” If we trained airline pilots the way we train teachers, we’d give them a 2-year training program behind maybe a simulator, but most of it would be lecture. And then we would give them the hardest plane to fly! We wouldn’t give them an easy plane to fly, because the pilots with seniority get that plane. They would never get training again. Everything they would learn during their career, they would learn by happenstance. And if they can survive 30 years, then they can get the easy planes to fly. We don’t train doctors the way we train teachers, we don’t train lawyers the way we train teachers. We don’t train airline pilots this way. You would never think of [doing that]. We wouldn’t do this to any other profession, but somehow teaching is different.”
I love this analogy because it highlights how little we as a society value the profession of teaching. There is no other profession that expects its novices to be fully fledged the moment they receive a license or certificate. Anyone who has spent any time as a teacher can attest to the fact that the journey of a teacher is a lifelong journey, that requires ongoing development and improvement. However the fact that the profession isn’t widely seen as a “craft” means that when the challenge of reforming the education system enters the dialogue, the topic of teacher effectiveness becomes a debate about accountability and teacher merit. Perhaps, the solution involves taking a look at the profession of teaching and elevating it in importance and value to our society.
Two weeks ago, I spent some time with Linda Shore, the Director of the Teacher Institute at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, when she shared with me some of the history and impact of their approach to professional development for science teachers. It struck me how powerful this is in addressing this perception of the profession. Linda describes the program as a lifelong journey and explained that their program takes the approach of a Guild, much like the process used in medieval times, because they believe developing mastery as a teacher requires support from mentor teachers, the opportunity to develop new strategies, and a peer community to share ideas and best practices. Nowhere is this more critical than when instituting a change in pedagogy such as integrating STEM education.
“The way we look at teachers in the Teacher Institute is, it’s a Guild. Just like a Medieval Guild. Just like the old guilds of practice where you’d study to be a tailor or you’d study to be a goldsmith, and everybody knew it took a lifetime to become a master. Nobody expected you in your first 2 years to become Master Goldsmith. But for some reason, with education, you graduate from college and you’re supposed to be fully baked. Or perhaps we’ll give you a little induction, we’ll tweak you a little bit, and then congratulations you’re a fully fledged Master Teacher. That just happens, nowhere. But that’s how we train teachers [in this country]. At the Teacher Institute, we’ve always seen it as a lifelong journey that you never finish, you’re always aiming to get better. You spend the rest of your life, like a concert violinist improving your craft, getting better, talking to people who know better about something than you do, getting better, still. That is the idea that is infused in our whole program. When these beginning teachers start, we make it very clear, ‘Congratulations, you’re going to be here for life, because this is a guild. And the ‘cloth’ we’re dealing with is student centered learning.’ “
What a powerful idea! Just this morning, I spoke with Ms. Reo Pruiett from Educate Texas (formerly Texas High School Project) to discuss the success that Texas has seen with it’s statewide STEM education initiative. In 2007, the Texas Education Agency initiated the THSP to design and transform high schools around the state to have a STEM focus, using a blueprint that outlined 7 keys to school design. Ms. Pruiett shared with me some of the challenges leaders in their program have faced over its 5 year history. One of these challenges has been in getting buy-in to the change in pedagogy. She described the shift from traditional instruction, where the teacher was expected to be the’ expert’, to a project-based learning approach, where the teacher facilitated the learning, and put the responsibility for working hard on the student.
“We use project based learning to build connections because that’s what also mirrors what you have to do in the workforce, in industry, and in the real world. As we worked through developing project based learning for our teachers, it was a challenge in the beginning for teachers to give up the more traditional approach and to build out concepts where you blend the learning. Because we’ve been so test-driven, teachers think, “What if I teach like this and they don’t score high?”
This approach has proven itself in Texas where the T-STEM Academies are transforming schools from under-performing, with low graduation rates, to schools with high percentage of graduates who move on to 2- and 4-year colleges.
“That’s been a challenge that we’ve been overcoming. Because now kids are making the connections and because we’re making real world connections, they are better problem solvers. And it really does not cause you to lose ground. They’re still going to do well on your state test. Just because you teach the goals and objectives in a different way, doesn’t mean learning hasn’t occurred. In fact, the learning is much better, because the kids will remember how to do this at a greater rate”
Si much of the work in education reform focuses the importance of improving teacher effectiveness, but we must not only improve effectiveness, we need to INSPIRE change and transformation. As Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems with the same thinking that caused the problem!” In order to see the scope of transformation necessary in our education system, we must first begin to look at the Teaching Profession as one that is critical to the health and success of our Nation. Just as we encourage our most capable students to aspire to be doctors, lawyers, and business and community leaders, we must encourage our best students to enter the profession of teaching! It is that important! Let’s do the work…