Learning how to build and maintain productive profes- sional

Learning how to build and maintain productive profes- sional relationships with the people in one’s care is no simple matter, yet many assume that this is a natural rather than learned capacity. Someone can be described as “good with people” or a “people person,” but being “good with people” in purely social interactions is not … Continue reading “Learning how to build and maintain productive profes- sional”

Learning how to build and maintain productive profes- sional relationships with the people in one’s care is no simple matter, yet many assume that this is a natural rather than learned capacity. Someone can be described as “good with people” or a “people person,” but being “good with people” in purely social interactions is not the same as cultivating relationships in a professional role. The apparently natural aspects of the professional work—evident in the frequent observation that teach- ers are born, not made—creates [sic] additional challenges for professional education.

Despite the common view of good teaching as something that is mostly

Despite the common view of good teaching as something that is mostly learned through experience, our argument rests on a con- ception of teaching as unnatural work (Jackson, 1986; Murray, 1989). Because it is, we argue, not natural, carefully designed learning is necessary. The notion that teaching is unnatural is difficult to grasp because of the ubiquity of teaching activity: In fact, as Cohen (in press) argues, most people teach. Parents teach children, friends and coworkers show one another how to do things, and many kinds of professionals provide information, demonstrations, and advice. Teaching, defined as helping others learn to do particular things, is an everyday activity in which many people engage regularly. Professional classroom teaching, on the other hand, is specialized work that is distinct from infor- mal, commonplace showing, telling, or helping (Cohen, in press).

The problem of delineating the specialized, professional version of otherwise commonplace activities is not unique to teaching. In their analysis of the teaching of practice across professions, Grossman and her colleagues (2009) write,

practice. It means unpacking and specifying practice in detail and

practice. It means unpacking and specifying practice in detail and designing professional education that will offer novices multiple opportunities to practice the work and to fine-tune their skills.

We begin with a brief analysis of the nature of teaching work and of what we argue are its unnatural and intricate qualities. We then draw on the work of several other analysts to sketch the basic components of the practice-focused cur- riculum for learning teaching that we argue could contribute directly to improved instructional capacity among teachers. Finally, we discuss both the challenges of centering teacher education on practice and the resources available for the work, including the history of microteaching and competency- based teacher education in the United States and the progress that researchers have made to identify content knowledge for teaching and to draw on professional education in other fields to inform teacher preparation.

Attempts to improve teacher education in this country have tended to

Attempts to improve teacher education in this country have tended to intervene on the structure of the enterprise: lengthening teacher education or creating alternate routes, for example. We argue that the curriculum of professional training should be the first object of teacher educators’ atten- tion and that this curriculum must focus squarely on practice, with an eye to what teaching requires and how professional training can make a demonstrable difference—over sheer expe- rience and common sense—in the quality of instructional practice. This means a comprehensive overhaul of the instructional goals that we set for those who seek to enter the teaching profession and of our approach to preparing novices. Whereas many beginners learn to teach on the job, with either mini- mal or misfocused and underspecified opportunities to learn practice, the task of professional education is to prepare people for the specialized work of teaching, improving sig- nificantly on what can be learned through experience alone. Doing this effectively in teaching requires dealing squarely with the both unnatural and intricate nature of instructional

Training—a term embraced with ease in other professions— is in fact

Training—a term embraced with ease in other professions— is in fact fully worthy of the intricate demands of teaching. Taking it seriously suggests ideas that might help us to build the teaching force that our schools require. Our challenge is not that we need just a few competent teachers but that we must prepare a consistently skilled workforce larger than any other in this country. We need a reliable system that can begin with ordinary people willing to learn the practice of teaching and actually equip them to do the work effectively. The intri- cacy of this work demands a disciplined approach to preparing teachers and a determined rejection of approaches that permit a good general education, reflective field experiences, or unstruc- tured mentoring to suffice as professional training.

close supervision and with detailed coaching aimed at foster- ing improvement.

