Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Raise Your Hand if You're a Teacher

A recent study conducted by researchers at Florida State University's Center for Reading Research evaluated the oral literacy of more than 800 pairs of racially and ethnically diverse twins in first and second grade classrooms across the state. The study was designed to determine "the importance of teacher quality as a specific school environmental influence on reading achievement."

The use of twins allowed researchers to eliminate such factors as genetics or home environment that might affect a student's academic growth, and to assess more accurately a teacher's influence on students' natural abilities. The study found that...

..."the magnitude of genetic variance associated with twins’ oral reading fluency increased as the quality of their teacher increased. In circumstances where the teachers are all excellent, the variability in student reading achievement may appear to be largely due to genetics. However, poor teaching impedes the ability of children to reach their potential."

In other words, students in classrooms with excellent teachers did better in reading than their twin siblings who had less accomplished teachers. And students with excellent teachers were more likely than students with less effective teachers to reach their full potential -- whatever their genetics determined that potential to be. So...the better the teacher, the better the teaching.

Raise your hand if you're surprised at those results. No one? I thought not. There are no surprises in this study for those of us who have ever taught in a classroom -- or had a child in school.

Raise your hand if you can't tell the difference between an excellent teacher and a teacher who's just taking up space at the front of the classroom. Do I see a hand there in the back? No? Sorry! Someone's just stretching. The fact is, excellent teachers just aren't that hard to spot, are they? We all know who they are.

Now, raise your hand if you're an excellent teacher. Don't be shy. Raise it high and keep it up there, and while it's up there, reach over and give yourself a pat on the back. You're making a difference -- and isn't that why you became a teacher in the first place?

May 3-7 is Teacher Appreciation Week. Take yourself out to lunch. You deserve it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Is Teaching a Profession or a Craft?

This morning, I received an invitation to the college graduation of the daughter of a friend. Melanie is a brilliant and bubbly girl with great enthusiasm for life. Her dream, for as long as I've known her, has been to study the relics of early civilizations, with an eye toward better appreciating modern culture. Melanie will graduate in May with a degree in anthropology.

In the last year or so, however, Melanie has fallen in love with a young man. And while her love for archaeological exploration has not diminished, the practicality of fieldwork now seems incompatible with the plans she's making for her future. So Melanie -- reluctantly and very regretfully -- has decided to put away her trowel and her brushes, and get a master's degree in elementary education instead. It is, she believes, the sensible choice.

I cannot tell you the number of young people I've known who've given up a vocational dream or -- lacking a dream -- given up the search for one, and "settled" for teaching. Teaching (like writing : ) apparently is one of those occupations that everyone thinks anyone can do -- or, at the very least, that everyone thinks anyone can learn to do. Most people -- although not, I think, most teachers -- probably would agree with Melanie that any reasonably intelligent person can learn to teach.

But are they right, I wonder? Is teaching a profession -- or is it a craft?

A profession, according to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.com, is a vocation requiring specialized knowledge and academic preparation; a craft is a vocation requiring specific knowledge and specialized skills. What does it take to be a good teacher? And does Melanie -- does everyone -- have what it takes?

If you're going to be a teacher, shouldn't teaching be your vocational dream?