Re: Teaching As A Craft

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What if the skills you need to be a good teacher are, like reading and writing, far easier to acquire in youth? It's sort of hard going getting grown adults to subtly change everything about how they relate to each other. There's a reason people are tempted to say it's just talent, which is that it's hard as hell to learn when you're 30 or whatever. Some of those things are learnable (stand still while giving instructions) but others are pretty rough going for someone with a late start. How do you learn to pay attention to people when they talk and show real interest in what they say?

I taught stuff from the time I was a little kid, did a lot of weird speech competitions, acting, improv, all that crap. My mom made me because I was super-anti-social, painfully shy, had a hard time getting people to listen to me. Anyhow, I can't imagine what kind of teacher I'd have been out of the gate had I not had some years of practice in listening, talking off the cuff, etc.

Meanwhile, a young woman of our family's acquaintance spent about three years desperately trying to get a job as an elementary school teacher. She loved students and cared a great deal, but she got fired from every position because she didn't "connect" with the kids. It's true; she was sort of withdrawn and had a hard time paying attention to other people. How do you learn that as an adult?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:05 AM
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Huh. I wouldn't have thought of "paying attention to other people" as a difficult skill to learn, particularly as an adult. I do think it requires genuine interest, which may require some mental reframing to develop. (That 8 year old isn't going to say anything fascinatingly new about prime numbers, maybe, but what she says may be quite interesting if you are listening in terms of working out the cognitive process of her observation?) Of course, it's also a lot harder to pay attention to other people when you are preoccupied by a sea of troubles or whatnot. Still, there are all sorts of strategies for developing active listening skills -- just ask the marriage and family therapists out there.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:28 AM
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Huh. I wouldn't have thought of "paying attention to other people" as a difficult skill to learn, particularly as an adult. I do think it requires genuine interest, which may require some mental reframing to develop. (That 8 year old isn't going to say anything fascinatingly new about prime numbers, maybe, but what she says may be quite interesting if you are listening in terms of working out the cognitive process of her observation?) Of course, it's also a lot harder to pay attention to other people when you are preoccupied by a sea of troubles or whatnot. Still, there are all sorts of strategies for developing active listening skills -- just ask the marriage and family therapists out there.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:28 AM
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When people repeat themselves, I feel like they think they aren't being heard.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:29 AM
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Middle Child Syndrome. I can't help it. My family never paid attention to me as a child.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:34 AM
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re: 4

I think it's a callous and bullying attempt to drown out others attempts to interject.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:34 AM
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I can't help it. My parents were callous and bullying people who drowned out my attempts to interject.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:38 AM
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Still, there are all sorts of strategies for developing active listening skills -- just ask the marriage and family therapists out there.

This, and other areas like acting also break behaviors down into meme-levels which can be taught.

The article makes an excellent point, that there are three or four different arenas in which a teacher needs to be skilled - their subject, classroom management, seeing their subject through the eyes of a newbie, and designing well-constructed assignments - and as of yet, no one has figured out how to teach these skill sets to teachers, (besides their subject.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:41 AM
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Meme-levels?

[Imagine the vocal intonation someone would use when exclaiming, "There's shit, on my foot?!"]


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:44 AM
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I think psychiatrists and social workers get training about how to listen and pay attention to people. And, uh, cops? and magicians? But not teachers.

IANAEdMajor, but I've had a lot of students who have been, and the reports from the front lines of what they're actually learning about how to interact with kids are pretty bleak. It doesn't sound very different from the unhelpful advice I got when I started teaching, like how to maintain authority and stuff. If things get out of hand, flick the lights on and off! Show them who is boss! Uh, what?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:45 AM
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re: 10.1

Sales-people, too. In fact, I'd bet successful training programs for sales-people are pretty good at producing some of those skills.

When I did tele-stuff for a bank I had some pretty useful telephone training which I still find handy at bending people to my bidding to this day.

My ex was a primary school teacher, and I was always impressed watching her dealing with unruly kids. There was a striking balance between snake-like menance, and warmth and charm.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:51 AM
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There was less white-space when viewing that in the wee comment box.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:52 AM
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We got zero training on how to teach. There was a teaching class, which was a worthless weekly venting session.

