Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Commentary by Loretta Prisco

The NYS Regents is considering using museums and cultural institutions to prepare teachers instead of universities. I earned a college degree in education and received extensive training in teaching in a museum setting.

When I started teaching, there were many teachers who were not college graduates, but graduates of Maxwell Training School - a 2 year preparation for teaching. There were many things they did well and I learned from them. They could organize a class, line kids up, and get to recess in an orderly fashion. I learned games and songs. They could teach beginning reading, properly use a basal reading series, and follow a math text book. They knew about using realia for social studies, but lessons were basically reading from a text and answering the questions at the end of a chapter. They did arts and crafts. Some learned the piano, a requirement for the early childhood license. They knew how to run an assembly and put on plays. I don't know what they learned at Maxwell, but I do know they taught they way they were taught in the 1920's and 1930's. Perhaps it worked for them in the 50's and 60's.

But, and it is a big but, I think they knew little about teaching and learning theory, little about child development, and I don't think they could survive in today's classroom. I don't think that if a lesson failed, they could figure out why and make adjustments, because their lessons weren't buttressed by theory. I don't think they knew much about higher level thinking and good questioning techniques. They used discipline methods that would have all of them in the rubber room - using rulers and hands to smack kids around, and very abusive and demeaning reprimands. They had no other resources or understanding. They disciplined the way they were disciplined in the 20's and at home.

I learned a lot more when I was Director of School Programs at a children's museum. But it was not an ordinary museum and a far from ordinary learning experience. Every 2 years we opened a hands-on thematic and interdisciplinary exhibit. We met tirelessly for 2 years with experts in the content area of the theme, architects and museum preparators to develop each exhibit. But 2 years - on one topic - (sound, art, the human body, storytelling, architecture) with a significant budget and access to many creative and quality people. Yet the staff saw me as useful because I did have teaching experience. I had acquired skills that they did not have. I knew whether or not kids would "get it" after experiencing a particular exhibit or participate in an activity. I knew that it was critical to be able to smoothly move children from one space to another, that all children had to be able to see and touch. And of course, my one constant demand - that every class that visited be divided into 2 so that docents had small classes to teach! That experience as wonderful as it was, would not have prepared me to teach. It broadened what I already knew.

When I was teaching undergrads at the college, I was shocked when one student complained that she didn't see any reason for taking liberal arts classes. She asked why she had to know about Ancient Greece. I told her that it is assumed that a college graduate knows about Ancient Greece and she just might have to teach it.

As I think about it now in today's educational climate, I think she asked what the current thinking is in our system. You don't have to be smart, or well educated to teach. As a matter of fact, either of those are dangerous. You need only to read and follow the directions of what is laid out for you.

Loretta Prisco is involved with training and supporting new teachers in NYC. She is one of the founding members of ICE.

1 comment:

  1. "You need only to read and follow the directions of what is laid out for you."

    I definitely agree with this......thanks for the very nice article.


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