Category Archives: a teacher’s journey

Poet and Philosopher Vera Korfioti

During my time in Cyprus I (Yiola) had the pleasure of visiting with renown author and dear friend, Vera Korfioti.

Vera has published a number of collections of poetry, as well as books in Greek literature, Education and on the works of Greek Philosophers.  Her most recent publication is on Pythagoreanism.

Vera Korfioti holds degrees in History and Archeology from the University of Athens. She also studied Journalism in Athens. Her greatest love of study is Philosophy and this can be seen throughout her poetry.

I share here one of her short poems of the place where I stayed during my time in Cyprus:

  

There is a tenderness in her poetry; and yet its intensity towards precision and detail gives it such power.

A highlight of my trip was talking about life and the nature of people in today’s age with Vera. While we live on opposite end of the world we share similar understandings on the philosophy of life.  Perhaps what connects me to Vera is not only the beauty of her poetry but her love of teaching.  Vera worked as a teacher of Philosophy in Secondary Education in Cyprus. She also studied in the area of children with special needs in England and the United States.  And, for several years she has been teaching at the Philosophy School of Cyprus.

Language, literacy and teaching brought together for the world to enjoy!

Vera Korfioti, myself and my son Gallaway.

How can we make professional development more useful?

I (Clare) was recently doing a Meet and Greet for our newly admitted student teachers to Image_PDcartoonour Master of Arts in Child Study teacher education program. I talked about how teaching is a journey and that you never stop learning. From our longitudinal study of teachers we know that teachers learn a great deal from each other and from reflecting on their teaching. I believe there is a place for formal professional development; however, many teachers (myself included) have found formal PD to be of little use. It is often so removed from daily practice, tends to be top-down, and is a one-off. Teachers need time and place for conversations about their teaching. There is a place for formal structured PD but the way it is so often delivered it is not effective. In previous blogs I have written about my teacher-researcher group which has been a very powerful form of PD because all of the teachers are working on a topic/question that is important to them. One of the students in my grad course sent me this cartoon about PD. Although I chuckled when I read it, I feel that is sums up the sentiments of many.

Teachers go to the Academy Awards

I (Clare) was watching the Academy Award last night and I was struck by the image_academy_award_trophynumber of winners who thanked their teachers. I recently had an unusual experience. My nephew ran into a former student teacher of mine from 20 years ago and they started talking and somehow made the connection. The former student teacher said that I had had a profound
impact on him. Huh! So teachers and teacher educators you never know the difference you are making. You may be thanked at the Academy Awards. We make a difference often in ways we do not see or know.

Teachers Improve as They Gain Experience

I (Clare) read the Learning Policy Institute (led by Linda Darling-Hammond) report which  analyzed 30 studies on the effect of teaching experience on student achievement.

Below is a brief summary and links to the report:

Based on a review of 30 studies published within the last 15 years, the authors find that as teachers gain experience throughout their careers, their students’ achievement gains increase. The steepest gains occur in the first few years of teaching, and improvement continues in the second and often third decade of their careers, especially when they work in collegial work environments.

Other findings include:
• Experienced teachers have a positive impact on the performance of their peers.
• As teachers gain experience, their students are more likely to do better on other measures of success beyond test scores, such as school attendance.
• Teachers make greater gains in their effectiveness when they accumulate experience in the same grade level, subject, or district.
• More experienced teachers confer benefits to their colleagues, their students, and to the school as a whole.

The findings in this publication have important implications for policymakers seeking to improve learning and close achievement gaps, including underscoring the value of retaining experienced teachers and offering strategies to improve their effectiveness. The report and brief also raise equity concerns, since inexperienced teachers tend to be highly concentrated in underserved schools serving high-need students. Included are recommendations to address these inequities—a requirement under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Here is the report: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/our-work/publications-resources/does-teaching-experience-increase-teacher-effectiveness-review-research

Here is the brief: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/our-work/publications-resources/brief-does-teaching-experience-increase-teacher-effectiveness-review-research/

Do teachers plateau early in their career or do they continue to grow and improve as they gain experience? It’s a critical question that has implications for local, state, and federal education leaders and policymakers. And it’s the subject of the latest report from the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research.

