Part I: Good lord, when did these fools become the supposed experts?

I have made promises to give warnings and disclaimers, so this will serve as both:

The following contains mild snark, intentionally made-up silly words, unfortunate metaphorical imagery, and somewhat balanced perspective born out of a drive to be more honest than ideological. Reader discretion is advised.

Part I: Good lord, when did these fools become the supposed experts?

So what are teachers responsible for? I’m a teacher, and have been asked that by people who themselves tweet, post, describe, posit and blog regarding what they have learned about teaching through their efforts to travel, talk and write. They visit schools, attend school reform celebrations, talk to some teachers and students, read articles about schools and teaching… Sometimes I’m communicating with those who have had a child in some school somewhere, at some point in time. They may have even gone to school at some point, or served on a school board or even committed to the obligatory two or three-year classroom stint that pads a resume, lends a pinch of street-cred and paves the way to non-profit edu-activism (and the right to banter about teaching and teachers at one of those reform celebrations). I don’t think they really wonder what teachers are responsible for, though-they think they have that one all figured out.

One time I was even asked “So what exactly are you as a teacher responsible for?” The “exactly” was thrown in as emphasis in an increasingly frustrated attempt to show that my suggesting other strongly correlated  influences on students’ academic achievement was me avoiding the issue of my own or other teachers’ incompetence and unwillingness to accept responsibility.  This same person went on to press me on “pedagogy”, enjoying the use of one of his new educational-istic words, but having no grasp on what it actually means in practice-when it needs to be present and accounted for in a real teacher’s toolbox. It could be he believed there was one standard approach to poor black students, and if I was unable to name that approach I publicly failed his pedagog-ery litmus test. Meanwhile, I was suggesting that every child is an individual and that part of pedagogy is the ability to flex and change educational strategies as needed and on the spot, based on the educational needs of the individual and not limited by skin color or social status. He was still more interested in swinging the “gotcha” stick than exploring an “each child is an individual” position and the broad brush accusations and no-win question strategy is one utilized by traditional school undermine-ers all the time. It isn’t a strategy they handle well when it is turned back on them, though.

But that’s for later. First: pedagogy.

An understanding of educational theory, approach, methods and practice…All this and more is part of pedagogy. True depth and understanding in these areas (the areas that help strengthen a pedagogical foundation) is reached when you have and are faced with the growing variety and severity of challenges students bring to the classroom on a daily basis. For me, personally, I had a typical liberal-arts path through undergrad, but loaded up on as much psychology as I could. I have always been fascinated by human development and especially how the mind works and how different people learn differently (as well as how behavior and behavior modifications can influence the process).  The well-funded campaign against traditional, democratically run community schools includes a strategy of avoiding and denying any of that messy stuff-at least when it comes to being respectful of the job teachers do.

No fools, though, the school choice being sold is intentionally limited-pedagogically speaking. It operates by filtering more involved parents and compliant students away from challenging mixed-ability classrooms. Homogenized into a setting where surprises, behaviors and distractions can be minimized-student test scores are more likely to increase because they are freed from the mix of challenges in the traditional education setting. I will never say that I don’t appreciate even one child who realizes better outcomes, regardless of the setting that inspires those outcomes, but let’s be honest about “choices” and who is doing the real heavy lifting. Not all students are capable of conforming to the ultra-strict behavior codes imposed in many choice schools, and not all parents wait teary eyed for a chance to be involved in either their child’s academic success, or to be the focus of a carefully directed camera shot in a dramatically scored scene…you know-while they wait for Superman.

Did I just “Guggenheim” that one a little…you know, take an issue and totally dramatize and blow it out of proportion to forward an agenda?

An approach to education born out of that type of planning, investment and careful production is led by those who actually understand a very particular type of pedagogy very well, don’t get me wrong. But you can’t compare carefully engineering your staff and your student body to meet a specific outcome that plays well in the press to that of the job that traditional school teachers do with non-engineered raw materials, restrictive regulations and limited resources. As time has passed, students have come to our nation’s traditional community schools with greater challenges-challenges that can disrupt their lives, their neighborhoods, their classrooms, and their paths forward in life. Promoters of charters and choices, in politics and in the private sector, don’t really care about all that-they simply want to sell a chance to those “Waiting for…” parents to separate their kids from the other ones who bring challenges into their kid’s classroom. Can’t blame them, really, and I have to wonder both how it feels as a parent to have metal detectors at the entrance to your child’s school-and also why reformers haven’t blamed that on teachers and their unions as well. Probably they have, and I missed it. By now some arrogant loud-mouthed clown must have said something along those lines.

Which reminds me: Chris Christie and Steve “Capital Prep” Perry. Like turds floating in the toilet bowl, school and teacher attackers, as well as the stuff they say, can capture your attention and curiosity for a moment. Why does that particular one rise to the top…basically defying its own nature to not just survive attempts to flush it away- but actually thrive and succeed? Others thankfully sink away from view, existing somewhere but not reminding us of the fact so much anymore- other than the stories you start telling three beers into a class reunion: “Hey…remember that time he said…!”

I had a long day of teaching, and have another coming tomorrow. Before I close out this “part one”, let me say part two or three will have some of my most humble admissions and thanks- to acknowledge: 1) the fact that we as a nation are in crisis mode when it comes to preparing children for this world and that 2) people who do anything to help any child at risk of falling through cracks or being left behind deserve to be recognized for it. If you save one child, even only one…you are more of a hero than most dare to or care to be. Even if I place you squarely in my dishonest, opportunistic @$!%# category, and even if you refuse to recognize the level of sacrifice made by others-you have helped. I’m not sure which part and when that mushy stuff will show…I write stream-of-consciousness style and am not a good planner. It’s the journey not the destination, you know.

