Teaching for America or Learning on the Job?

To what extent is classroom teaching a skill?  How long does it take to learn those skills, and is there a best way to learn them?

Teaching for AmericaThese are important questions at any time, but I submit they are of particular importance today, with Teach for America (and other alternative routes into the classroom) growing in popularity.

No doubt about Teach for America’s ascendancy.  During the presidential campaign both candidates spoke favorably about the program, and President Obama often speaks highly of it.  Continue reading

Public Schools Need a Wake Up Call!

“Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer.”

President Obama’s speech to students, September 9, 2009

Those lines imply support for a progressive, child-centered view of schooling: educate through the strengths a child possesses.

President Obama gives education speechBut the President went on, “And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.”

And when and if a child discovers those interests and abilities, what happens? Are classrooms set up to work with individual kids and nurture their talents, or do other pressures force teachers into cookie-cutter behavior?

Kids want to believe. Visit any elementary school on a morning of the first few weeks of school, and you will see joyful youngsters cavorting, laughing and shouting with glee. Their giddy anticipation is palpable and infectious, because they are actually happy to be back in school. “This year will be different,” their behavior screams. “This year I will be a great student, I will learn everything, and teachers will help me whenever I need help.”

However, this celebration, a child’s version of the triumph of hope over experience, is generally short-lived, and for most children school soon becomes humdrum, or worse.

What goes wrong, and what can be done about it? Continue reading