teachers. This theory should also be linked to and updated with social connectivism which takes into account how technology like social media enables nodes of learners to connect.
Another experience would be Preparing Learners for Their Future (Not Your Present or Past). This might be a combination of TPCK and learner management.
PSTs would learn how to integrate (not just use) ICT in academic subjects. They would also learn to facilitate more than they actually deliver content.
The ultimate aim of this experience would be to focus on the learner and learning, not the teacher and teaching. PSTs might face the hard fact that learners can learn without teachers. Teachers then learn how to reinvent themselves so that they are important to learners.
Yet another experience would be Teaching Our Learners to Be. This is discipline specific, but does not focus solely on academic content. The goal is to nurture learners who think creatively, critically, and independently in any field.
To get there a Science teacher might focus less on delivering content but on presenting problems and issues that a scientist would face. Doing this would require the learning of content, but it is not the content that comes first. The content is a means to a more meaningful end: Scientific thinking.
In that example, teachers learn how to get students to be scientists instead of learning about science.
Still another course would be Homework is Not a Given. This would be a flipped experience so that PSTs question the logic, purpose, and nature of homework. They would discover how irrelevant homework can be and how to leverage on it as a pin-point strategy instead of a blanket one.
What I have suggested so far might seem like courses, but they are not. A PST keeps an e-portfolio like a travel journal to document his or her experience. There is no right or wrong way to maintain the diary as long as the teacher can provide evidence of the attitude (values), aptitude (knowledge) and “act-itude” (skills).
More thoughts on reshaping teacher education tomorrow.
Apparently you can relight a candle by igniting the smoke of a recently extinguished candle.
If you were a science teacher and you learnt this “trick”, would you leverage on the wonderment this generates and make it a teachable moment? Or would you ask your learners to find out why? What else might you do?
What you do depends on many things, of course. If you are pressured by a packed curriculum and tests that dictate what to cover, then you might do neither.
What you might want to do reflects your teaching philosophy.
Leveraging on the teachable moment could be the mark of a creative and responsive teacher. But I think that an educator who gets his/her students to investigate why the candle smoke lights up a candle helps his/her students learn to think and act like scientists.
The first person focuses on teaching that hopefully leads to learning. The second focuses on the learner and learning. The first person might want students to learn ABOUT science. The other wants students to BE scientists.
It might have been William Butler Yeats who declared:
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
Which would you rather do? Which would you rather be? Which do our kids need more?
I could probably watch this TED Talk of Rita Pierson and find a different inspiration each time.
I liked the part where she mentioned twice in succession that, despite less than ideal circumstances, teachers teach anyway.
She could have meant teaching anyway (whatever the circumstances), any way (whatever worked), or both. We need teachers that do both.
Last week I reflected on the first world problem of deciding whether one was a teacher on an educator.
Judging from the hits this post received, it seems to have struck a nerve or tapped the pulse of teachers/educators.
I still think that it is important to make a distinction between a teacher and an educator as well as what each does. So I have consolidated some of my thoughts on the differences between the two.
- Everyone can teach. Few can educate.
- A teacher teaches; an educator reaches.
- A teacher typically focuses on curriculum and assessment. An educator focuses on development and evaluation.
- In the curricular race, a teacher perspires. In the journey of lifelong learning, an educator inspires. (An educator goes the extra mile.)
- A teacher works with content. An educator deals with people.
- Teaching is a job. Educating is a calling.
- Some teachers do this to earn. Educators do this to learn (about themselves, their learners, better ways to inspire, etc).
- A teacher might network locally. An educator is connected globally (and thinks and acts that way too).
Unlike the photo I used to represent the distinction and the dichotomy of my phrasing, I do not think that teaching and educating are mutually exclusive. Like the symbol, I think one blends into the other. But I do think that teachers need to aspire to be educators.
Sources of inspiration:
I follow @FiWoProblems (First World Problems) on Twitter because there are funny and often trivial 140-character-or-less truths about the modern world.
