Our guest author today is Bryan Mascio, who taught for over ten years in New Hampshire, primarily working with students who had been unsuccessful in traditional school settings. Bryan is now a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he conducts research on the cognitive aspects of teaching, and works with schools to support teachers in improving relationships with their students.
How do we fix teaching? This question is on the mind of many reformers, researchers, politicians, and parents. Every expert has their own view of the problem, their own perspective on what success should look like, and their own solutions to offer. The plethora of op-eds, reports, articles, and memoranda, can be mindboggling. It is important to take a step back and see whether we all even consider teaching expertise to be the same thing. Just as importantly, where does, and should, it reside?
In a New York Times op-ed, “Teachers Aren’t Dumb”, Dr. Daniel Willingham explains that teachers aren’t the problem – it’s just how they are trained. As a teacher, I appreciate a respected person from outside of the profession coming to our defense, and I do agree that we need to take a hard look at teacher preparation programs. I worry, though, that a call to focus more on the “nuts and bolts” of teaching – in contrast to the current emphasis on educational philosophy and theories of development – could create an alarming pendulum swing.
This recommendation is a common message, promoted both by those in academic research as well as fast-tracked teacher preparation programs. It sees academics and researchers as the generators and holders of the most important expertise and asks them to then give direction to teachers. By mistaking different kinds of expertise, it inadvertently lays a path towards teachers as technicians, rather than true professionals.