As much as I bitch about my students here at Unfogged, I actually detest that in a professional context. Your students are your students, and you need to meet them wherever they're at.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:53 AM
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The single most helpful thing for me in developing teaching skills was a short seminar on storytelling taught by a man trained in various Native American storytelling traditions. It was absolutely fantastic at unifying the elements needed to connect with the audience. I can't reproduce much of use here due to the medium, but the key point was that everything about the storyteller has to be totally committed to the story. Tone and volume of voice, facial expression, posture, gestures, distance from the audience, the whole shebang. This is especially important with kids, who have finely honed bullshit detectors and can immediately tell if you're just phoning it in. You can't make the sale if you don't believe your own pitch.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:55 AM
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re: 13

Here at Oxenforde, we had, iirc, a single day of training run by the department, with role-playing and discussion sessions, and then I went on another one day course run by the Education people. That was enough to get me on the teaching register,* although I think now there's been some more systematic attempt by the department to provide more guidance for new teaching staff.

* which I'm probably still on, even though it's been 2 years since I actually taught here.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:59 AM
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I actually detest that in a professional context

Me too. I remind myself that underpaid, uninsured people who have far too many expectations on them and little hope for future success might be tempted to bitch about the only people below them on the academic ladder. But then they become professors and they still complain.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 7:59 AM
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I've had several semesters'-worth of course work and professional development seminars about pedagogy, and not once have we ever had a meeting about listening and responding in discussion sessions. It's all about whether you should correct individual grammar mistakes in papers or give in-class writing exercises or how to start blogs. Nothing about interpersonal stuff.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:03 AM
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15. I Linked this in another thread, but it seems apposite, regarding Oxford teaching methods:

Discussing the problem of staying awake in tutorials he said: "I woke from a deep sleep to hear myself saying, 'No that cannot be correct.' To my horror I discovered there was an undergraduate in the room. So I made him repeat the last two sentences of his essay, and in the second I detected an egregious error of fact."


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:05 AM
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Some of those things are learnable (stand still while giving instructions) but others are pretty rough going for someone with a late start. How do you learn to pay attention to people when they talk and show real interest in what they say?

Well, there are physical behaviors that communicate that you're paying attention and really interested -- eye contact, bodily postures, and so on. And that sort of thing is teachable, if someone breaks it down for you into manageable chunks.

"Be really interested in your students" is very hard to learn. If the important bit is "Make eye contact when they speak, and repeat their words when you answer" (or something like that), that's learnable. It seems phony and insincere teaching it that way -- it's tempting to think of someone who spontaneously behaves in an effective manner because that's how they feel as a fundamentally better teacher than someone who's learning individual skills. But if the workforce you've got includes people who aren't naturals, I think working really hard to teach them those skills is the best you can do to improve them.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:06 AM
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We do a fair amount of informal training of the sort where professors sit in on each other's classes and give feedback. We are an unusual school in that teaching is the number one thing considered in one's tenure evaluation. Good teaching can compensate for other shortfalls, but nothing compensates for bad teaching, or so we claim. It's anyone's guess how well these things are implemented, but we do put our resources and energy into this topic.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:07 AM
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In high school, I put a huge, concerted effort into becoming a good story-teller. (I think I've said this before.) The key point was to be able to read when someone is losing interest, and then either cut to the punchline*, or bail and get them talking again. This helped a lot in the classroom.

* (People act like you should build suspense to a punchline, but good story-tellers almost never do this, in my opinion. They build up just a few details until people are about to lose interest, and then give the punchline, and then people are interested, so you can go back and fill in the rest of the details.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:11 AM
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I get observed almost every semester, with results ranging all over the place. I've been told I'm a natural, that the observer had no idea how I got my students to do so much work every day, and also that I should quit teaching because I have no business in the classroom. I am very wary about this process.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:15 AM
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It seems phony and insincere teaching it that way

Indeed. There is a distinct difference between mimicking physical signals of attentiveness and interest and actually being interested. And, as togolosh notes, kids are really rather adept at noticing the difference.

