Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In Defense of Professional Educators

A long time ago in a faraway land I went to a very fine undergraduate school that, though small, was known for its education department.  In addition to several methods courses I was required to take in each of my subject content areas, I also took a large schedule of professional education courses.  Foundations of Education introduced us to philosophers and major schools of thought that have influenced and continue to influence education today.  Education Psychology instructed us about work in psychology that could apply to education, instruction, and developmental levels/issues students may have.  Classroom Management, Reading in the Content Areas, Education of Exceptional and Diverse Students, and finally Curriculum and Instruction rounded out the requirements along with gradually more involved observation and teaching experiences in real classrooms.  I cannot even begin to jot down and catalogue all the information from those courses that I use every single time I plan a lesson or teach.  Much of it became habit over the years.  Sometimes I still dig out one of those textbooks to refer to or check my memory of concepts.

When I went to graduate school, very few pedagogical courses were offered in my program:  one for teachers of literature and one for teachers of composition.  I believe there were a few for English as Foreign Language instructors, but I was never able to fit those in because they were outside my program.  Okay, the composition courses I took were outside of my program, but I was already able to see that a literature professor would also be teaching a great deal of composition.  I felt that I should've taken a more in-depth course on students with special needs, but that too, being housed in another college, was an impossibility to arrange.  Coming from an English Education background, I did not see writing and literature as separate as did most of the people where I now found myself.  In fact, at least one of my professors openly scoffed at education majors, and as I got to know more people in my program--people who intended to teach--I was surprised how few of them had never taken any education courses, nor did they plan to take the few offered to us.  It seems that by virtue of taking higher level literature courses, all would be magically endowed with the properties of teaching and learning.  Anyone All But Dissertation must just know how to impart this knowledge they had gathered.

I disagree.  Teachers don't just happen.  Teachers are made.  Certainly some people have a knack, an inborn talent and drive to teach, but there are those who can be made stronger by learning about the art and science of teaching.  I'm tired of hearing educators in American continually run down by the media, and heck, just anyone who has a mouth.  Students are failing.  Blame teachers.  Never think to blame the unfair distribution of funding or the relentless gauntlet of useless tests teachers are forced to direct curriculum towards in order to keep administrators off their backs.  Lazy, overpaid teachers?  Just hire Teach for America folks.  Pittsburgh is attempting to do just that right now, despite having a large pool of qualified teaching candidates being turned out by the multitude of local colleges and universities.  Wouldn't local graduates be more invested in local students instead of people brought in for two years, then let go?  Since when did the PROFESSION of teaching cease to be recognized and become something that anyone can do?  Why is the public school teacher, who takes classes about the profession seen as less than the university professor?  I think that we've come to a sticky place in American education.  Either we value ALL teachers and the craft of teaching, or anyone can do it and it isn't worth more than the meager salaries most of us make.

If you're reading this and you never took one professional education course, yet you teach well, I applaud you.  I don't want to take anything from that accomplishment.  However, I do not want to hear any denigration of the ones who do take that route, because I am not here for that anymore.  Education courses are not useless.  Professionally trained teachers are not the nationwide scapegoats for education.  Are there bad teachers? Sure, just as there are bad mechanics, bad managers, bad singers, bad of everything.  Should programs change to reflect new developments in technology, pedagogy, and science? Certainly, and the best ones work to do so by staying up to date on the latest research.  Teaching is not a stagnant profession, but a vital and growing one of which I am still proud to be a part.

So have a nice holiday, all my American teachers, who likely at least have part of the week off this week.  A special thank you to all the Native American teachers.  Every day we should be thankful for this planet and its gifts.  We should be more than aware of this and we have not followed your example.
To my worldwide audience who may be winding up their terms, I wish you a delightful holiday between semesters.

Thank you all for reading my thoughts.  You'll never know how much that has helped me during this insane, two-school term that is nearly done.

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