Connections: Careers In Teaching

May 01, 1994 3 min read

The four features in this issue provide, in a way, a snapshot of the teaching profession--the best and the worst of it, the reality and the ideal. In the article beginning on page 32, contributing writer David Ruenzel looks at the preparation of prospective teachers. In the story starting on page 38, former New York Times education editor Gene Maeroff reflects on the career of an ordinary teacher on the verge of retirement. In the cover story, which begins on page 20, senior editor David Hill focuses on an extraordinary teacher in the first decade of his career. Beginning on page 26, contributing writer Ann Bradley follows two adventurous teachers who hope to be among the first in the nation to be certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The young people emerging from colleges of education today will be entering a teaching profession that is more demanding than it has ever been. The influence of home and church has been greatly diluted by an all-pervasive popular culture. An incredibly diverse student body brings formidable needs and problems to the classroom. And a growing number of educators and policymakers are calling for major changes in the way public schools are organized and operated.

To see how schools of education have modified their programs to prepare teachers for this brave new world, Ruenzel spent a week at Illinois State University at Normal. He attended classes, met with faculty, and talked with students about to become teachers. He found that little has changed. Idealistic, eager, open-minded students, under the tutelage of professors and supervising teachers in public schools, soon begin to act like “grizzled, no-nonsense, traditional teachers’’ preoccupied with classroom management and control.

Lou Romano, the subject of Maeroff’s story, is one of those no-nonsense, traditional teachers, who has taught in the same New Jersey district for 30 years. His career has been undistinguished. He teaches now much as he did when he began. Romano is admittedly old-fashioned, disdainful of reform efforts, and resentful of how public education has changed. Maeroff sees Romano as the personification of many older teachers “whose educational world is circumscribed by the four walls of the classroom, a cauldron in which day-to-day reality bubbles to the surface and theory disintegrates. They have not read and may not even be aware of the outpouring of reports that have attempted to steer the public schools in new directions.’'

Timothy Hamilton is a dramatic contrast to Romano. In his 10th year of teaching, Hamilton imparts a love of reading to his 2nd graders at Dodson Elementary School in a suburb of Nashville, Tenn. His classroom is awash in children’s books, which he draws upon to teach all of the subjects--using poetry, for example, to teach arithmetic. There is a waiting list to get into his class. He is revered by parents and students and admired by fellow teachers. His is already a distinguished career.

Hamilton began as a “skill and drill’’ teacher, filling his classroom with a blizzard of work sheets. But he realized that although his pupils were giving correct answers, they were not really learning, “not really using the skills.’' So he began to reflect on his practice. He started to attend workshops in search of new ideas. Then he began to change the way he taught. Now, Hamilton conducts workshops for other teachers.

Hamilton puts his heart and soul into his work. (At the end of the day, Hill was exhausted from just watching him.) Hamilton summarizes his teaching philosophy this way: “I try to make each day special for each child. I want them to feel like they can’t wait to get back tomorrow and learn some more.’'

Diane Hughart and Rick Wormeli, middle school teachers in Fairfax County, Va., volunteered to participate in a project that is one of the most significant developments in the teaching profession in decades. They spent much of the current school year field-testing the new assessments that teachers seeking national certification will have to pass. From mid-November to mid-January, they documented their teaching--videotaping lessons, compiling portfolios of their students’ work, and writing commentaries. Then, in March, they spent two full days dem- onstrating their knowledge and abilities as master teachers.

If they become certified next fall, Hughart and Wormeli will be pioneers, part of a vanguard that is seeking to make teaching a true profession--a profession in which there are many more Timothy Hamiltons than Lou Romanos.--Ronald A. Wolk

A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 1994 edition of Teacher as Connections: Careers In Teaching