Based on their analysis of 30 recent, methodologically rigorous studies on the impact of teaching experience on student outcomes, authors Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky find that as teachers gain experience, they are more likely to positively impact student achievement and improve critical behaviors, including attendance. The steepest gains are in the first few years of teaching, but teachers gain in effectiveness throughout their careers, especially when they are in collegial work environments. Experienced teachers also have a positive impact on the performance of their peers.

“This report shows that what is widely accepted as true in the business world—that individuals improve their performance with experience—is also true in teaching,” says LPI Senior Policy Advisor Kini, who co-authored the report.

These findings come at an important time. Nationwide, we’re seeing a “greening” of the teacher workforce. But inexperienced teachers aren’t evenly distributed throughout schools. Black, Latino, American Indian, and Native-Alaskan students are three to four times more likely to attend schools with higher concentrations of first-year teachers than White students. New teachers are also more likely to be concentrated in high-poverty schools.

In addition to a detailed analysis of the research, the report includes recommendations to address these inequities—a requirement under the Every Student Succeeds Act—and offers program and investment strategies to attract, retain, and develop talented teachers who have opportunities to learn and grow throughout their careers.

Read the full report and the research brief, Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research, both of which are available on our website.

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About The Learning Policy Institute

The Learning Policy Institute conducts and communicates independent high-quality research to improve education. Working with policymakers, researchers, community groups, and others, we seek to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child. For more information, please visit http://www.learningpolicyinstitute.org.

Connect with Us

Learning Policy Institute
1530 Page Mill Road, Suite 200
Palo Alto, CA 94304

1301 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 500 Washington, DC 20036

info@learningpolicyinstitute.org

 

Thinking about Reading Recovery

I (Yiola) am interested in early literacy for a number of reasons: my area of expertise is elementary  education; I was an early years teacher for ten years; my own children are now in early years programs; and, I believe that understanding literacy in the early years is  foundational for understanding teaching and learning.

With recent discussions going on about early years literacy programs and talk of play versus direct instruction; and, exploration and social development versus academic rigour (neither of which I believe are true binaries but instead call for a thoughtful consideration of a developmental and critically rich fusion) I am compelled to think about reading in the early years. You see, it seems to me parents are often in a panic if their child is not reading and more and more I am hearing of excited parents proudly sharing that their child was reading at 3 or 4 while other parents are silently panicking if their child is not reading by 6 years of age.

I often think back to when I was a classroom teacher and I recall the complex yet carefully crafted time sensitive processes for reading acquisition. I also clearly remember having a Reading Recovery Program at our school and watching our first and second graders enter and exit the program with a good degree of improvement and development. Most children would come out of reading recovery with gains. The very few who did not required further testing and support that went beyond the readiness phenomenon.

In my readings I came across this interesting article about Reading Recovery and the relevance of levelled texts, phonological processing AND comprehension as all significant  components of early reading development.

Here is the article in full: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9817.12041/epdf

This reading reminded me that there needs to be an amalgamation of approaches and strategies in the early years classroom. More and more I think that the programming and planning of early years teachers is by far their greatest challenge – not deciding upon play versus directed learning – knowing how to plan in ways that are engaging, that tap into curiosities and children’s questions and that allow for literacy rich exploration while also ensuring time for literacy focused experienced.

 

 

The First Year of Teaching Can Feel Like a Fraternity Hazing

One of my (Clare) students sent me this article from the Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/first-year-teaching/477990/?utm_source=SFTwitter

As I read it my heart sank for these new teachers. I recall my first year of teaching (I lost 15 lbs. between September and December) from sheer work. Does it have to be that way? And given all that we have learned about beginning teachers I am not sure how much the situation has changed. Yes the first year of any new job is going to be a challenge but does it need to feel like “fraternity hazing)? I think no.

Brendan Hoffman / AP

This is the first story in a three-part series about teacher preparation and whether programs are doing enough to prepare new teachers to take over their own classrooms.

MIDDLE RIVER, MD—On a chilly November morning, Michael Duklewski stood outside his seventh-grade classroom as students filed in, some shoving each other playfully, others still half asleep. One by one they took a piece of paper from a bin by the front door and made their way to their seats.Image Michael Duklewski

“Good morning!” Duklewski, 33, said in a loud and confident voice over the classroom chatter. He closed the door and paused. A wad of paper flew through the air.

“I’m warning you man, the next time I see someone throw something, it’s lunch detention,” Duklewski said sternly, looking at the student who had thrown the paper.