Next, Part II  The Foundations of the Current Attack

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4 thoughts on “Part I: Good lord, when did these fools become the supposed experts?

  1. As I read the post I was thinking of the full time, year long residency I went through in a master teacher’s classroom to earn my teaching credential and something occurred to me.

    If you were going into combat to fight in a war, what level of training would you want to have

    1. Just grab your shotgun and without any military training, go right into combat.
    2. The Air Force has 6 and a half weeks of basic militarily training (BMT)
    3. The Coast Guard has 8 weeks of BMT
    4 The Navy has 8 weeks of Basic Training
    5. The army has 1 week of indoctrination and 9 weeks of basic training
    6. The Marine Corps has 12 weeks of Basic Training follows by infantry or combat training.. I served in the Marines.
    7. I have a friend who served in the Marines for four years and then he transferred to special forces (SF) where he went through more training. Like all soldiers, SF candidates begin their career with nine weeks of Boot Camp. Upon completion of Basic Combat Training you will attend Advanced Individual Training. For Special Forces, you will go to Infantry School to learn to use small arms, anti-armor, and weapons like howitzers and heavy mortars. Basic Combat Training lasts 9 weeks, AIT lasts four weeks, and Airborne last 3 weeks. All take place at Fort Benning, Georgia. Depending upon your MOS within Special Forces Training, the process of completing these schools can take 14-18 months.

    Now let’s look at teaching.

    1. Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Governor Cuomo and other fools and frauds for governors in other states, the Walton family, the Koch brothers, a flock of greedy hedge fund billionaires all want to be in charge of how our children are taught. None of them had any raining as teachers.None of them taught in a classroom, but they have all the answers. Since they are so smart and highly trained, let’s send them on a SF mission in Iraq or Afghanistan and see how they do.

    2. TFA recruits get a five week seminar during the summer and then start teaching without any classroom practice. This five weeks earns TFA recruits the distinction of being highly qualified.

    3. Generally, Teacher Education curricula can be broken down into four major areas:

    A>>> foundational knowledge in education-related aspects of philosophy of education, history of education, educational psychology, and sociology of education.

    B>>> skills in assessing student learning, supporting English Language learners,[dubious – discuss] using technology to improve teaching and learning, and supporting students with special needs.

    C>>> content-area and methods knowledge and skills—often also including ways of teaching and assessing a specific subject, in which case this area may overlap with the first (“foundational”) area. There is increasing debate about this aspect; because it is no longer possible to know in advance what kinds of knowledge and skill pupils will need when they enter adult life, it becomes harder to know what kinds of knowledge and skill teachers should have. Increasingly, emphasis is placed upon ‘transversal’ or ‘horizontal’ skills (such as ‘learning to learn’ or ‘social competences’, which cut across traditional subject boundaries, and therefore call into question traditional ways of designing the Teacher Education curriculum (and traditional school curricula and ways of working in the classroom).

    D>>>practice at classroom teaching or at some other form of educational practice—usually supervised and supported in some way, though not always. Practice can take the form of field observations, student teaching, or (U.S.) internship (See Supervised Field Experiences below).

    In addition to the course work, I went through a year long, full time internship supervised full time by a qualified master teacher. Did you know that I was never labeled highly qualified like a TFA recruit? In the world of teaching I think a full time internship with a mater teacher is equal to special forces training. But TFA recruits are highly qualified after 5 weeks of training and no practice in the classroom. Most TFA recruits tend to leave within two years or less and never teach again.

    But traditionally trained teachers who make a career out of teaching have continuous profession development designed to train them to become better teachers and it never ends until the day they retire. However, they are never considered by the Department of Education and other corporate reformers to be highly qualified like TFA recruits.

    Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is the process by which teachers (like other professionals) reflect upon their competencies, keep them up to date, and develop them further.
    The extent to which education authorities support this process varies, as does the effectiveness of the different approaches. A growing research base suggests that to be most effective, CPD activities should:

    be spread over time,
    be collaborative,
    use active learning,
    be delivered to groups of teachers,
    include periods of practice, coaching, and follow-up,
    promote reflective practice,[16]
    encourage experimentation, and
    respond to teachers’ needs.

    NOTE: CPD sounds exactly like what I went through for the thirty years I was a classroom teacher in the public schools

    I think its time to throw all the public education reform minded oligarchs and their TFA recruits into a combat zone with U.S. Marines and Special Forces troops and discover who is better qualified. After all, the military also has CPD that never ends but BIll Gates and the other billionaires and TFA doesn’t.

    1. True experience is being sacrificed in favor of mindless service and compliance. In education especially, where young future citizens can be empowered to become independent and TRULY critical thinkers: there are risks to those in power if we do it as it should be done.

      1. Risks to those who want to be on power. The oligarchs see themselves as the rightful rulers of the United States, but even the Founding Fathers didn’t set up a system of government to be totally ruled by a few dozen old while men and maybe one or two old white women tossed in. The original Constitution allowed only white men who owned property to vote. That was about 10% of the population in the late 18th century. If the U.S. were to return to just white men who own property, there would still be millions of voters—not a dozen or so. And if we included women, men and all races who own property, then that would be about 75% of white Americans, 60% of Asian Americans, 56% of Native Americans, 46% of African Americans and 48% of Latino Americans. That is easily 150 – 175 million Americans—not a dozen or more billionaires.

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