Teacher-Educators Belong in Schools

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To the Editor:

In her articulate Commentary "Time, for a Change" (Nov. 3, 2004), Suzanne Kaback says what teachers have been trying to say for years: If you want to bake a better educational cake, you have to spend more time in the kitchen. Or, to put it another way: Student learning happens in real classrooms with real teachers. Any theory, practice, or innovation that doesn’t connect to the teacher who stirs the batter won’t change the flavor of the cake. The universities have served the valuable function of training the inexperienced on how to use the appliances and how to light the fire and where to store the sugar. But once a teacher closes the door on the classroom, she must face the heat alone.

With banners of high standards and vision statements posted on the walls, new teachers find themselves up to their elbows in the messy process of creation. They discover that many of the ingredients are flawed, and that some cakes don’t want to be baked. They also learn that the process is very complicated, demanding, and time-consuming. They find out they are only partially prepared.

For years, university educational scholars got it wrong. The publication of a breakthrough educational theory doesn’t automatically translate into classroom practice. Creating professional development in order to “fix” teachers has limited value. In general, innovations that are done to teachers, not with teachers, fail.

If teachers are going to bake a better cake, they need more help in the kitchen.

Teachers need practical solutions. Teachers are not afraid of learning. They are hungry for answers to their problems. They want suggestions for change. They will walk a mile to master a new, effective idea. But they aren’t willing to walk a hundred yards to listen to theories only remotely connected to their work.

Come into the kitchen. Show teachers how to organize their work, how to take care of their appliances, how to prepare their ingredients, and how to put icing on their cakes. Give teachers videos of good teaching. Set up observation rooms where teachers can watch good teaching. Help teachers analyze their lessons and prepare better classroom materials. Create a learning community where teachers can identify common problems, read books together, and test out ideas among themselves and create their own solutions in their own classrooms.

Ms. Kaback is right. Teachers want to succeed. They want to bake a better cake. University experts are well advised to find ways of getting into classrooms. Teachers tend to trust a university expert who knows something about cleaning up milk spilled on the kitchen floor.

Bill Harshbarger
History Teacher
Mattoon High School
Arcola, Ill.

Vol. 24, Issue 13, Page 40

Published in Print: November 24, 2004, as Teacher-Educators Belong in Schools

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