As students in this second-period English class began to work on their warmup drill—to define the terms “setting” and “mood” in literature—the chatter continued. Duklewski walked over to the chalkboard in the front of the room where he was tracking the points for good behavior that each class had earned. Next to “second period,” he erased the number 14 and changed it to 13.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I already took off a point,” he warned. He waited as the conversations slowly died down, before launching into his lesson for the day on the play A Raisin in the Sun.

Duklewski, one of a growing number of career-changers that enter the teaching profession each year, switched from political lobbying to education after volunteering at an after-school program in Baltimore. This school year is his first, and it has been even tougher than he imagined. In the second week of September, reality hit. “I was like, ‘Oh God, I don’t know what I’m doing here,’” Duklewski recalled.

Duklewski is one of three teachers The Hechinger Report, which partnered with The Atlantic to produce this story, has followed over the course of their first year to look at how training programs prepare new teachers for the classroom—or don’t. As the American education system faces a drumbeat of criticism for its stubborn achievement gaps and lackluster performance compared to other countries, education schools are under attack.

Traditional education schools are trying to reinvent themselves, and alternative fast-track routes are popping up to offer shortcuts to the classroom. Both models seek to help prospective teachers deal with rising standards, increasing student diversity, new technology and, inevitably, the gauntlet of spitballs, note passing, and, these days, illicit texting.

Michael Duklewski leads a lesson in his second-period English language-arts class. (Jackie Mader)

While aspiring educators now have more choices than ever before when it comes to launching their careers, new teachers continue to leave the profession at an alarming rate, suggesting a breakdown in training and support. At the same time, there is little evidence to show which education programs are graduating the most successful teachers or what kind of support is most helpful for rookies.

Duklewski chose the traditional route to becoming a teacher. In 2015, he graduated from Towson University, a state institution outside of Baltimore that has been training teachers for more than 150 years and graduates nearly 700 new teachers each year. He selected the school because of its strong reputation, and it helped that his mother earned her own teaching degree there in 1972. His course of study took two years, including more than 20 classes and 16 weeks of full-time student teaching—typical for traditional programs, which provide more in-depth pre-teaching training than most alternative programs.

Duklewski was hired to teach seventh-grade English language arts at the same school where he completed his student teaching experience. He was familiar with Middle River Middle School’s administration and policies and already knew many of the nearly 900 students in the sprawling, single-story brick building, located in a suburb of Baltimore.

“We’ve gotten into a habit of accepting that we treat the first year of teaching like a fraternity hazing”

Though Duklewski said surviving the initial year hasn’t been easy, many first-year teachers are so traumatized they don’t come back at all. Data on new-teacher attrition varies, but studies have found that anywhere from 17 percent to 46 percent of new teachers quit within their first five years. If teachers were trained better, more might stick around, experts say.

“We’ve gotten into a habit of accepting that we treat the first year of teaching like a fraternity hazing,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). “People say, ‘I just don’t think you can learn this ahead of time.’ Well, you need to set up those conditions ahead of time,” she argued.

Is it possible for teacher programs to prepare educators with everything they need to know on Day 1? Maybe not everything, according to the three teachers we followed.

For Duklewski, although he’s struggled at times with unruly students, he’s not sure what else his teacher education program could have done. There’s no better way to learn how to teach, he argued, than just jumping in and doing it.

* * *

A student works on a reading assignment in Duklewski’s English language-arts class. (Jackie Mader)

Back in second period, Duklewski, wearing black dress pants and a blue polo shirt, continued to give directions for the next part of the lesson: using evidence from the A Raisin in the Sun script to draw a diagram of the set.

As he ran the discussion he moved constantly around the room, stopping the lesson abruptly—and frequently—as students talked to their neighbors. He kept an even tone as he threatened to call parents and reminded students that one of the class rules is “don’t talk while others are talking.”

Four minutes in, second period was down to 10 good behavior points. “Don’t draw on your arm,” Duklewski told one student. He ignored a student hitting himself in the face with a red folder. Duklewski stared down a chattering group of students until they started working again.

It was now 10 minutes into the period. Duklewski stepped up to the overhead projector in the front of the room and counted down from three. The class fell silent. “Our purpose is to find details about the staging of the Youngers’s home,” Duklewski said, referring to the family in the play. “What rooms are there? What things are there?” Some students raised their hands, but a few boys continued to talk to each other, or, in a couple of cases, to themselves.

