January 2, 2011

The Moral Imperative of Teaching

It's easy to forget just how much teachers shape the moral character of their students. Today, Larry Cuban posted his Thoughts on Teaching, a look back at his commencement speech from 2001 in which he reflected on the teaching profession, calls for reform, and the requisite need for teachers to provide both intellectual and moral attentiveness.
Moral attentiveness means to concentrate on helping students grow as persons in grace and sensitivity, becoming more rather than less thoughtful about ideas, becoming more rather than less respectful of others’ views, and becoming more rather than less responsible for reducing social injustice. Questions of what is fair, right, and just arise constantly in classrooms; students learn moral sensibilities from how their teachers answer those questions….
I believe teaching and learning are inherently social and that much of what we learn from each other is consequential–the result of what happens peripherally to any core subject area. All teachers bare an enormous responsibility for modeling so many things beyond their subject area–the ethical use of media and technology, digital citizenry, inquiry, critical thinking, collaboration, respect... For good or bad, students learn more from their cumulative experience at school than from any one teacher or class. Likewise, teachers learn a great deal from and are shaped themselves by their cumulative experience with students over the years.

Cuban's full blog post is a terrific reminder of the art of teaching, but Scott McLeod took this one step further in his own post today, Blogging v. Teaching, suggesting that teaching and blogging are natural extensions of one another. What a great way for teachers to think about how and why they should embrace technology and Web 2.0 social media!

January 1, 2011

Performance Pay for Teachers

Performance pay for teachers based largely on test scores = inequality and strong incentive for drill & (s)kill (teach to the test). We should not be discouraging risk taking by teachers. To the contrary, we should be encouraging innovative teaching and learning methods. 

So says our new Iowa Department of Education Director, Jason Glass (@jasonglassbfk), who recently wrote on his blog
We need to do whatever we can to introduce more risk-taking, experimentation, and use of technology in schools. We should expect some failures, applaud those who fail in pursuit of bold dreams, and help them get up to try again.
Our schools are in trouble, and we need to do a better job of preparing students for their futures. I'm not opposed to performance pay for teachers. I'm opposed to the simplistic idea that we can measure teacher performance based largely on students' standardized test scores. That's how the general public and too many politicians seem to interpret it. Doing so completely ignores the realities of socioeconomic and demographic disparities between schools, not to mention individual motivational factors. What incentivises students (or their families) to perform well on those standardized tests? What incentivises a good teacher to work in an inner-city, impoverished, or otherwise struggling school?

Tying salaries to arbitrary test scores will encourage teachers to focus less on children and more on tests. Let's come up with more sophisticated and accurate ways to measure how well teachers teach and students learn.