It just seems to me that if you've chosen to go into teaching, there is something about it you must find interesting and thinking very deliberately about that and attempting to stay conscious of it ought to make it possible to show sincere interest in the classroom.

repeat their words when you answer

I just have to mention that, though said to be a good active listening technique, I find this to be one of the most annoying things ever. Yes, thanks, you have shown me that you can parrot my words back to me -- or maybe even paraphrase them. Now could you maybe follow up with a thought, a question, some sort of action anything that might show you actually understood my words and take them seriously?


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:15 AM
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I think I've mentioned before that my Dad used to be a traditional story-teller. He performed a fair bit at folk festivals for a few years. He took it up just as a hobby, and doesn't really do it any more, but he had friends and acquaintances who were the real thing. It's an interesting, and ancient, thing to be doing.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:17 AM
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It just seems to me that if you've chosen to go into teaching, there is something about it you must find interesting and thinking very deliberately about that and attempting to stay conscious of it ought to make it possible to show sincere interest in the classroom.

I've been kind of appalled at the teaching of some of our candidates. I thought that if you loved teaching, you must be halfway decent at it, because a poorly run classroom is a miserable place to be a teacher, (if that makes sense. Like, the experience of being a bad teacher would cause one's love of the profession to disintegrate. So ongoing love would be proof that one isn't too terrible.) And yet.

(And they were very convincing in their professed love of teaching, and for Christsakes, we have a 4-4 teaching load, so you have to love it to even apply here.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:19 AM
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23: The thing is, not everyone does the same thing with their face when they're really interested -- "being sincerely interested" and "successfully communicating to a roomful of students that you are sincerely interested" are not the same thing. AWB's acquaintance really wanted to be a teacher, and so was presumably interested and caring. But that didn't translate into connecting with her students -- she needed to change her affect in some visible way to connect with them. And it seems reasonable to me that that change in affect could be taught.

I find this to be one of the most annoying things ever.

Yeah, I wasn't identifying this as something teachers should actually do to increase effectiveness -- as I said in the post, I don't have any specific idea what teachers should do (on this kind of level) to be effective. If I had known, I would have been a better teacher. I just meant it as an example of a possible behavior that, if effective, would be teachable.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:28 AM
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I thought that if you loved teaching, you must be halfway decent at it, because a poorly run classroom is a miserable place to be a teacher, (if that makes sense. Like, the experience of being a bad teacher would cause one's love of the profession to disintegrate. So ongoing love would be proof that one isn't too terrible.)

Yes. Being an unskilled teacher is a miserable, miserable experience.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:30 AM
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I was a TA in grad school (engineering) for an "intro to electrical engineering" course, which mostly meant checking homework/grading problem sets, "teaching" labs, and having more office hours than the profs. The profs did large-group lectures and taught 20-person classroom sections. A few times my prof had to miss a section and I taught it. I couldn't believe how challenging it was. These were motivated undergrads, mostly, and the toughest thing was being prepared for the questions from the great students who were seeing the material for the first time and coming up with insights that I hadn't thought about. The second-toughest thing was trying to reach the students who were earnest but befuddled. The third-toughest thing was noting that there were a couple of students who couldn't care less, and deciding not to try to teach to them.

Seemed to me that in elementary and HS education, the teaching challenges are reversed, with the toughest challenge being that third set of unmotivated students and either (i) motivating them or (ii) making sure that they don't disrupt the classroom for the other students. Hard way to make a living.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:31 AM
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I think I would be a terrible high school teacher. I don't know what I would do with a bunch of students who were there against their will, and would let you know that at every opportunity. Having a classroom where everyone is there of their own volition makes the job 100x easier.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:32 AM
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Well, not terrible.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:32 AM
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29 largely pwned by 28. Good teachers repeat other's comments back to them.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:34 AM
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I find this to be one of the most annoying things ever.

This is where the psychotherapy books I read were really helpful. If you're in therapy, and you say, "I've been feeling really frustrated recently," and your therapist says, "It sounds like you're pretty frustrated," you're going to wonder why you're not just talking to ELIZA. But if your therapist can acknowledge what you've said while pushing you toward the next step, that's a conversation that might be worth having. It's also awful if your therapist responds to everything you say with blank praise or her own pet theory. All these conversational habits are also irritating in the classroom.

