Saturday, May 24, 2008

Teaching: Trade or Profession

A Voice Cries Out blog on teaching as a profession got me thinking (I wish she'd stop being so stimulating so I can go out in the garden and get some work done.)

I started attending some workshops on Friday as part of an introduction to engineering at Polytechnic U in B'klyn as part of a DOE grant - it was a small group but most were elementary school people. The prof who is a major guy at Poly was defining the profession of engineering and contrasting it to what people think engineers are - like building maintenance people -- in other words, trades, which he said people can learn in less than a year at a trade school rather than paying $100,000 or more for a degree in engineering.

Examining the criteria for a profession: design tools and know what tools to use. Knowledge is applied with experience, study and practice and judgements are made based on these factors.

I raised my hand and said that by these criteria, teaching in public schools today is a trade, not a profession. He disagreed, saying teachers should control their curriculum, etc. Not in today's world of deskilling teachers where major newspapers and ELA exams extol the benefits of having little experience or real training. TFA is one of the major instruments in this process - making teaching a true trade where you can go to TFA trade school for a short time - like learning data entry.

Ultimately, when the merit pay schemes are in place where a small percentage of teachers will earn bigger bucks with the rest at much lower pay - the idea of a trade will be complete - except people like plumbers will always make more. My advice to potential teachers - try plumbing instead and enjoy a trade that will pay.

When I hear that we need to close the achievment gap to keep up with the global economy my response is train plumbers instead. Plumbing is impossible to outsource.

5 comments:

  1. There's so much to this post that it's difficult to just make one comment.
    Something that I find very interesting is the attitude of some of the new teachers where I work. The majority of them come from alternative certification programs. We have periodic meetings to get their feedback. Some of what they say is really fascinating. They would like a set of lesson plans that have already been written and they do not understand why this is not made available. They do not understand why they are expected to write lesson plans themselves. Some have also asked for a photograph of a classroom with a chart that tells them exactly where to put their word wall, bulletin board, etc. I find this quite odd.

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  2. Actually, on the lesson plan issue, I used to hate writing plans from scratch. My strength as a teacher was delivery and in adapting things to the situation.

    Think about the theater. The actor is the performer and doesn;t rewrite the play every day. That is why teaching for 4 hours is like performing, yet thepublic laughs at it but would never expect an actor to do 4 hours every day - maybe on matinees. But also write the script while directing, etc.

    So, yes, I used to wonder the same thing - why I had to be the writer, the director, the actor, the clean-up crew, etc as a teacher.
    And in every subject as an elementary school teacher.

    In science, if I wanted to do hands-on it was a massive operation to gather everything. Now they have expensive kits.

    That is why I hungered for some collaborative effort but never found schools condusive to that. In my reform of elem. schools teams would be put together - and you need enough personnel to do it right - to take about 100 kids through 3 grades. Each person's strength would be emphasized - a team leader must be chosen by the team, not the principal.

    I have a good friend who worked in such a system in the late 60's/early 70's at PS 9 in central Brooklyn. I knew a lot of those teachers and they did amazing things - until the fab principal left and an arrogant, dictatorial guy came in and destroyed years of work in about 10 minutes.

    That is why I always believed we should experiment with true teacher run schools.

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  3. Let me see if I'm understanding you, Norm. You're advocating someone else writing your lesson plans, upon which you have the freedom to riff?

    We have these already: just give us a working computer and download the darn stuff. Then riff away.

    Don't those newbies get it? If you don't want to construct something from scratch, it's all out there in print or on the net. Scrounge and put something together that fits your style. If you don't like the result, change it, use something else.

    In the old days we used to develop plans that worked for us personally, given that we each bring a different set of talents to the workplace. It was called autonomy in the classroom, and it came with the job just like oxygen comes in the air.

    Unfortunately, it was something union management (and specifically Weingarten) did not think was worth fighting for.

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  4. I think I'm biased because my first supervising AP, when I started in the city was really tough on me about writing lesson plans-not the format-he gave me creative freedom. He just wanted me to really understand how the children processed what I was doing, how my questions prompted their thinking etc..He sat with me every Monday and went over my plans for the week. I never found it despotic, but guiding. I learned so much from him.
    He was an amazing man-a true professional.
    He supported and nurtured my creativity completely.
    He sat me down fairly early in my career and said, "I am going to teach you how to survive in a system that is meant to destroy you.."
    He retired when Bloomberg came in and it was a huge loss to the system.

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  5. Lesson planning is definitely an important skill for all teachers. Writing your own plans allows you to figure out what works and what doesn't, and to get a sense for how kids think. While delivery has always been my strength and I've considered lesson planning tedious, I do understand the importance of the latter and would hate for someone to take that responsibility from me.

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