OKTOY Blog: Focus on the teacher (Part 1)

…understand that standards do not teach; teachers teach.
   -Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)

In our current climate of rigorous standards and high-stakes testing, it is sometimes easy to forget one of the most important pieces of the puzzle— the teacher. In all of our focus on writing and/or improving standards and changing and/or removing testing requirements, we should not forget to discuss how to improve those who are doing the teaching.

Teacher reading to students in classroomIn no way do I mean to be disrespectful to teachers by implying that they need improvement. My experience visiting classrooms all around Oklahoma has proven that our state is not lacking in the area of great educators. Though, if countless professional athletes hire personal coaches in the off-season to help them become better athletes, then it is safe to say that we as teachers could improve with some coaching as well.

Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All, published recently by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, states: “Too many teachers of mathematics remain professionally isolated, without the benefits of collaborative structures and coaching, and with inadequate opportunities for professional development related to mathematics teaching and learning.” My experience leads me to agree with this statement.

Most teachers (regardless of discipline) enter the classroom underprepared for what is to come. They are equipped with a small set of pedagogical skills and some content knowledge. Though, under the pressures of the day-to-day life in the classroom most teachers end up teaching in a manner similar to the way they were taught. They get little ongoing training to help them improve. Thus our profession has not changed a whole lot over the last several decades.

I don’t believe in the notion that teachers are born and thus some can teach while others can’t. Just like an athlete can improve his or her skills, I believe the skills of teaching can be taught and improved. There are gifted athletes who start at a higher level than most, and there are gifted teachers who seem to be naturals. But if those “naturals” never do anything to improve they will most likely fall well short of their potential. The Japanese have a term—jugyokenkyu—that encompasses this idea of continuous improvement, which translates as “lesson study.”

My experiences in hosting pre-service teachers and the National Board Certification (NBCT) process have all been very helpful in allowing me to “study” my practice. Outside of those resources, however, much of the professional development I have experienced focused more on sharing “stuff” to take back into my classroom and less on the actual art of teaching.

Teachers don’t need more worksheets and activities to swap across the hall; we need teachers to sit down and reflect on the how and why this practice works on this side of the hallway but not the other. Finding ways for teachers to work more collaboratively in teams is a must. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) seem to be the big wave as of late. Though most PLCs I would guess fall into the sharing of basic information and procedures. Real improvement takes more than 20 minutes a week.

As I wrap up this week’s post I encourage you to consider methods of effective continuous development of teachers. Next week I will share a few of the practices that I have personally found the most useful.

By: Jason Proctor
2015 Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year




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Last updated on March 5, 2015