Probably the most rewarding way to interact with students, IME, is to remember what they've said and bring it up on a later date, demonstrating that you've thought about them a bit. "Last week, Gina was talking about how we might be missing the masculine perspective on this book, and it got me thinking about..." Or you ask them to each become experts on a different part of the text, or a different way of reading it, so when you ask questions, you might actually be interested in what they have to say.

The biggest problem I find is that teachers find it difficult to care about what their students say because they're not asking questions they're sincerely interested in hearing their answers to. That's probably harder in a lot of disciplines other than mine, but I've still heard a lot of profs in my field say they can't really care what undergrads think of literature because they don't know enough to have interesting thoughts about it. It depends on the questions you ask, I think, and the kinds of projects you're having them work on.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:44 AM
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Probably the most rewarding way to interact with students, IME, is to remember what they've said and bring it up on a later date, demonstrating that you've thought about them a bit.

At the risk of "blank praise," YES!


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:48 AM
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29: Me too. A student of mine said I should apply for a job at a local religious private high school as an English teacher, and I was like, uh... ? Girl, you know I don't watch my mouth. She insisted that they could handle me and would be totally into it. If I have to do it, I will, but I really don't like the idea of having to answer to parents. The kids I think I'm fine with.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:49 AM
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There's something anti-intellectual in AWB's 1. I think the world chronically underestimates what people can learn - and (partly as a result of this) people themselves chronically underestimate what they can learn.

I've picked up a lot of skills that people would describe as unteachable after the age of 30, and I've trained some "unteachable" people to be functional workers. The notion that some folks are beyond help is often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

(Except for the thing about girls and math. Science proves that their brains just aren't wired for it.)


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:55 AM
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I have failed in a number of classroom situations, but the one I was really good at was teaching IT skills to middle schooners. This is because they were all sitting in front of a computer through the class, so I didn't really have to engage them as a whole for too much of the time. I'd take 5 minutes introducing a concept, then turn them loose on the machines, which would then absorb most of their attention. Some of them did the work, some of them just screwed around on their computers, but the screwing around didn't tend to be contagious.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 8:56 AM
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(Except for the thing about girls and math. Science proves that their brains just aren't wired for it.)

Argh. I ran into this with Sally in the fall: at her parent teacher conference, the teacher, in a sweetly concerned fashion, told me that while Sally was performing at the highest possible level in math, that she didn't seem to be enjoying it, and she was worried that Sally was losing interest in math as girls do about this age.

I cleverly managed to avoid leaping across the desk and tearing her throat out with my teeth, and pointed out that Sally's in fifth grade, and the math you learn in grade school generally is cripplingly dull. No one's interested in long division -- you do it because you have to to learn anything else, but it's not entertaining. And I suggested that she dig up something more difficult for Sally to work on if she wanted to see signs of interest.

So now Sally and her best friend the piano prodigy get to sit in the back of the room and teach each other algebra. Problem solved.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 9:01 AM
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anti-intellectual

?

All I'm suggesting is that it's ridiculous to expect basically nothing in terms of speaking/listening skills from people until they're in college, and then maybe have them do a presentation (badly) in class, and then moralize about how they have no charisma in the classroom. Obviously, I think people can learn to read and write effectively in college; I teach these things all the time. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be a hell of a lot easier to introduce good practices when students are younger.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 9:03 AM
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38: I think where 35 was coming from was that your 1 was ambiguous between "The sort of basic skills you need to be a teacher are hard, to the point of impossibility, to learn as an adult, so there's no sense trying to teach them; we should just sort for people who have them already," and "The sort of basic skills you need to be a teacher are hard to learn as an adult, so we should actively support potential teachers in developing them." And political football read you as saying the first, when you're probably somewhat closer to the second.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 9:07 AM
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I cleverly managed to avoid leaping across the desk and tearing her throat out with my teeth

That's some impressive restraint.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 9:22 AM
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39: That's right.

At one time, I would have never used a phrase like "anti-intellectual" to describe AWB. That sort of intentional provocation was completely outside the skill-set.

