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The REALITY of Teaching

” A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations.” Patricia Neal

In our last class we had a discussion about assessment – does it really matter, do the teachers really care?  Do the students really care?  Is it really important that everyone learn something?  Is passing the mediocre student along an ‘ok’ practice?  Where do you find enough time in the day to assess (and teach) – the ‘right way’ – the way the textbooks, research, and essoterical education department professors preach?

It struck me during this discussion (or should I say reopened the avenue of thought) the reason why more scientific professions find education soft and gushy and generally less worthy of esteem. Education as a practice, they think, has no basis in their day-to-day reality (a valid observation).

And then I opened Sunday’s paper.  Tony Danza of ‘Taxi’ and ‘Who’s the Boss’ fame has taken up teaching for a new reality series, ‘Teach’.  The show’s executive producer states, “Our goal with ‘Teach’ is to highlight and celebrate the rarely seen challenges and unsung achievements of one of the greatest resources our nation has to offer: the public school teacher.” Now I am not a fan AT ALL of reality TV, but this concept is interesting to me – partially because I left class thinking that there are GREAT teachers out there that could NEVER be successful doctors, nurses, or corporate executives, but probably have a LOT to share about good and real teaching.  So the concept of a former actor turning teacher and exposing that story to reality TV viewers is intriguing.  Will this actually raise the esteem of the education profession or just be a ‘Welcome Back Kotter’ on steroids?  My hope for public education is the former.

There is booklet produced by the U.S. Department of Education entitled “What to Expect Your First Year of Teaching” http://www2.ed.gov/PDFDocs/whatexpect.pdf.    A section of this particular document has comments from first year teachers on what colleges could do to better prepare them for ‘reality.’  The majority of responses do NOT include subject-matter, but include classroom management, developing quality lesson plans, assessment and grading, dealing with personal issues of students, and juggling multiple roles. One teacher wrote, “It would have been ideal for my college to have instituted a mentoring program or to have aided students in establishing cohort groups. The experience of first year teaching can indeed be one of isolation and self-questioning. The opportunity to have had a support group of other graduate students would have provided me with avenues for in-depth discussion and for the brainstorming of ideas. I would also have benefited from learning about the varied experiences that my fellow students were encountering in their clinical and student teaching assignments.”

If the goal of ‘Teach’ truly is to celebrate the rarely seen challenges and unsung achievements, I have to believe Tony Danza is getting some coaching on effective teaching from somewhere.  I don’t think these coaches are from the acting profession.  Those learning to teach adults in the context of any profession should seek, as the first year teacher suggests, cohort groups of effective practicing teachers who can provide the benefit of their experience. Ask them to come and shadow you for a day.  Go and shadow them for a day.  Teachers will benefit from a new perspective of their role in educating beyond the curriculum to prepare for ‘the real-world.’  You will benefit from a new perspective about the ‘reality’ of teaching and best practice ideas for professional use.

“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”

Kahlil Gibran

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