“Ladies and gentleman, I’m literally asking you to do nothing when other people are talking,” Duklewski said in a calm and assertive voice. “We’re going to practice being silent for fifteen seconds. If we can do that, I’ll put a point on the board. If not, I’ll take two off.”

Duklewski set a timer for 15 seconds. Four seconds later, a student started talking.

Less than three months into his first year of teaching, Duklewski exuded the confidence of a more experienced teacher. But his second-period class was difficult compared to the other four classes he’d been teaching, a difference he attributed to several strong personalities and too many students—33, far bigger than his other classes.

For the worst behavior problems, his chosen strategy is keeping students after class for a one-on-one talk instead of addressing them in front of other students. “Some teachers come straight at a student when they have an issue with them in class,” Duklewski said. “I found that doesn’t work with them, especially not in a classroom full of their peers. They get yelled at enough.”

The ability to manage classroom behavior is one of the top concerns for every new teacher and can often lead to the undoing of a rookie. A 2014 report by the nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education found that trouble managing student discipline is one of the many reasons teachers leave the classroom. Poor classroom management can also get in the way of learning, said Arthur Levine, the president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and former president of Teachers College, Columbia University. “If a teacher can’t manage a classroom, nothing they’re going to do will be successful.” (The Hechinger Report is an independent unit of Teachers College.)

Although classroom management is one of the most important topics for new teachers, it is one of the least taught in preparation programs, said NCTQ’s Walsh. “Programs swear up and down that they teach this stuff … [but] there’s little evidence that they’re being taught it,” she said.

In fact, a 2013 report by NCTQ found that many teacher-preparation programs fail to teach certain aspects of classroom management. Of 122 programs examined by NCTQ, the majority focused on the setting up of routines and rules in classrooms, an important skill. But 74 percent did not teach teachers how to use praise in their classrooms to reinforce positive behavior or other day-to-day tricks to keep classes focused and get unruly kids under control.

“If a teacher can’t manage a classroom, nothing they’re going to do will be successful.”For Duklewski, talkative students can be irritating, but they’re not enough to make him quit teaching.

By December, his second-period class was getting better; during the fall, he had started giving students the chance to earn the right to come to his classroom during lunch and watch cartoons on Fridays. (He nixed the cartoons before winter break.) He moved one particularly energetic student to the back of the classroom where he could sit on a window ledge, stand up or move around without distracting other students.

His class-points system, however, had fallen apart. Right before winter break, Duklewski switched to an individual-point system to reward students for independent behavior. Students could earn points by being on-task, finishing the class warmup first, or answering questions correctly. They could then earn small prizes, like pencil sharpeners, or larger prizes, like “renting out” his classroom for lunch with friends.

He also switched from pointing out negative behavior to pointing out positive behavior. Sometimes he found that just announcing what students were doing—“Jimmy is working on his warmup”—made a huge difference. And only a few weeks into the new system, Duklewski said that the changes were both improving student behavior and his own sanity. “I’m just happier, because I’m saying good things all the time instead of harping on bad things,” Duklewski said.

Happiness is relative for a new teacher. Since Duklewski took over his own classroom last September, it’s been nearly impossible to balance his workload with his personal life, a problem many new teachers experience.

Every morning Duklewski wakes up by 5:30 and he tries to be in bed by 9 p.m., although he often stays up late preparing lessons. He saves time by not eating breakfast in the morning and has 35 minutes to eat lunch—15 minutes of which is taken up by hall duty or checking on students in the cafeteria. After 13 to 15 hours at school each day, he drives home, eats dinner, watches a little television, and packs his lunch for the next day. His weekends are mostly filled with grading.

Moving from a role as a student teacher to a full-time classroom teacher was a bigger jump than he had expected. He realized after his first week that there were many things he didn’t know, like the exact procedure for a fire drill. Or how to balance teaching with noninstructional duties like communicating with parents, filling out attendance, and responding to each day’s barrage of emails.

“When it’s all resting on you, it’s just that much more exhausting,” Duklewski said. “Some of it you just figure out as you hit the ground running.”

On a rainy January day, Duklewski stood in front of his fourth-period class having already downed several cups of coffee to keep up his energy. At 10 p.m. the night before, he had thrown out his lesson plan on monologues, and then stayed up until 1 a.m. reworking it to include video examples.

