Teaching: Science or Art?

Is teaching a science? Or is it an art? Well, let's consider the science side first. Much education research gets debunked, as I have shown on this blog. Remember "Whole Language" and the slow move back to phonics? Remember "New Math" and the return to arithmetic? The science, which seems to be the pillar upon which curricular changes are based, seems to change; it doesn't evolve, it changes. Phonics worked, then someone claimed research showed something that moved us to whole language, then we realized it was sort of stoopid to expect kids to read without first explaining how letters work. It is frightening to think that whole language ever got traction at all, but it did.

Then there are all the curricular materials that claim they are science, or research based. Go into a classroom and ask to see the teacher guides for the literacy curriculum or the math curriculum. You need a PhD in Teacher Guides to understand them. They are a waste of my time. Why do I so pompously claim they are a waste of my time? Well, because teaching does not require teacher guides.

Teaching requires so much more than proper training. Hell, my credential program was a joke! I learned next to nothing; a few conventions for creating a lesson plan, some terms/jargon that I am not sure anyone really understands (CALPS, BICS, TPR, huh?). It cost me $4000 and I found it basically useless. But, I got my credential.

I think I found the teacher preparation classes useless because there is not one, or two, or twelve ways to teach anything. Think about how you select a music teacher for your child; or how you select a tutor, or handyman. You do it by asking someone who has utilized the services of said professional. Each comes with his/her own way of getting to the result. Some are more creative than others. Some can see issues others wouldn't see. Some have a better command of certain domains than others. All the variables come into play. Less so when one is looking for a specific fix to a specific problem--like when your washer breaks down; mechanical fixes seem more straightforward, especially if there are instructions and schematics. These things don't exist for the mind, especially the elastic mind of a child; or the instructions are more open-ended, like "color it" but the choice of colors is open.

So, teaching boils down to an art, for me anyway. It requires the artist to be informed, interested, well read, intelligent, nimble, forceful, dramatic. Think of great artists and what they have communicated (that's what artists do--they communicate, they teach!). Consider some of the great works and the impact they have had. It is what teachers do everyday. We make the hard to understand a little less hard to understand. We give context, enable questions--and answer them honestly, excite minds, induce curiosity, expand the world, compress the world, expose the interrelatedness of things, cause and effect, and explain away erroneous cause and effect notions.

Teachers who can do the above are artists, and most would not need another math adoption, or literacy sanctioned adoption to help our students. In fact, making us use these materials can be claustrophobic. I cannot follow someone else's script when trying to teach something, because I have a mind of my own. My mind may even be better equipped for the task of teaching than the mind of the author of the curricular guide!

I think there are a lot of teachers out there who are not artists. How could they be? How can a system expect to hire brilliant artists when they are paid nothing, and blamed for every negative outcome, and condescended to by being required to use materials inferior to what the teacher has to offer.

NCLB is ruining teaching, and bolstering the wrongheaded notion that teachers can be trained. Teachers are born, not trained. Double the pay, and see who shows up!

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