Friday, September 29, 2006

Is Teaching A "Profession" Or Is It "Something Else?"

Jenny D:
I'm helping to teach a course for first-year doctoral students, a required course actually. I do less teaching than the master professor at the helm. Actually, I take care of the mechanics.

Yesterday the class discussed what would make teaching more of a profession. It's too long to get into every nuance here.

But one of the conclusions was that teaching is measured (for whatever reason) by outcomes. Whereas other professions are not measured in only that way.

For example, physicians worry about process first. The correct process leads to the best outcome, so process is first. Physicians share a common language for discussing process and procedure.

Doctors who work with the sickest patients are often the most skilled doctors, and their outcomes are probably not as good as doctors who work with less sick patients. So measuring a doctor's skill might not be best done using outcomes.

Another example, physicians dissect their failures in Morbidity and Mortality meetings. They go over their failures not so much to point blame, but to examine the procedures and processes, and look for ways to improve and learn. Clearly, a physician who makes an error or doesn't follow the best procedure is not going to look good in an M&M meeting. But that doesn't change the focus of the meeting away from examining process.

The students and professor in the class concluded that educational practitioners (teacher, principals, etc.) spend far less time examining procedure and process in school. The students mentioned parts of a book called the Teaching Gap, that emphasized the Japanese emphasis on lesson study. This is a process-oriented approach to teaching, looking at what teachers do and how lessons actually work to build learning.
I'm afraid that I'm going to have to say that public school classroom teaching will soon be "Something Else" rather than a "profession."

There are multiple reasons, but one of the chief ones is that by the year 2014, (as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act) classroom teachers must get all 100 per cent of their students at or above grade-level proficiency in reading, math, and science.

Anything less, and that teacher will be labeled as "underperforming" by Washington's ivory-tower-wouldn't-go-near-a-teaching-job-themselves-on-a-bet EduCracy.

In real professions, 100% effectiveness isn't required in order to avoid being termed "underperforming."

I could not imagine a physician who would need to save 100% of his or her patients from death in order to avoid being labeled an "underperforming" physician.

I could not imagine an attorney who would need to obtain an acquittal for 100% of his or her clients in order to avoid being labeled an "underperforming" lawyer.

I could not imagine a dentist who would need to painlessly save 100% of the teeth of 100% of his or her patients in order to avoid being labeled an "underperforming" dentist.

As for those who still serve in our public school classrooms...

Any teacher who, by 2014, could achieve the level of 100% perfection that NCLB demands of each and every classroom teacher in the country shouldn't be termed as a "professional," but should be called "miracle-worker" instead.

And such beings are not of this earth.
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