Students were transfixed. After watching monologues from The Lion King, Harry Potter, and The Incredibles, the class discussed the purpose of a monologue. Duklewski then instructed them to write their own, using point of view and voice. On a worksheet, students answered questions about who they would be, why they were talking, and who they were talking to. Kids erupted into excited chatter as they began to plan and write their monologues.

“I’m myself, talking about sacking Tom Brady, to myself,” one student explained. He read his first line aloud. “Ohh I’m gonna sack Tom Brady!”

When the class ended, students filed out still chatting about their monologues. Oner bonus of an engaging lesson, Duklewski added, is that students stay on task and he doesn’t deal with as much misbehavior.

* * *

Duklewski was assigned a consulting teacher who observes him every two weeks. After those observations, he has a chance to discuss the lesson and receive feedback, such as on his classroom management approach or his use of tests.

The mentoring and a high level of support from his school have helped him keep a positive attitude, he said. “I feel the freedom to take risks, mess up and experiment because I don’t feel pressure. If I screw up, I screw up. They’ll help me fix it.” On his mid-year evaluation, Duklewski was rated “effective” on a scale that included the ratings “developing,” “effective” and “highly effective.”

Next year, he wants to do a better job using student data to plan lessons that touch on the skills students are lacking—something he rarely had the chance to do this year because of all the other demands of his classroom and the hours spent preparing lessons. He also wants to get better at long-term planning. And he’s learned from his challenging second-period class that it pays to set up better rules and classroom procedures from the beginning of the year.

As spring break approached, a series of snow days and holidays threw Duklewski’s students off track. He increased the number of phone calls home to parents and doubled down on his positive praise. “I think we’ve come to some sort of understanding about how we’re all going to get along in class,” Duklewski said. He was also getting the hang of balancing his schedule, and had cut his work hours down—to less than 12 hours a day. It helped that he was seeing academic growth. On standardized writing assessments, the class average had gone up by about 50 percent in most of his classes. On reading tests, scores were also rising steadily.

“Next year, I expect it to be much, much easier,” Duklewski said. “I’ve already done everything once. I’ll have stuff to fall back on.”

Although he’s starting to plan his summer vacation, including work as a counselor at a summer camp, he still has one final goal for his students as the year winds down. “By the end of the year, they will not talk over other people while they are talking,” Duklewski said with a laugh. “If I teach them nothing else, they will learn that skill.”

 

 

 

What makes a teacher a good teacher?

A few posts ago Clare wrote about teacher characteristics. I  (yiola) am following up on her post with considerations for what makes a good teacher?

Take a look at this link:

http://www.npr.org/2016/03/09/469097318/a-great-teacher-illustrated?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20160312

I think it is quite fantastic as it tells, in an nuanced way, the narrative of one good teacher.

Jimi has many qualities, characteristics and knowledge including:  content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, an understanding of development, a clear philosophy/vision of teaching, a belief that all children can learn, patience and care.  What stood out most for me as I read this tale was the teacher’s capacity for care.  I believe care is central to good practice —  care for children’s well being;  care for children’s learning;  care for the future.

I often think about the possibilities of experience in school and the stories of positive and negative experience and time and time again the experiences that inspire and motivate children to learn are often centred around the teacher who cares.

 

 

Teachers Spend Own Money for Supplies

As a teacher I (Clare) was always on the look out for resources for my classroom and like many other teachers spent my own money to supplement when necessary. With education budgets getting even tighter I think that more and more teachers are dipping into their wallets to simply run their classrooms. Below is a graphic and an article that I thought you might find interesting (but discouraging). And since when did being a fund-raiser become part of a teacher’s job.

TeachersPayforSupplies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce Hogue is always looking for ways to make teaching science more interesting.

But the money he uses for the boxes of Cheerios, Bran Flakes and Total needed for one his experiments usually comes out of his pocket.

“As a science teacher, I have an official budget, but that is usually gone by the beginning of the year,” says Hogue, who works in suburban Denver. “When I want to do a science lab, I usually pay for it all on my own.”

Hogue is one of the millions of teachers across the country who are shelling out their own hard-earned cash to pay for books, pens, pencils and other basic supplies that schools have provided in the past.

According to a new survey, teachers spent an average of $448 of their own money on instructional materials and school supplies for the 1998-99 school year.

The survey conducted last summer by the National School Supply and Equipment Association — a trade group representing the school supply industry — found that teachers pay for 77 percent of the school supplies needed in their classrooms. The rest comes from the school, parent-teacher groups and other school funds.

