17 September, 2010

Education & Schools of Education

In The Chronicle of Higher Education this week, Richard Vedder wonders, "Should We Abolish Colleges of Education?" I encourage you to read the whole piece (it's very short). Among other recommendations Vedder has is this, that "State governments should consider defunding students in colleges of education, requiring future teachers to major in an academic subject, etc."

Advice easily transferrable to the colleges and universities of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America. The rationale for teacher education, that is, for paedagogical education, is insufficient. How does it help to underprepare future teachers in academic subjects (mathematics, geography, literature, etc.?) in order to overprepare them for the moment when they first open their mouth in front of a class of first graders? Anecdotally, each and every year I have grown as a teacher--by experience. This is largely due to the fact that I entered the profession without a preconception about what a "good teacher" looked like, about what he or she did. And I quickly found out that teaching is like politics: the politician identifies what he or she wants, and gets there by any means possible. That's what teaching is like. It's a constant, tacit renegotiation on the part of the teacher with the students. The goal is always the same, but it's never met in the same way. It certainly fits nothing like a text-book version. But the point is this: nothing prepares you for life on Capitol Hill like, well, life on Capitol Hill. In the same way, nothing prepares you for teaching like teaching.

But nothing un-prepares you for teaching like having nothing to teach. An interesting study recently showed that students taught by novices (TAs) did, generally, as well as those taught by veterans (profs)--in the class in question. But the subsequent progress of the same group of students was tracked. Those taught by the profs went on to do better in courses later in the sequence than those taught by TAs. What does this mean? It means that content matters, and that a teacher's mastery of the content up and down the curriculum matters. What is salient in Calc I? What do students really need to be able to do and know in intermediate Greek to make it in advanced Greek? What bases must be built in in "Survey of American History" for subsequent courses in the Great Depression and the Civil War, etc.?

At the grade school level: what does a kid really need to know, really need to be able to do, to perform well later on in Geometry and Trig? The answer of the survey I mentioned above is that it requires, on the part of the teachers, depth of knowledge in academic subjects.

This, indeed, was and remains the Wittenberg way. Certainly the Reformers, both educational and theological, cared about pedagogy. But it was, for them, a guild craft, something gained in the shop (the school classroom), not in the classroom (the university classroom). The latter was for content.

What might Melanchthon's or Winsheim's or Dietrich's or...Luther's recommendation be today for the Evangelical Lutheran Church's parochial school teacher preparation? Perhaps we could tweak Vedder just a bit and say, "Synods and synodical colleges and parishes should consider defunding students in colleges of education, requiring future teachers to major in an academic subject, etc."


[Pictured above: Das Melanchthonhaus Wittenberg, where Melanchthon, in addition to his rigorous teaching schedule at the University and prolific publication activity, ran a school. Content mattered.]


cornelia said...

"An interesting study recently showed that students taught by novices (TAs) did, generally, as well as those taught by veterans (profs)--in the class in question."

Were the SAT scores of the students in both groups controlled? If the students taught by TAs had lower average scores and those taught by profs had higher average scores, then student aptitude was not controlled.

I doubt the problem is with the teacher education programs. According to the college board data tables, students with the intended major of education had the following average SAT scores:
Reading 478 Math 483 Writing 475.

Those scores are below the means:
Reading 501 Math 515 Writing 493.

And even below the female means:
Reading 498 Math 499 Writing 499.


Steve Gehrke said...

I see some parallels with schools of management. Does someone become a good manager by studying management theory, or by the experience of managing something? Originally, the MBA program was designed for experienced managers to refine their skills, and only later were MBA programs opened to novices, with schools selling the idea that one can be trained to be a generic manager. That idea, along with the idea that someone who has been successful in managing one type of organization will necessarily be successful in another area has been questioned. A solid understanding of and passion for the area seem to be more important. A classic example are the different results produced at Apple by Steve Jobs and John Sculley.

I had a good experience with professors of education critiquing my lectures and classroom performance after I'd been teaching for some years. Maybe a formal course on teaching may have made me a better professor with less trial and error before I first walked into the classroom. But I think passion for the subject is the first requirement of successful teaching, not mastery of the method. Nonetheless, in engineering we have found it very difficult to bring someone with extensive experience and mastery of an area and just drop them into the classroom. These courses often go poorly. But maybe that's because they aren't given an adequate chance to develop their teaching skills.

