Tuesday, September 08, 2015

On the making of teachers ...

Until I joined graduate school, I had never thought about where school teachers came from.  All I knew about school teachers, especially the awesome ones, and the awful ones too, was from the experience as a "lifer" in that wonderful school, and from two relatives from my father's generation who were high school teachers.  I had never spent even a minute into thinking about the making of a teacher, and questions like: Who trained them?  What makes people wanting to teach?

In graduate school, depending on my mood, I would wander into any one of the libraries on campus and either do my own work or read something from the collections there.  Others perhaps call this as "wasting time" but I enjoyed such intellectual wanderings.

USC Doheny Library, summer 2009

One of the libraries was at the School of Education, which is also where I got into the habit of reading The Chronicle of Higher Education.  It fascinated me that there was a School of Education.  There were even undergraduate students who were on a teacher preparatory path.  All through my years in India, I had never known of any young person who was studying to be a school teacher.  This was all getting to be really interesting.

When I started teaching in California, it turned out that quite a few students who were in my economic geography class were there because it was required for their teacher-prep majors.  Now, I started getting some insights into the making of a teacher.  I was impressed with a few of them.  And was disappointed with most of them--if their attitude towards learning was this awful, how would would they ever inspire their students to learn!

Here in Oregon, a math colleague, who a few years ago moved across the continent to be closer to her family, once remarked at a faculty senate meeting about the immense responsibility that we faculty have.  "We blame high schools for the bad quality students they send us; the high schools blame the middle schools; the middle schools point their fingers at elementary schools.  We forget that we are the ones preparing teachers for all those schools."  I was the only one who was impressed with her plea--the rest couldn't care; I suppose they could not wait to get back to writing their journal articles and books and here she was wasting their precious time!

The interest in making sure we have good teachers is huge outside the academic walls.  Everybody, from the President to the kid on a skateboard has firm beliefs on what is wrong about teaching and teachers.  Some opinion writers even claim that a high school diploma is all one needs to teach kids.  How can we make sure that we have wonderful teachers for kids?
Policy makers have debated the best way to evaluate teacher effectiveness, but have shown little interest in the training that is supposed to make them effective in the first place. That’s changing, but it’s not obvious where and how to intervene. Tougher entry requirements for teacher training? A more challenging certification test? New accreditation standards for teacher training programs? The problem is that many different organizations influence various aspects of the teacher training process. 
It is cacophony out there!

Meanwhile, I am now left thinking about yet another issue: how come in the vast extended family we have engineers and doctors and MBAs and college professors and whatever else, but no school teachers?  Is it because it is not considered worthy enough a profession?  Nothing makes sense the older I get!

8 comments:

Shachi said...

Teaching does not bring $$$$. I've been thinking about this too - we all want the best for our children but none of us want to choose teaching as a profession. I'm highly inclined to switch, and inspire others to do so as well.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, as I have blogged one too many times, we don't get into teaching--at any level--for the money. But, the intangibles are awesome, as long as one willingly and knowingly pursues teaching as a profession. I have run into many, many teachers here in the US--again, at all levels--who complain about their jobs day in and day out as do most people in other professions. I suspect that those whiners didn't choose teaching for the right reasons--definitely many of my colleagues, as you know from many, many posts here ;)

Sriram Khé said...

I just remembered this post from a couple of months ago ...
http://sriramkhe.blogspot.com/2015/07/if-only-walmart-can-sell-teachers.html

Mike Hoth said...

My darling wife started teaching children today; 6th graders, but tomorrow bring 7th and 8th grade. When people hear that she is going to spend 40 hours a week with kids that age they often ask her why, and I usually tell them it is because she is crazy. She is, but it's also because she wants to make an impact on them. She has chosen her career and her age group because, as she puts it, she wants to see "light bulbs go off for the first time". That will be enough for her, but it would be nice to see more respect and gratitude for her efforts. I wouldn't complain about a larger paycheck either!

Anne in Salem said...

Can a high school graduate be an effective teacher? Undoubtedly. Can he be a better teacher than one who holds a masters? Undoubtedly. Two main criteria for an excellent teacher are curiosity and passion. My kids' favorite - and most effective - teachers don't have alphabet soups following their names; they have infectious passion for helping kids understand and make connections, for seeing "light bulbs go off for the first time" and second and third time. The best teachers learn constantly and share that with their students. I know naturalized citizens who stopped school in 8th grade who would make better teachers than some current teachers because they pay attention to the world and have taught themselves everything.

Of course, better pay would increase the quality of teaching, but I'm not holding my breath.

Sriram Khé said...

Mike, have you gotten used to saying "my wife"? ;) I wish her well. I have heard from K-12 teachers that the middle-school kids are the toughest to deal with.

Anne, I would be a lot more worried about people getting into teaching because of the money (if society were to offer higher pay)--this is not a profession where money should be the incentive. It is that Aretha Franklin bottom-line that we--students, parents, taxpayers--need to give them: R-E-S-P-E-C-T ... I hope I spelled that word without errors ;)

Ramesh said...

I am catching up with your posts in reverse order and this is the second consecutive post where you have implied that money is somehow beneath respect. Please ......

On teaching, my two penny bit is that we should encourage older people (like me !!) to take up teaching. The profession is a perfect second career where the motive of money becomes less important and the motive of giving back becomes more important. I would teach business (the only field I am qualified to teach) any day, but you well robed academics demand a PhD and I am not going to waste my time trying to write incomprehensible gobbledygook.

Sriram Khé said...

With that attitude, no wonder you aren't given an opportunity to teach ;)

In your field of business and management, universities here in the US eagerly welcome experienced honchos like you to teach classes ... it seems like the robed "Indian academics" are the hassle not "academics" ...

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