Spending to Learn

This doesn’t surprise teachers and their advocates.

“What other profession do you know where professionals have to use their own money to do their job properly?” says Janet Fass, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers. “Do engineers, do accountants spend their own money? Why should teachers when they are far lower paid than other professionals?”

Teachers say they not only buy school supplies with their money, but many times they help out students who may not have cash for lunch or to get home.

In Philadelphia, where teachers are in intense contract negotiations with school administrators this week, one-fourth of teachers said they gave their own money to students for transportation, books and lunches, according to a survey conducted by the city’s teachers union. Furthermore, 47 percent said they lacked basic supplies such as paper, pens and pencils for their classrooms.

The contract proposal under consideration now would take away a $50 stipend that teachers get for school supplies, says Barbara Goodman, communications director for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

“We are talking about a school system that is not able to supply funding for what should be priorities — books, pens, paper,” says Goodman.

Suburbia Also Affected

And it is not just in urban neighborhoods that teachers often become charity workers.

Hogan, the suburban Denver science teacher, says he recently gave lunch money to one of his students whose disabled mother is in the process of applying to get her son in the school’s free lunch program.

“It’s the little stuff that falls through the cracks that we usually have to pick up,” said Hogue, who has been teaching science for 30 years.

But Hogue has found a creative way to solve his money problems.

He has turned to private funding for help. Groups like NASA, the U.S. Geological Society and private corporations like Lockheed-Martin have donated thousands for his classroom experiments.

Now, when other teachers panic, Hogue has good advice.

He takes out his list of where he gets his grant material and reminds them there are people willing to help out.

 

You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong.

I (Clare) was sent this article from a friend and it truly captures the complexity of teaching and the misconceptions about teaching. All parent, politicians, and journalists should have to read it. A shout out to all teachers! Here is the link to the article from the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/22/you-think-you-know-what-teachers-do-right-wrong/

By Valerie Strauss February 22, 2014

School_Globe

You went to school so you think you know what teachers do, right? You are wrong. Here’s a piece explaining all of this from Sarah Blaine, a mom, former teacher and full-time practicing attorney in New Jersey who writes at her parentingthecore blog, where this first appeared.

By Sarah Blaine

We all know what teachers do, right? After all, we were all students. Each one of us, each product of public education, we each sat through class after class for thirteen years. We encountered dozens of teachers. We had our kindergarten teachers and our first grade teachers and our fifth grade teachers and our gym teachers and our art teachers and our music teachers. We had our science teachers and our social studies teachers and our English teachers and our math teachers. If we were lucky, we might even have had our Latin teachers or our Spanish teachers or our physics teachers or our psychology teachers. Heck, I even had a seventh grade “Communications Skills” teacher. We had our guidance counselors and our principals and some of us had our special education teachers and our study hall monitors.

So we know teachers. We get teachers. We know what happens in classrooms, and we know what teachers do. We know which teachers are effective, we know which teachers left lasting impressions, we know which teachers changed our lives, and we know which teachers sucked.

We know. We know which teachers changed lives for the better. We know which teachers changed lives for the worse.

Teaching as a profession has no mystery. It has no mystique. It has no respect.

We were students, and therefore we know teachers. We denigrate teachers. We criticize teachers. We can do better than teachers. After all: We do. They teach.

We are wrong.

We need to honor teachers. We need to respect teachers. We need to listen to teachers. We need to stop reducing teachers to arbitrary measurements of student growth on so-called objective exams.

Most of all, we need to stop thinking that we know anything about teaching merely by virtue of having once been students.

We don’t know.

I spent a little over a year earning a master of arts in teaching degree. Then I spent two years teaching English Language Arts in a rural public high school. And I learned that my 13 years as a public school student, my 4 years as a college student at a highly selective college, and even a great deal of my year as a master’s degree student in the education school of a flagship public university hadn’t taught me how to manage a classroom, how to reach students, how to inspire a love of learning, how to teach. Eighteen years as a student (and a year of preschool before that), and I didn’t know anything about teaching. Only years of practicing my skills and honing my skills would have rendered me a true professional. An expert. Someone who knows about the business of inspiring children. Of reaching students. Of making a difference. Of teaching.

I didn’t stay. I copped out. I left. I went home to suburban New Jersey, and a year later I enrolled in law school.

