Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why do we continue to make it so hard to become a teacher?

The learning that I have done in this past 12 months eclipses most of the learning that I have done in the preceding 33 years. I learn about my students and my self every day in the classroom but I have been off site many times during the course of this year attending professional development opportunities around mathematics. This has stretched me and challenged me in ways that I had never anticipated. I remember writing down on one of the exit surreys that I wondered if there would be anything left of me mathematically by the time that I felt like a "real" math teacher. I'm not there yet but I can tell you that the old mathematical me would probably feel the need to introduce himself to the new mathematical me.

In the spirit of feeling like you need to know everything about anything as a new teacher, I have continued to seek out new learning and growing opportunities. I am a part of a Professional Development Consortium's Math Cohort for new teachers. As a part of this pilot project I have been experiencing digital learning in the form of webinars.
So far I have been disappointed in the product that has been offered to us and I'm not sure why. For the most part it has been a bunch of open ended questions that people feel silly answering because they really elicit no imagination to answer in the 45 seconds of dead air that is left hanging there. "Now that you have been reminded of Gardner's eight intelligences, how might this help you create a learner profile in your classroom?" Now, I am a graduate of the Master of Education at the University of Calgary so you would think that I should be socialized to this, shall we say, idealistic approach at "inviting" learners to "inquire" into their own constructed knowledge but when the moderator is saying things like "I knew that I could out wait you!" when someone finally answers, this is no longer inviting. It has become something completely different. And does it sound like it is engaging or compelling?

This has been a common theme in teacher education as far as I can tell. I would suggest that it's a problem. I have heard anecdotal reports that in some divisions a new teacher has about a 50% chance of surviving in the business to their fifth year of teaching. That means that a significant portion of the new teachers that graduate from the various universities this year will not be teaching in five years. Is it because these other folks didn't have what it took to be the martyrs that many teachers become? Should that be the main criteria for having the privilege of being a teacher? Here I have to reel myself in a bit because it won't do much good to go into a big philosophical rant about how we are shifting our pedagogical approach for students but not for teachers and how this ritualistic and punctilious thinning of the heard is a vestige of a hierarchical society that treated information and knowledge as a currency and did not truly appreciate the power of collaboration. I know, preaching to the choir won't get any converts.

Now, I don't think that I would be much of a teacher if I just tore this experience to shreds without at least coming up with some suggestions. If I was running a little webinar on creating learner profiles for differentiated learners I would find some way to provide some authentic case studies. We're doing this over the web so it could be done by video of real or acting students, in comic form, or even just boring old typed out narrative but at least now we have something to sink our teeth in to. Next I would give the learners some tools to start to organize their observations and impressions. After we had shared with one another, I would provide the learners with two or three different exemplars of how successful, seasoned veteran teachers would gather, organize and utilize the pertinent and salient information. At the end we would all take turns sharing with the group any "Ah ha!" moments we may of experienced and what we will change in our practice in the future as a result of our newly constructed understanding.

It is this exemplar bit that I really feel is missing for increasing our proficiency and efficacy as teachers. I never have understood why supplying templates and examples to beginning teachers is such a taboo. If you have made it this far then please take the next step and let me know what you think. Why do we continue to make it so hard to become a teacher?

If it was easy everyone would be doing it!

As you can tell, I still have not got the hang of this whole blogging thing yet. Like most of us I'm sure, I do have good intentions but I just have not found a way to make this mode of communication fit into my paradigm. But those paradigms are always a shifting so I am still hopeful.

One thing that still makes me a little leery about this whole process is that I am afraid of the permanency of this artifact of who I was. Probably a year from now I will look back at this and wonder who that dim wit was that was impersonating me on this blog. The real problem is that I really am quite opinionated and when you compound that with the fact that I am quite passionate about my beliefs, you get me traipsing over lines that I only set out to explore the boundaries of. So if you happen to stumble across any of my meandering missives please keep this caveat in mind: I question because I care. It is this quality caring that is the head water from which all of my other worthwhile capacities are derived. These are what I will bring with me to the classroom each and every day.
Oaks, Linda. canada_9.jpg.
Pics4Learning. 8 Apr 2010