I don't teach the same way in each course, nor do I find that I teach different classes the same way - each class has its own personality. As Jon states, there is a "constant renegotiation" that goes on in classroom teaching. I don't know how that can be taught - every effective teacher does it differently. This is why I'm not a big believer in online education. Sure, it can be effective to some degree, and it might even be cost-effective to deliver an adequate education (in sense of learning material, not an integrated RenMus education), but can't replace actual interaction between the teacher and student.

theMom said...

A somewhat simplistic example is found in the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The example of how much Laura and her classmate had to know for the exhibition the school kids gave for the community was staggering. Two girls of I think thirteen years of age, had to recite in great detail the entirety of American history up to that time. It was split into and earlier and later section and each girl had to be responsible for one chunk. They not only had to memorize it, but had to prepare their own recitation based upon the learning they had accumulated.

In order to teach, Laura had to show mastery of content only. Not any sort of inclination or skill for the mechanics of teaching.

This second point is probably somewhat tangential, but it fits together in my mind. It drives me nuts that the teachers at my kids' local schools are having to constantly arrange and re-order the coursework/syllabus based upon the new and constantly revamped state standards.

Isn't it preferable to teach American history or physical science, for instance, or even the more primary subjects, in some cohesive and all-inclusive manner rather than teaching bits and pieces based upon what's on the mandated tests? The entire elementary and highschool curriculum has become like a "How to Take the GRE" course, but for state standards tests. If the kids have a proper grasp of the subject matter and the materials presented, they will do fine on the tests, won't they?

Joe Abrahamson said...

Tangentially relevant but fun:

τοὺς δὲ Ἀκαδημαϊκοὺς ἔλεγον ἐθέλειν μὲν ἐλθεῖν, ἐπέχειν δὲ ἔτι καὶ διασκέπτεσθαι· μηδὲ γὰρ αὐτὸ τοῦτό πω καταλαμβάνειν, εἰ καὶ νῆσός τις τοιαύτη ἐστίν. ἄλλως τε τὴν ἐπὶ τοῦ ῾Ραδαμάνθυος, οἶμαι, κρίσιν ἐδεδοίκεσαν, ἅτε καὶ τὸ κριτήριον αὐτοὶ ἀνῃρηκότες. πολλοὺς δὲ αὐτῶν ἔφασκον ὁρμηθέντας ἀκολουθεῖν τοῖς ἀφικνουμένοις ὑπὸ νωθείας ἀπολείπεσθαι μὴ καταλαμβάνοντας καὶ ἀναστρέφειν ἐκ μέσης τῆς ὁδοῦ.

Jon Bruss said...

Too funny, Joe. And yes, as you point out, tangentially related.

Per email someone said, "Not ALL teacher/pedagogical training is bad, is it?" To which I responded, "Of course not." Renaissance and Reformational Humanism actually paid attention to how children learn and wanted to use enticements to learning rather than switches and rulers and rapped knuckles. Wittenberg also had, in the Philosophical Faculty, ONE COURSE for Pädagogium--so that graduated bachelors and masters would have some basic ideas in mind when they went off to their gymnasia and Lateinschulen. But it was one course. The rest was learned by doing and observing. Of course, many ultimately failed. The difference was that when they failed, they left the profession and used their liberal arts education in other professions--they didn't stick around just because they were trained paedagogues and could not see any other avenue for their career. Perhaps if more "academikoi" could have a chat with Rhadamanthus, things would be different today! In the Renaissance, you could meet your Rhadamanthus [judgment on failure] on any given morning!

theMom said...

I don't know whether this says anything important or not, in the big scheme of things...but I feel like a, uh, pigeon, yeah, a pigeon in the henhouse. I sit here describing Little House books trying to pretend like I know something and my husband spouts off some Greek thing that elicits a response about Lateinschulen and Rhadamanths, et al. Not that I suffer from a sense of inferiority or anything, but, well, sometimes it's a bit intimidating to be married to such a brainiac, and henceforth immersed in his world of academia.

Joe Abrahamson said...

ὡς ἐν ἄλλῳ κόσμῳ