Thursday, May 19, 2011

An Interesting Perspective on Teaching

Circumstances have conspired to allow me lengthy conversations with my brother-in-law this year.  Even though he married my wife's sister over thirty years ago, I never considered that we had much in common and polite chat was the norm when we got together now and then.

But Fred is a pretty amazing guy.  A couple of years ago he decided to change careers.  He was doing well with a steady job underwriting insurance for a profitable company.  He had regular hours and good compensation.  However, he had come to loathe aspects of his work, and rather than grit his teeth until retirement, he decided that he wanted to become a teacher.  That meant tons of course work, student teaching, the whole bit.

So now he's teaching, and though he's traded off many of the material benefits of the business world, he's happier.  I really admire that.  I've worked with a number of teachers who seemed to grow unhappier as the years went by and behaved as though they were trapped in their lives.  They became pretty bitter.

But bitterness and life's choices are not the themes of this post.  Instead, I want to offer two of Fred's perspectives on teaching that I think are pretty significant.  He's been subbing throughout his region in all kinds of schools, and he has been struck by . . . .

1) The technology divide between schools and the outside world.  He felt that the schools that he visited were "30 years behind" the business community.  He saw technology in classrooms that was not being used either because A) the technology was relatively useless or B) the teacher was pretty clearly clueless.  He also was asked to develop lessons where "anything goes" if the student was doing it with media instead of text.

In my view education is incredibly insulated from modernity.  Besides the fact that many teachers have a great deal of autonomy, stakeholders in the process-- like parents view old teaching methods of instruction are the right ones, because that's what they know.  Despite a kind of ongoing chronic crisis in USA education, traditional approaches to "information delivery" as instruction remain the norm, even though a global communications revolution has occurred in the mean time.

2) Teachers talk about collaborating, but in many schools the level of collaboration that exists is insignificant compared to business work environments.  Fred described an insurance organization that operated through different groups of teams where members were interdependent and the whole benefited from the individual assets that each team member could bring to bear on challenges.  Fred has visited school districts which are very generous to staff in terms of "prep" time.  But too often, he observed that teachers retreated into their solitude to grade work or follow solitary routines.

Having spent 36 years in the classroom, I know how hectic a typical school day can be.  There just never seems to be time for anything.  But of course there is time. Case in point:  we started and online forum to discuss issues about education at our school.  The response was pretty good, but some teachers complained that they didn't have time.  Oh, please.  It's a matter of school culture, priorities, and motivation.  I know when our CBL Pilot group of teachers were determined to collaborate, they found a common meeting time an held it sacred.  A stronger team attitude at my school would be a plus and I hope we can work harder to make it a priority.

"Desert Palace" Flickr CC photo by CYNICALifornia

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