Recently I experienced my own first world problem and it reminded me of why I chose to be an educator instead of a teacher.
A standing fan in my dining room went into its death throes and I bought a replacement. Rather than throw the old one away, I thought I would be responsible and recycle it.
I offered it to a karang guni (“rag and bone”) man, but he rejected it and asked if I had a computer or television to recycle instead!
Karang guni men used to collect things like newspapers. A few still do. But there is a shift in behaviour that has followed the shift in values.
Only high-value items seem to be worth the time and effort of the collectors. The value of recycling has become less important than making a profit!
There already is a scary parallel shift in values in schooling. I am talking about the shift from the values of education to hot-housing kids to stay ahead and teaching to the test (and only the test).
I stopped being a classroom teacher at the end of 1998 so that I could become an educator. I am not saying that a teacher must leave a schooling system to be an educator. I am saying that you might get more time and space to learn to be an educator if you do.
I tried being as educator while I was a teacher by not just focusing on the curricular race, examinations, and grades. I used to expand the horizons of students by bringing them out on field trips, enriching their learning by using technology, and spending time talking about life.
After I left, a former student told me that a teacher who took over told my class that I had taught them the wrong things. If educating my students about the right things is teaching them the wrong things, then my conscience is clear.
Some folks do not care if there is a distinction between a teacher and educator. Some do not have the luxury of thinking this way.
I think that it is important to have a first world problem of deciding whether or not you are a teacher or an educator. There are deeper value systems under those labels that manifest themselves when you are teaching or educating.
On the lighter side of things, here are some other first world problems you might relate to…
I am retelling a short story that our Dean told at an exco meeting last Friday. The example is old-school, but the principle is timeless.
A man spotted two lumberjacks trying to cut a tree down with a saw. He noticed that they were putting a lot of effort into the task, but they were getting nowhere.
He also noticed that the blade was not sharp. The man pointed that out to the lumberjacks and suggested that they stop for a while to sharpen the blade.
The lumberjacks replied, “No, we cannot stop. We are too busy! We have to keep going with our job!”
What is the moral of the story? There is more than one.
One takeaway might be: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Better to be prepared than to simply react.
Another is that it is wiser to stop, reflect, and modify one’s practice instead of doing things the same old and ineffective way.
But those morals deal with the method or strategy. There are also newer tools that are more efficient and effective.
In the context of the story, each lumberjack could have used a chainsaw. The chainsaw is more efficient and powerful and it leads to more productive work.
But in addition to learning a new strategy, the lumberjacks would have to learn how to use a new tool.
Educators must stop, reflect, and learn how to use new tools and strategies.
If they stop long enough, teachers and lumberjacks might also wonder if their jobs are still relevant. Only then can they find ways to stay relevant.
After watching this video, I learnt that knowledge in the past was viewed and organized in a tree-like manner. Information and knowledge now is more like rhizomes, networks, or webs.
It might be tempting to conclude that generalists or modern Renaissance folks should fare better than specialists. Far more important is the mindset of being able to learn from, or to make connections with, seemingly disparate concepts.
For me, this is another difference between teachers and educators. Teachers are told that they must be good in their content areas. They must tend to their trees.
Educators, on the other hand, know that this is not good enough. They must network and develop like rhizomes or be a node in an intelligent and ever shifting collective.
Ask any teacher, student, administrator, or parent what makes a good teacher and you will rarely get the same set of responses.
The panel in the video below shared what they thought.
The first main speaker, Sir Michael Wilshaw, highlighted five traits of good teachers: Prepared, reflective, able to think on their feet, focused on learning, and resilient.
It was not the most engaging of videos and I got bored listening to the rest. Frankly, I prefer dry British wit to dry videos.
I think that the most important teacher trait is being reflective. If you are reflective, you think about what happened, how things might have gone better, and take steps to improve the next time round.
You might even reflect in advance. By this I mean playing out lessons in your head and thinking of contingencies. This is a sort of anticipatory reflection where you foresee issues, reflect on them, and prepare for them.