Unfogged trained me to troll.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 9:35 AM
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From the OP:

There's a tendency to treat basic skills of this nature as if they were a matter of character, and unteachable, so not to think of them as central to teacher training. Still, they're centrally important: a teacher who can hold her students' attention and get their compliance can teach them anything, and a teacher who can't isn't going to get anywhere.

True.

If those skills can be taught effectively, that'd be a wildly useful innovation in teacher training.

See, I don't think this is the issue. Of course those skills can be taught. Maybe not to everybody, but to most people. There's very well established knowledge about it (and about how fundamentally respecting human beings' autonomy makes it easier to facilitate their independent exploration and learning...but I digress).

The question is really: How can we change the structure of the school system so that there is a greater incentive to produce effective teachers?

Because as far as I can tell, the major pressures affecting who chooses to be a teacher and how they are eventually trained are:

1. Self-selection along gender, class, and religious/ethnic lines (my mom was a teacher! It's a good profession for an Irish Catholic girl!)

2. Self-selection along logistical lines (summers off, days short enough that I can pick my kids up from school, unionized job that will pay me a predictable salary)

3. Teacher training programs that bring in sufficient income to "pay their way" in a larger university setting (which means that the classes have to be easy/appealing enough to get teachers to enroll)

4. Teacher training programs that produce teachers who can reliably pass the PRAXIS or equivalent and obtain state certification (because nobody's going to pay for college that doesn't get you into the designated career).

None of these pressures are measured by, or have anything to do with, whether you are good at helping young people to build their understanding of specific subjects or of the learning process in general. That, to me, is a much bigger problem.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 10:33 AM
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See, I don't think this is the issue. Of course those skills can be taught. Maybe not to everybody, but to most people. There's very well established knowledge about it (and about how fundamentally respecting human beings' autonomy makes it easier to facilitate their independent exploration and learning...but I digress).

Seriously? I guess I don't see that discussion, of teaching as a matter of technique, and what I do hear about teachers ed programs is that they're pretty useless on that front. Are you saying that it's well known how to teach an ed student how to hold a class's attention and obtain their compliance, but ed programs just don't because the incentives are wrong?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 10:39 AM
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So, the article puzzled me a little bit (even though I didn't actually read it)--and here's something I don't understand, and I ask out of genuine ignorance: what the hell do colleges of education do? If it's not teaching people skills required to be better teachers (or, on an academic level, researching what those skills are, etc.), then what?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 10:52 AM
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I've known several superstar teachers (like they win the "best teaching award at their school every year) and from what they say, this is completely wrong:

There is a distinct difference between mimicking physical signals of attentiveness and interest and actually being interested. And, as togolosh notes, kids are really rather adept at noticing the difference.

One of them I know for a fact has been mailing it in for years, while still winning awards. One time while we were at a restaurant he showed me this rant he does every class after the first exam on how they should try harder -- a rant that always gets the students thinking "wow, he really cares." It was not unlike the famous fake orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 10:55 AM
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Looking at my "completely wrong" above, I see that I too have learned how to troll from Unfogged.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 10:56 AM
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Are you saying that it's well known how to teach an ed student how to hold a class's attention and obtain their compliance, but ed programs just don't because the incentives are wrong?

Mostly, yes. As this very thread demonstrates, there are many areas of life where people learn and exercise the skills that are part of good teaching and facilitation. It's certainly possible to teach future teachers these skills.

(The part that is not teachable is whether your students are going to be safe, warm, not abused/neglected, and various other critical building blocks that allow them to be *ready* for a teacher to hold their attention. I'm not willing to hold teacher training programs responsible for that.)

Full disclosure of bias: My experience of ed programs is that they are not "pretty useless on that front," they are entirely useless on virtually every front I care about.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 11:06 AM
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"I think I would be a terrible high school teacher. I don't know what I would do with a bunch of students who were there against their will, and would let you know that at every opportunity. Having a classroom where everyone is there of their own volition makes the job 100x easier."

