Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Professionalization of Teachers, Part IV

Sometime back, Jenny D. wrote a piece about a debate in one of her classes and I got involved in the debate on the comments, about processes and teaching. The point that Jenny was trying to make is that one of the hallmarks about the professions of law and medicine is a combined focus on process and on outcomes. While teaching may be judged, rightly or wrongly, primarily on outcomes, Jenny argued that teaching does not have the same process oriented approach to knowledge and skill development and the sharing of that knowledge across the profession.

Much of this lack of process may have as much to do with the way in which teachers are trained as much as it has to do with professional standards. Long ago, I posted these thoughts about the education and training of teachers. I argued that unlike professions such as law and medicine, there is no standardized approach to educating teachers that combines a bachelor's degree with a three or more year program of advanced instruction, a rigorous licensing exam and several years of apprenticeship. While teaching may have some of these attributes, as a profession is does not have all of these hallmarks. I have also spoken about the need for teachers to adopt a self-regulating licensing body similar to state bar and medicial societies. Such a model promotes good practices among professionals since individual bad actors reflect poorly upon the profession as a whole and if the profession disciplines their own, the relative value of the profession increases. Finally, in a third post, I suggested the concept of educational malpractice as a means for enforcing professional standards.

While Jenny is focused, in part I believe on the lack of attention in teaching to the sharing of process and procedures among practitioners, the solution is relatively easy to fix, but harder to implement--a multi-year apprenticeship.

The practice of law follows a multi-year study of law (law school) and a licensing test (bar exam) with a multi-year apprenticeship, where first year lawyers spend time working on small matters, developing skills and learning how the law works in real life, as opposed to a classroom. Medicine has much the same procedure. Teaching on the other hand, as the Ed Wahoo will tell you, throws its first year practitioners into the melee of classroom life, without the same multi-year apprenticeship process.

Many teachers may be assigned a mentor to help them along, but that is not the same thing. Many teacher may have a year or more of student teaching, but again, the purposes behind the student teaching don't, at least as I understand them, meet the same purposes as the legal and medical apprenticeships. Legal and medical apprenticeships begin by teaching small tasks firsts, always under the supervision of an experiences lawyer or doctor. At the conclusion of each assignment or group of assignments, regular assessments by experienced practitioners dissect the work, looking for ways to improve skills and to share knowledge.

It is within this atomosphere, which may last anywhere from 3 to 7 years, where doctors and lawyers learn not only practical skills, but are also inculcated with the profession's customs of a learned profession, that of sharing knowledge and procedures. All this is done within an atmosphere that encourages adherence to a strict code of ethics, realizing that making the process of the profession better leads to better outcomes and a better stature for the profession in the public eye.

To move the teaching profession on par with law and medicine, which in terms of its importance to society they should be equals at minimum, would require a drastic change in the process of educating teachers. The teaching profession must adopt most of these features in order to raise the level of respect for teaching as a profession in the eyes of the public. Thus, the concept of teh change is easy, the implementation hard.

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