Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Better Way to Train Teachers

I want to talk about teacher training. This is a big issue, and what with the sudden discovery that teachers are the single most important factor (besides the students themselves) determining a school’s effectiveness (shocking, really), there’s a good deal of hullabaloo about it—but compared the knotty problems I usually address in this blog, this one looks pretty straightforward to me.

Discussions of how to improve teacher training tend to center around what we teach teachers. The pedagogical theories on which we train our teachers, critics argue, are wrong headed. Structural problems within graduate departments of education are blamed for the production of invalid theories of learning and the promulgation of ineffective teaching practices. For once I’ll take a stand: I don’t think that’s true. The problem has more to do with how we teach teachers than with what we teach them.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New York State Math Exams Baffle Teachers and Students
Facing the Tradeoff Between Breadth and Depth

Ambushed by the Exam
original artwork by Tavet Rubel, created for Dewey to Delpit
Last week, New York City public school students sat for the state math exams. The scores won’t be announced until the summer, but there is reason to expect a dip. State exams are not typically available for public viewing until a month or two after the exam is administered, but the board of ed took special precautions this year to ensure that every copy of the test-booklets were returned to their offices and that no information about the exam leaked. What I hear from teachers who administered the exam, however, is that the 5th and 8th grade tests were completely unprecedented, both in their content and in their difficulty.

The transition to the national Common Core Standards is not slated to begin until 2014, so educators I’ve spoken to are struggling to understand why this year's 5th grade exam abandoned topics like decimals and percents that have traditionally been the meat and potatoes of that exam, and focused instead on difficult pattern and area problems, some of which lie outside the stated 5th grade curriculum altogether.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Attaining Intangible States
A Personal Narrative and a Lesson in Applied Philosophy

A Teacher Pursuing Intangible States
original artwork by Tavet Rubel, created for Dewey to Delpit
Last post, I wrote about a powerful, impersonal kind of certainty that, under the best circumstances, a teacher feels about the instructions she gives. The incident of the classroom interloper, which I chose to illustrate that certainty, is an especially clear example, but in the course of my two months teaching precalc, there have been countless subtler instances in which this sense of the inevitability of my injunctions has come to my aid. It is the first time in my teaching career (now in its fifth year) that I have felt this kind of sureness, and of course, it’s thrilling.

When I taught at an inner-city No-Excuses charter school two years ago, I had the opposite experience. I was deeply insecure and hesitating. I expected my instructions to meet resistance, and they almost always did; and when that resistance was forceful, as it often was, my very dignity and pride were threatened.