Monday, July 30, 2012

How I Could Be a Better Teacher!

I'm a teacher. I went to college and majored in English; then I spent one year in a teacher training program, and voila! I'm a teacher!

What did my teacher training entail? Well, I spent one semester as a teacher's aide. I watched a master teacher one period a day, and did my best to get important tips from him. In addition, I had several lecture classes on teaching theory. Two periods a day I actually worked one-on-one with a real student. No one really supervised this work. I used what I had learned in class to determine the student's needs and devise lessons. Occasionally a field supervisor from the university would come watch what I was doing and give feedback.

The second semester, there was more lecture and theory. This semester, however, I got to teach two actual classes. Again, this was mostly unsupervised. I worked with two master teachers who might be in the class when I was teaching, or who might be in the office doing prep work and/or drinking coffee. Don't get me wrong; these were two really fabulous teachers, but it wasn't formally their job to instruct me. They answered my questions and gave me tips, but their mentoring was completely unstructured. About once a month the university field supervisor sat in on one of my classes and again gave me feedback.

For the most part then, my teacher training involved lectures and unsupervised practice with very little feedback. The day I walked into my classroom as a real live professional teacher, I had a textbook and a list of students' names. No one told me what to teach or how to teach it. I had to figure it out. This was the early 1990s, and this type of teacher preparation was all too common.

I like to think that we've improved somewhat in our teacher education, but student teachers and new teachers are still not supervised in the same way that say, medical residents are supervised. We like to think of teaching as a profession just as we do medicine or law, but we do not train our teaching professionals to the same extent.  Teachers are still left to figure out what works and how to fix what isn't working mostly on their own. I'm seeing a change in this area, and I hope that it continues so that all teachers are given structured professional development that is adequate to turn them all into highly effective educators.

I was recently given the opportunity to read the book Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in any School written by Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia. The book describes the success of the charter school network founded by Moskowitz and explains how every public school could benefit from the methods they use.

What is the secret of the The Success Academies? Teacher training! Not just initial training for student teachers, but ongoing professional development for veteran teachers. The book details the coaching, supervised practice, and cooperative learning teachers undergo when they teach at the Academies. It also explains the curriculum they feel is necessary for students to achieve learning success.

Mission Possible isn't written for just eductors; it is also directed to parents and other school reformers. Each chapter ends with a takeaway for each group: teachers, principals, parents, and school reformers. The authors want to help parents to understand what they should be looking for in choosing a school for their children. Also included with the book is a DVD demonstrating all of the ideas from the book.

Eva Moskowitz would love to hear from you and discuss education with you. You can contact her here: