Monday, November 15, 2010

Are We Teaching Our Teachers Well?

This week (November 14-20) is American Education Week. According to the NEA (National Education Association) web site, the week's theme, Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility, is a reminder that "all students deserve an education that will allow them to achieve and succeed," and that all "parents, community members, business leaders, elected officials, and students have a part to play in supporting great schools."

As a former teacher, and Education World's Professional Development Editor, my primary concern is always how we can support teachers in fulfilling that responsibility.

As an educator -- and a parent -- I've had lots of opportunities to observe lots of teachers in action. And I've come to the conclusion that the primary challenge teachers face in educating the students entrusted to their care is establishing and maintaining a classroom climate conducive to learning. I've always believed -- and so far have seen no reason to change my mind -- that a good teacher can, in fact, teach a pig to whistle. But a poor teacher -- no matter how brilliant or learned in the subject matter -- will teach very little to even the brightest students. And the difference between a good teacher and a poor teacher is, and always has been...a drumroll, please...the ability to manage a classroom.

Effective classroom management is a skill that, I believe, the very best teachers are born with. Those are the super teachers, the individuals who can walk into a classroom cold and immediately own it. Their students are always engaged and involved and well behaved; their students' parents are grateful and laudatory; their administrators are predictably relieved.

Most teachers, however, aren't that lucky. Most of us have to learn effective classroom management skills and, after we learn them, we have to follow the directions to Carnegie Hall...practice, practice, practice! Moreover, unlike musicians, most teachers arrive at their classroom doors with limited time in front of a classroom and limited opportunities to practice classsroom management. And we all know how hard it is to recover from an unprofessional performance in front of a classroom of professional students -- of almost any age!

You'll hear lots of reasons why new teachers leave the profession, but I believe the most significant reason is that no one has actually taught them how to teach.

This week, a national panel of education leaders, policymakers, education-school deans, and others will present a report calling for changes to teacher education in the United States. Reportedly, Transforming Teacher Education through Clinical Practice: A National Strategy to Prepare Effective Teachers, will recommend that schools of education revamp their existing programs to "prioritize clinical practice and partnerships with school districts" provide, one only hopes, significantly more opportunities for aspiring teachers to "practice, practice, practice" before ever opening the doors of their own classrooms. Let's hope they get it right..and that those who need to hear their report are paying attention. Because we have to get it right in this country very soon, and the only way to get it right is to do a better job of teaching our teachers to do a better job of teaching our kids.

By the way, if you're struggling with classroom management, Education World has lots of resources to help. Check out our Classroom Management 101 page, our Classroom Management Tips, or our brand new Classroom Management in a Minute feature. Or just search our site for Classroom Managment. We all need a little help sometimes.

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