Alas, over the last 5 years, this now describes my experience teaching college composition and intro to literature survey. I, too, agree that we have to meet students where they are at in terms of ability, which I do, but I am having a hard time meeting them anywhere because of their attitude. They rebel against any reading of any length whatsoever. And if it is a poem, then it is too difficult for them to understand because of the inverted syntax. They openly complain about writing a four page paper--"why four pages, why can't we write three?" I am so, so tired of trying to teach people who don't want to learn. I keep telling myself I just have a bad group this semester, but I am in serious danger of burning out. I can't do this for 25 more years.


Posted by: Miranda | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 11:07 AM
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Witt, have you read the article? The points your making seem to be a bit orthoganal to its claims.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 11:18 AM
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No, I was responding to LB's post.

I read the discussion at Crooked Timber. I'm fully prepared to believe the article is focusing on a different angle -- I was picking up on the question of *why* these skills might not be being taught.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 11:22 AM
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If it's not teaching people skills required to be better teachers (or, on an academic level, researching what those skills are, etc.), then what?

Maybe it's like the third year of law school, which has, it seems to me, two purposes: (1) extraction of cash from people too far committed to walk away and (2) forcing people -- 24 year-olds especially -- to spend another year growing up before they start advising people on serious issues.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 11:37 AM
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See, I don't think this is the issue. Of course those skills can be taught. Maybe not to everybody, but to most people. There's very well established knowledge about it (and about how fundamentally respecting human beings' autonomy makes it easier to facilitate their independent exploration and learning...but I digress).

But the article is making the point that this is the issue. First of all, that there is *not* necessarily established knowledge about it (see our recent discussion of what makes 'good' teachers).And then it also goes into the denigration of 'classroom management' as something to be taught explicitly.

The article has quite striking examples of teachers who clearly care about their students (and their 'autonomy'), but still are not effective.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 11:42 AM
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forcing people -- 24 year-olds especially -- to spend another year growing up before they start advising people on serious issues.

If only that extra year of law school were actually effective at getting people to grow up.

a rant that always gets the students thinking "wow, he really cares."

Or maybe the kids, too, are just faking it. "Gee, Mr. Somefriend, we're really going to try harder now!"


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 11:56 AM
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This mathematical knowledge for teaching test (MKT is apparently mentioned in the article) is pretty interesting:

http://sitemaker.umich.edu/lmt/files/LMT_sample_items.pdf


Posted by: Lemmy Caution | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 12:01 PM
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23: I hear you, Di. You'd really like for me to follow up with a thought, a question, some sort of action-- anything that might show I actually understood your words and take them seriously. Am I right that that's what you're looking for?


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 12:40 PM
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What a terrific article. I'd looked briefly at the CT thread about it yesterday, not in any detail as yet.

A friend is a public school teacher (for 15 years now) -- elementary school -- and is on the verge of becoming burned out, not by his students, though teaching inner city Bawlmer school kids is no picnic, but by NCLB requirements and so on. Frackin' lesson plans, required and examined by administrators, are cramping his style. He's a fantastic teacher by all accounts, and finds himself barred from doing his best work by these requirements.

Maybe this article will give him heart.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 1:02 PM
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56: You know Prezby?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 1:19 PM
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If things get out of hand, flick the lights on and off! Show them who is boss! Uh, what?

Oh my. My second grade teacher did that a lot, particularly when the class troublemaker was running circles around her (sometimes literally). Years later, her burnt-out hulk showed up as a substitute teacher in my English class in high school. That was sad. She pretty obviously hated being in the classroom, and was incompetent to the point of multiple misspelled words on the blackboard, but there she was.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 1:40 PM
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57: Who's Prezby? I haven't finished the NYT article yet, if that's relevant.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 1:51 PM
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I thought he went by Mr. Prezbo.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 1:53 PM
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Oh, wait, perhaps Prezby is a teacher from The Wire. I actually have that season of The Wire on DVD here -- dropped off here by my teacher friend, actually! -- but haven't watched it yet.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 1:57 PM
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Further to my "oh wait" -- Prezby's the totally newb skinny white guy teacher, right? No, that is not remotely like my friend.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 2:03 PM
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I am so, so tired of trying to teach people who don't want to learn.