I passed the bar. I began to practice law at a prestigious large law firm. Three years as a law student had no more prepared me for the practice of law than 18 years of experience as a student had previously prepared me to teach. But even in my first year as a practicing attorney, I earned five times what a first-year teacher made in the district where I’d taught.

I worked hard in my first year of practicing law. But I didn’t work five times harder than I’d worked in my first year of teaching. In fact, I didn’t work any harder. Maybe I worked a little less.

But I continued to practice. I continued to learn. Nine years after my law school graduation, I think I have some idea of how to litigate a case. But I am not a perfect lawyer. There is still more I could learn, more I could do, better legal instincts I could develop over time. I could hone my strategic sense. I could do better, be better. Learn more law. Learn more procedure. But law is a practice, law is a profession. Lawyers are expected to evolve over the course of their careers. Lawyers are given more responsibility as they earn it.

New teachers take on full responsibility the day they set foot in their first classrooms.

The people I encounter out in the world now respect me as a lawyer, as a professional, in part because the vast majority of them have absolutely no idea what I really do.

All of you former students who are not teachers and not lawyers, you have no more idea of what it is to teach than you do of what it is to practice law.

All of you former students: you did not design curricula, plan lessons, attend faculty meetings, assess papers, design rubrics, create exams, prepare report cards, and monitor attendance. You did not tutor students, review rough drafts, and create study questions. You did not assign homework. You did not write daily lesson objectives on the white board. You did not write poems of the week on the white board. You did not write homework on the white board. You did not learn to write legibly on the white board while simultaneously making sure that none of your students threw a chair out a window.

You did not design lessons that succeeded. You did not design lessons that failed.

You did not learn to keep your students quiet during lock down drills.

You did not learn that your 15-year-old students were pregnant from their answers to vocabulary quizzes. You did not learn how to teach functionally illiterate high school students to appreciate Shakespeare. You did not design lessons to teach students close reading skills by starting with the lyrics to pop songs. You did not miserably fail your honors level students at least in part because you had no books to give them. You did not struggle to teach your students how to develop a thesis for their essays, and bask in the joy of having taught a successful lesson, of having gotten through to them, even for five minutes. You did not struggle with trying to make SAT-level vocabulary relevant to students who did not have a single college in their county. You did not laugh — because you so desperately wanted to cry — when you read some of the absurdities on their final exams. You did not struggle to reach students who proudly announced that they only came to school so that their mom’s food stamps didn’t get reduced.

You did not spend all of New Years’ Day crying five years after you’d left the classroom because you reviewed The New York Times’ graphic of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and learned that one of your very favorite students had been killed in Iraq two years before. And you didn’t know. Because you copped out and left. So you cried, helplessly, and the next day you returned to the practice of law.

You did not. And you don’t know. You observed. Maybe you learned. But you didn’t teach.

The problem with teaching as a profession is that every single adult citizen of this country thinks that they know what teachers do. And they don’t. So they prescribe solutions, and they develop public policy, and they editorialize, and they politicize. And they don’t listen to those who do know. Those who could teach. The teachers.

 

The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About

I (Clare) read this really interesting article on Edutopia

I believe it has relevance for both teachers and teacher educators. Having to unpack and remember how we learned a topic/skill is hard. How do you break down the steps to learning so that our students can acquire the knowledge and skills.  This article has some highly useful examples and suggestions.  As a teacher educator I often make assumptions about my student teachers. They all have university degrees so they should be able to master the content easily. Wrong assumption! It takes time and good teaching. Here is the link to the full article. The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About 

 

Knowledge is a curse.
 Knowing things isn’t bad itself, but it causes unhealthy assumptions — such as forgetting how hard it was to learn those things in the first place. It’s called the Curse of Knowledge.

In this post, we’ll identify how the Curse of Knowledge affects educators. Then we’ll outline seven ways to alleviate the curse. The ultimate goal is to improve instruction.

The Curse of Knowledge

The Curse of Knowledge has been variously described in articles by Chip and Dan Heath, Carmen Nobel, and Steven Pinker, and also in books such as The Sense of Style and Made to Stick. It has been applied to a variety of domains: child development, economics, and technology are just a few.

All of the resources describe the same phenomena — that a strong base of content knowledge makes us blind to the lengthy process of acquiring it. This curse has implications for all teachers:

  • We do not remember what it is like to not know what we are trying to teach.
  • We cannot relive the difficult and lengthy process that learning our content originally took.