 

Writing almost 30 years ago, B. Othanel Smith (1980a) urged his colleagues to embrace a similar conception of teacher education, arguing that “we prefer ‘training’ to ‘education’ for the simple reason that it designates the kind of education required for professional competence” (p. 6). Today, the word training is in disfavor because it seems to connote mindless and atomized repetition and, hence, to “deskill” the professional work of teaching. The low esteem in which the idea is held, however, stems from a pale underinterpretation of the term. Training refers to “discipline and instruction directed to the development of powers or formation of character; education, rearing, bringing up; systematic instruction and exercise in some art, profession, or occupation, with a view to proficiency in it” (Oxford English Dictionary, n.d.). No one balks at “medi- cal training” or blinks when disciplinary scholars—from historians to mathematicians—refer to the skills, habits of mind, and ways of asking and answering questions that they developed through their “training.” Far from reducing practice in these realms to mind- less routines, this kind of “systematic instruction and exercise” defers to the highly skilled nature of professional practice.

By “work of teaching,” we mean the core tasks that teach- ers must

By “work of teaching,” we mean the core tasks that teach- ers must execute to help pupils learn. These include activities carried on both inside and beyond the classroom, such as leading a discussion of solutions to a mathematics problem, probing students’ answers, reviewing material for a science test, listening to and assessing students’ oral reading, explain- ing an interpretation of a poem, talking with parents, evaluating students’ papers, planning, and creating and maintaining an orderly and supportive environment for learning. The work of teaching includes broad cultural competence and rela- tional sensitivity, communication skills, and the combination of rigor and imagination fundamental to effective practice. Skillful teaching requires appropriately using and integrating specific moves and activities in particular cases and con- texts, based on knowledge and understanding of one’s pupils and on the application of professional judgment. This inte- gration also depends on opportunities to practice and to measure one’s performance against exemplars. Performing these activities effectively is intricate work. Professional training should be designed to help teachers learn to enact these tasks skillfully. Such training would involve seeing examples of each task, learning to dissect and analyze the work, watching demonstrations, and then practicing under

Improving educational outcomes in the United States is a challenging

Improving educational outcomes in the United States is a challenging problem, one that preoccupies contemporary reformers and critics alike. With a system of schooling that has never delivered high quality education to all students, policy makers and educational leaders are calling for more complex and ambitious goals to prepare youth for the demands of the 21st century. Visions of better schooling include innovative uses of technology, a much greater emphasis on collaborative work, integrated and problem- based curricula, and higher expectations for students. Too often minimized is what such changes imply for the interac- tive work of teaching and learning. And, given that there are almost 4 million teachers in the United States, preparing teachers to meet these demands is a massive undertaking. Nonetheless, improvements in student learning depend on substantial, large-scale changes in how we prepare and sup- port teachers.

Agreement is widespread that teachers are key to student learning, and efforts to improve teacher quality have prolif- erated. Most initiatives, however, have focused on teacher recruitment and retention and on developing new pathways to teaching. In this article, we argue that such initiatives are insufficient without fundamental renovations to the curricu- lum of professional education for teachers, wherever and through whatever pathway it occurs. We claim that practice must be at the core of teachers’ preparation and that this entails close and detailed attention to the work of teaching and the development of ways to train people to do that work effectively, with direct attention to fostering equitably the educational opportunities for which schools are responsible.

In this article, the authors argue for making practice the core of teachers’

In this article, the authors argue for making practice the core of teachers’ professional preparation.They set the argument for teaching practice against the contemporary backdrop of a teacher education curriculum that is often centered not on the tasks and activities of teaching but on beliefs and knowledge, on orientations and commitments, and a policy environment preoccupied with recruitment and retention. The authors caution that the bias against detailed professional training that often pervades common views of teaching as idiosyncratic and independently creative impedes the improvement of teachers’ preparation for the work of teaching.They offer examples of what might be involved in teaching practice and conclude with a discussion of challenges of and resources for the enterprise.

Bringing together the many dimensions that contribute to educational quality

Bringing together the many dimensions that contribute to educational quality — learners, environment, content, process, and outcomes — is a difficult task. It requires knowledge, resources, commitment and willingness to change. Chile’s programme for quality improvement in primary schools and the Nueva Escuela Unitaria of Guatemala represent just two of the many efforts seeking to improve the quality of education in the developing world. These efforts must continue and expand if children’s right to quality education is to be ensured and fulfilled.