I will not open the door for a mind that is not already striving to understand, nor will I provide words to a tongue that is not already struggling to speak. If I hold up one corner of a problem, and the student cannot come back to me with the other three, I will not attempt to instruct him again.


Posted by: Confucius | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 3:33 PM
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It was easier in Warring States China to only instruct self-selected students.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 3:52 PM
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Dude, Confucius just got here. Let him breathe a little before you start the critiques. Say something nice to let him know we like new commenters.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 4:01 PM
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Teach for America has clearly decided that basic skills of this nature are a matter of character, and unteachable since they now include character traits that seem to correlate with them as selection criteria.


Posted by: jim | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 4:22 PM
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Really? But I wouldn't blame TFA for that particularly -- no one seems to do this sort of training in an organized way, and if you're not going to train something, selecting for people who already know it seems reasonable.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 4:27 PM
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TFA hires people for two-year terms. You have essentially no training time if you're hiring people for two years of work.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 5:42 PM
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What little training TFA does offer is supposedly pure crap, though.

Anyway, if hiring people for two years means you can't train them, and the job is one for which training is highly advisable, maybe the whole project isn't such a hot idea? (Though I know some TFAers continue on.)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 5:52 PM
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the job is one for which training is highly advisable

but isn't that exactly what's in contention here?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 6:14 PM
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Anyway, if hiring people for two years means you can't train them, and the job is one for which training is highly advisable, maybe the whole project isn't such a hot idea?

It seems kind of lame to shit on TFA in particular, given that they're doing no worse or better than teachers at large.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 6:19 PM
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but isn't that exactly what's in contention here?

So it would seem. The contention seems to be that untrained 22-year-olds can teach just as well as experienced teachers. If the evidence seems to support that conclusion, then lo: teaching is not actually that hard, is it? And maybe doesn't need to be monetarily compensated particularly well.

I'm not saying that's the certain conclusion, but it does seem to be suggested by the narrative, in which case we'd want to proceed with care.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 6:33 PM
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I think a more accurate conclusion is that boundless time, energy, and enthusiam of a 22 year old can compensate for the creaks and family demands and balancing of life and general weariness of a more experienced teacher.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 6:39 PM
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73: Yes, that, absolutely. Yet we wouldn't want to see a teaching corps comprised entirely of 2-year-stint recent college grads. A great deal that's not necessarily measured would be lost. So we'd just want to take care to consider programs like TFA to be supplemental at best. And keep an eye on whether such programs are turning into a sort of temp-teacher gambit to avoid supporting career teachers.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 6:46 PM
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72 and 73 both missed what I meant entirely, but since I've only skimmed the thread, it's possible what I meant was sort of orthogonal to the thread anyway. But what I meant was that the NYT article in the post suggests that teaching may be a job for which training is highly advisable, and that there aren't really enough people looking carefully into that question (or the related question of what exactly it is that makes some teachers more effective than others). (I still haven't read the article, so forgive me if the summary is off.) But the current general mindset seems to be that "good teaching" can't really be trained, you either have it or you don't. And against that backdrop, TSA makes perfect sense. If you accept the conclusions of the article, that how to teach is something we really need to be teaching people, then it starts to make much less sense.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 6:48 PM
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72 didn't miss what you meant, Brock. Yes, the TFA model seems to accept the view that you either got it or you ain't (at least for 2 years); and that seems be the way that current teacher training proceeds.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 6:56 PM
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IIRC, TFA is also based on the principle that recent grads still remember the material from coursework and may be still excited about it. The teacher in the NYT article who couldn't do a simple math problem or explain why it works was, I think, supposed to be an example of someone who might have the charisma, but not the raw knowledge (or more likely, the ability to call it up in a stressful situation) that someone else might have.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 6:58 PM
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but isn't that exactly what's in contention here?

Perhaps, but only an idiot would contend with the supposition.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 8-10 11:13 PM
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77: That anecdote seemed like a red herring. There are enough people who can fluently do grade school and high school math that remedially educating or getting rid of the ones who can't shouldn't be a major bottleneck. (I'm sure they exist; I just can't see that it could be at all difficult to fix that sort of problem if there's any desire to.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03- 9-10 5:25 AM
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