As a result, we end up assuming that our lesson’s content is easy, clear, and straightforward. We assume that connections are apparent and will be made effortlessly. Assumptions are the root cause of poor instruction. And acknowledgment is the first step to recovery.

Lifting the Curse

Here are seven ways to make learning easier for your students.

1. Emotion

Barbara Fredrickson, a champion in the field of positive psychology, has studied the effects of mild positive emotions on desired cognitive traits like attentiveness and ability to creatively solve problems. In what she coined the broaden-and-build theory, Fredrickson found that pleasant and mild emotional arousal before experiencing content leads to greater retention. A quick joke or humorous movie can serve as the positive emotional stimulant. So learning is easier and the Curse of Knowledge is potentially circumnavigated when injecting a bit of emotion into your lesson.

2. Multi-Sensory Lessons

Though Howard Gardner’s influential work states that we each have a preferred learning modality, new research highlights the fact that effective lessons need not be unisensory (only kinesthetic, only auditory, etc.) but multi-sensory. Multi-sensory experiences activate and ignite more of the brain, leading to greater retention. So use a multisensory approach in your lessons to make learning easier.

3. Spacing

Blocked practice is ancient and is no longer considered best practice. An example of blocked practice is cramming. Though it feels like learning, blocked practice results in learning that is shallow, and the connections quickly fade. The preferred alternative is the opposite of blocked practice: spaced practice.

Exposing yourself to content and requiring your brain to recall previously learned concepts at spaced intervals (hours, days, weeks, or months) makes the content sticky and results in deeper retention with solid neural connections. As spaced practice is the way that you learned the content you teach, it makes sense to employ the same technique with your students. So thinking of your content as a cycle that is frequently revisited makes learning easier for your students while helping alleviate the curse.

For more information on spacing content, check out Make It Stick or 3 Things Experts Say Make A Perfect Study Session.

4. Narratives

Everyone loves a great story because our ancestral past was full of them. Stories were the dominant medium to transmit information. They rely on our innate narcissistic self to be effective learning tools — we enjoy stories because we immediately inject ourselves into the story, considering our own actions and behavior when placed in the situations being described. This is how we mentally make connections, and if students are listening to a story interlaced with content, they’re more likely to connect with the ideas. So connecting with content through a story is at the heart of learning and can help alleviate the stress associated with the Curse of Knowledge.

5. Analogies and Examples

An analogy is a comparison of different things that are governed by the same underlying principles. If understanding a process is what we’re after, looking at the result of the process proves informative. An analogy compares two unlike things by investigating a similar process that produces both. Said differently, an analogy highlights a connection, and forming connections is at the core of learning.

Whereas an analogy compares similar processes that result in different products, an example highlights different processes that result in similar products. Copious use of examples forces the brain to scan its knowledge inventory, making desirable connections as it scans. So learning is easier when analogies and examples are used to facilitate mental connections.

6. Novelty

New challenges ignite the risk-reward dopamine system in our brains. Novel activities are interesting because dopamine makes us feel accomplished after succeeding. Something that is novel is interesting, and something interesting is learned more easily because it is attended to. So emphasis on the new and exciting aspects of your content could trip the risk-reward system and facilitate learning.

7. Teach Facts

Conceptual knowledge in the form of facts is the scaffolding for the synthesis of new ideas. In other words, you cannot make new ideas with out having old ideas. Disseminating facts as the only means to educate your students is wrong and not encouraged. However, awareness that background knowledge is important to the creation of new ideas is vital for improving instruction. Prior knowledge acts as anchors for new incoming stimuli. When reflecting on the ability of analogies and examples to facilitate connections, it is important to remember that the connections need to be made to already existing knowledge. So providing your students with background knowledge is a prerequisite in forming connections and can make their learning easier.

Making It Easier

The Curse of Knowledge places all of our students at a disadvantage. As educators, it’s not enough to simply recognize that we are unable to remember the struggle of learning. We need to act. By incorporating facts, highlighting novelty, liberally utilizing examples and analogies, cycling our content, telling content-related stories, making our lesson multi-sensory, and harnessing the power of emotion, we can make learning easier for our students.

 

By incorporating facts, novelty, examples, analogies, and emotion; and cycling content, telling content-related stories, and making lessons multisensory, we can make learning easier for our students.

Source: The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About