Opinion
School & District Management Letter to the Editor

Additional Ideas on Ways to Make Peace in Teaching

June 10, 2009 2 min read
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To the Editor:

Barnett Berry’s Commentary “Ending the Battles Over Teaching” (May 20, 2009) was thought-provoking on two accounts. Twenty years ago, I had just joined the Holmes Group, a coalition of education school deans, as a “teacher adviser” to the president, leaving the classroom after 13 years. As a founding member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, I argued then for a broader, richer, and more imaginative conception of how the organization defined the category of professional teacher members. It was a hard sell then, and I am disheartened that the hybrid role Mr. Berry describes is still not commonplace for many experienced teachers.

People are weary of the teaching-policy arguments and debates, which more often than not come across as ideological self-preservation for both camps. Mr. Berry offers a “‘third way’ for the future of teaching,” but could there be a fourth? Perhaps the battle would end if the conversation shifted to the future of learning, rather than the future of teaching.

Imagine the creative solutions and ideas we might have if we talked about a national learning agenda for all Americans, rather than a national education agenda. Imagine the contributions the virtual “think tank” Mr. Berry cites could make if it were the “Learning Leaders Network,” instead of the Teacher Leaders Network. Aligned with organizations like the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, such efforts really could remake learning to fit the nation’s needs, and launch the new professional roles to create a bold new world of personalized learning and achievement for all.

Mary-Dean Barringer

Chief Executive Officer

All Kinds of Minds

Durham, N.C.

To the Editor:

It was with great interest that I read Barnett Berry’s Commentary “Ending the Battles Over Teaching.” As a recruiter who has spent the past three years working with school districts, I have found that the most interesting part of my job has been looking for the common denominators of what makes an effective teacher or principal.

Education is one of the few industries that believe college really prepares young people to assume the positions for which they are hired. Almost every other sees a four-year degree simply as a sign that a person understands what it takes to set a long-term goal and achieve it.

With all of the suggestions Mr. Berry proposed for improving the teaching profession, not one said: “Insist that colleges and universities do a better job of preparing who we hire.” Waiting until student-teaching to expose college students to what the job is all about, usually in the second semester of their senior year, means that schools will inherit new hires who have found out too late that teaching is not for them. In addition, student-teachers who have only worked with one age group lack the experience to know the type of student they might be most effective with.

We also need to look at who is teaching our teachers. My two current favorite quotes from teacher-educators are “The greatest mistake a teacher makes is setting her expectations for her students too high,” followed by “If you reach just one student, you have done your job.” It is well documented how low the requirements are to get into many “schools of education,” for both students and faculty.

Many new teachers who later leave the profession say they were ill-prepared. The training most of them received doesn’t look very “professional” to me.

J. Renee Gordon

E Squared

Thomasville, Ga.

A version of this article appeared in the June 10, 2009 edition of Education Week as Additional Ideas on Ways to Make Peace in Teaching

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