Saturday, June 09, 2007

Management and Content: A journey all teachers must make.

As a practice, blogging has been a way for me to synthesize ideas and clearly define my own educational paradigm. Again and again on in this space, I have tossed out my pithy little saying about education, "There is a big difference between teaching thirty years and teaching one year thirty times." I truly believe in the process of on-going growth and renewal. The visual of Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill day after day, only to lose control of the boulder and have it roll back to the bottom and force him to start up the hill again. I see many teachers in this roll... trudging through the school year, constantly counting the days until the next break or vacation. They do the same thing all the time; lecture to the class, collect the assignments from the end of the chapter and either quiz or test students on whether they know concepts from the textbook. The only way this scenario works is if you are a great public speaker, have a great command of the content and great classroom management.

When I talk to teachers, I say that young teachers have to fight two battles, the content and the management. Having a bachelor's degree in a certain subject gives you enough expertise to teach a basic class, but it is no where near enough to teach an Advanced Placement course. I have seen a huge number of teachers burn out in their first five years in the profession because they have to fight a two front war. They struggle with curriculum because they may have the depth of knowledge, but they don't have the breadth of knowledge to teach a class. They also fight a management battle, by not having clearly defined expectations for their class. Teacher preparation programs seem to be long on management theory and short in management practice. We have all seen teachers that have been successful by being very good in either curriculum or management until they can find their niche in the other area. The teacher that has such mastery of the content, that the students behave because they know the teacher really knows the material. The reverse is also true, that there are teachers that have great management skills that they have the students attention all the time, so they can convey the material they do know extremely well. Fighting a two front war is a difficult thing to do, it didn't work for Germany in WWI and WWII, and it isn't going to work for most teachers. I beleive this is the primary reason for teacher burnout and the reason that most new teachers leave the profession in the first five years.

So, what's the solution for the new teacher? The new definition of literacy does not entail 'possessing' knowledge, but the ability to use, employ, manipulate and synthesize it. This is what we should be teaching the students we teach and it is what we need to be teaching those people entering the teaching profession. And as veteran teachers, we need to think of what it is going to take to teach thirty years instead of teaching one year thirty times.

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