Monday, February 23, 2015

Top Ten: What Teachers Should Learn in Grad School

The most open of secrets among good and honest teachers is the fact, painfully clear, that a Master's Degree in Education is worthless, at least toward the end of education. It does, however, have several purposes.

The first is to exclude from the profession, to the greatest extent possible, anyone who does not participate in the offering of oblations to the academic immortals, that is, the tenured teacher-teaching scholars of universities. Obeisance to the lords of the ivory towers is the prerequisite for the knighthood of certified pedagogy. Second, the degree in education is purposed to delude any who have not yet learned to distrust professional academic credentialers that such a degree is a stamp of certification which signifies the teacher as qualified. Similarly, the degree confirms bragging rights upon people and institutions who employ only credentialed faculty.

Lastly, and worst, it breaks the spirits of teachers. Whether or not it is designed to, partaking in such preposterous chicanery erodes the will and soul of whoever speak the lie as truth. As with one who parrots propaganda, the spirit of he who does not contest this meretricious process is rendered incapable of resisting further debasement. Hence from modern pedagogical, progressive orthodoxy have subsequently come deference to standardized tests and the companies which profit by their manipulation, sycophancy to politicians who promise facile funding, and at last the meddlesome shaping of curricula. 

Eroded by corruption, graduate programs in education are degree mills to which teachers turn to eek out a few more dollars from their employers, not to improve their teaching prowess. If professors desired, however, to prepare teachers for the classroom, they could offer the following courses. To be sure these are all skills which teachers learn, usually at great pains, in their first few years. There is also much of need and use for teachers which I omit here–certain basics of logic and philosophy–since it is included in a Liberal Arts education, one hopes.

10. History and Philosophy of Teaching the Discipline

This course would include a comparison of philosophies for the discipline which not only explain why it should be taught, but how that purpose can be explained to students so they are not following along like sheep. It should involve frank discussions about teacher bias and how the philosophy of the teacher/program/curriculum dictates what is and is not taught, and how. Too the history of teaching the material, as well as when, where, and why methodologies changed, would not only better situate teachers in the history of their profession, but allow them to see what trends succeeded and what forces have tended to and are now shaping pedagogical trends.

9. Adapting to Different Schedules

Every new teacher struggles with his schedule and the problem how of to break lessons and evaluations into coherent sections. There is a world of difference, for example, between teaching a 40-minute period every day, eighty-minutes every other day, and one or two periods per week. This class would cover adapting to various schedule types and explain how to utilize each schedule's merits and avoid its detriments.

8. Curricula Planning and Pacing

This is the problem of #9 writ large. Teachers should know before jumping into the classroom how the material is going to be spread throughout the curriculum from start to finish. This class can compare sequences of presentation, adjustments for difficulty, adjustments for numbers of class hours/school days, and variations for teaching semester or year-long classes.

7. Comparison of Evaluations

The art of the test is a subtle craft. Teachers would benefit from learning to choose the appropriate type of evaluation, e.g. short answer, essay, quizzes, term paper, multiple choice, and so on. Different disciplines require different types of evaluations at different intervals, and teachers need guidance as to how much of what, when, and what type and quantity is appropriate for different ages, curricula, difficulty, and schedules.

6. Making Tests

The art of the test is a subtle craft in execution too. What teacher hasn't slowly, and after many mistakes, complaints, confusion, and stress, figured out how to:
  1. Write unambiguous directions.
  2. Lay out tests so they are not confusing to administer, take, or grade.
  3. Determine the time frame in which the test can and ought to be completed.
  4. Determine how the pacing, volume, and variety of questions affect the difficulty of the test.
  5. Make various types of questions from scratch and utilize tools and resources to make them.
  6. Vary questions by difficulty, in various ways.
  7. Create a scale of difficulty appropriate to the class' range of student competence.
  8. Weigh sections of tests and types of evaluations within a class.
  9. Develop a consistent method of testing.
  10. Make variations of tests.
And don't forget learning to stagger giving tests so that they can be graded and reviewed in timely, useful manner.

5. Grading

The final component of student evaluations is the most opaque, inconsistent, and neglected. Teachers need to learn to develop clear and consistent criteria for evaluations, including how much the following are worth:
  1. Logic
  2. Method
  3. Style
  4. Facts
  5. Organization
  6. Clarity
  7. Timeliness
  8. Creativity
  9. Research
  10. Adherence to the task
4. Comparison and Use of Various Text Books

Teachers are awash in a sea of volumes, texts, systems, and sets of pedagogical material. Every system has strengths and weaknesses which need be adapted and/or supplemented for various curricula, students, and schools. A clear presentation of the differences in content and methodologies of different books would be an enormous boon to teachers.

3. The Law

Every discipline should know the esoteric ways it is affected by the law. Teachers should know the basics about contracts and see samples of common contracts to learn what are the common legal obligations of teachers as employees and and as custodians of minors. Likewise teachers need to have a grasp of labor law and what employers, labor unions, and the teachers themselves are legally obligated or prohibited from doing. Finally, classroom educators should have a grasp of intellectual property, to:
  1. Make use of the material which is permitted to them qua educators.
  2. Refrain from infringing on copyrights and incurring the ensuing distress.
  3. Understand to whom the material they create for their employer legally belongs.
2. Life as a Teacher

Like many professions, teaching changes your life. The hours are often good, but how do you plan your time off? Will you supplement your income, and if so, when, how, and for how much? Do you have a pension and are you generally managing your finances now and for the future? Are you too stressed and tired at the end of the day to deal with others? Will you invest the time in doing extra work, after hours? What are your expectations of your results?

I think this could be useful as a seminar class with discussions based on first-hand accounts of teachers, all geared toward getting the individual to consider their expectations of teaching–and the probabilities or difficulties of achieving that–and what role it will play in his life. It should dissuade some people from entering the profession.

1. Leadership

Leadership is one of the most difficult crafts to master, and a teacher is the leader. He sets the tenor of the room. He holds the authority which he can abuse to the immiseration of the class or skillfully wield toward its enrichment. Teaching requires good relations with employers, overseers, parents, and students. This art requires experience, of course, but also a conscious set of virtues–patience, consistency, moderation–which the teacher must daily cultivate. This among all, daily cultivation, is perhaps the most important, for nothing will more clearly spell doom for a teacher than complacency with either his intellectual or moral faculties.

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