Time for a little time travel. Back in the first week of May, we had an interesting and lengthy conversation about teaching as a profession. A “mini-string” of conversation emerged after we posted our original excerpt on May 5. We grabbed it for later use, lost track of it during the rush into summer, and just came across it again. It’s still well worth sharing, and through the miracle of linking, we can jump you right back to the original chat, for context. Skim the earlier post and comments, then dive into this exchange between two Nancy’s who are members of the daily TLN discussion group.
Nancy D. began this exchange, responding to these comments by Nancy F. --
(D)octors, lawyers and engineers do work under considerable mandates, especially if they practice in areas where they are employed by the public; many of them also work for others, who control their immediate work practice/load, and measure their outcomes....
It's technical expertise that separates professionals from non-professionals, and teaching, unfortunately, has a weak technical knowledge base. We reinforce this every time we say "teaching is an art" or allow someone with no training into a classroom as the teacher of record. When we permit substitute teachers without education degrees to "cover" classrooms, or reduce teacher training to six-week boot camps, we reinforce the notion that there isn't much to know about teaching. It's instinctive, natural, not very difficult….
I personally believe professionalism is something that teachers should pursue, aggressively. We should begin to embrace concepts like precise diagnosis and prescription for learning needs, and continuously investigate/research effective practice, and control standards and benchmarks for assessing good teaching.
Nancy D. replied:
Usually teacher comparisons to other professions are weak in that the inputs and outputs in most professions are drastically different from education. However, comparing teachers to doctors is a better fit. Both cannot control the behavior or follow through of the patient/student. Inputs can be varied as well while the outcome is standard...healthy/educated. There is a point at which the comparison fails and this then raises several questions related to the art of teaching and its role in defining "professional."
Science yields itself to some absolutes. Exposed to X antibiotic, Y bacteria dies (obviously there are some variations but by and large such cause/effect relationships are predictable). Education is more individualized than this but Nancy's comments regarding precise diagnosis and prescription for learning needs accounts for this variation due to individual student needs. This kind of training should be more evident in teacher preparation programs and TEACHERS NEED MORE TIME TO ADMINISTER SUCH PRESCRIPTIVE METHODS WITH FEWER STUDENTS. That said, prescriptive teaching does not always lead to success. Doctors know this as well, but I wonder how they would feel about their "scores" being published in the paper...how many deaths, how many patients moving toward a healthier life style (cholesterol levels, obesity rates, "cures"), how many malpractice suits or inquiries, etc.
Predictable outcomes via standard procedures are not close to being guaranteed in education, and this is where the "art of teaching" comes into play. Relating to health care, this is where a doctor's intuition or bedside manner enter into the equation. Understanding the whole child and recognizing the affective needs of human beings as individuals aids teachers in making connections with kids which research shows increases test scores (ASCD has released several studies). If "technical expertise" is the defining element of “professional,” we must identify, test and celebrate the elements of teaching which fall outside standard prescription...and take the time to watch and learn from those teachers who are able to make personal connections with students and then take those students to higher levels of success. All this to say, I hope we will seek balance in our approach, as the human mind is not predictable compared to many other components of the human body.
This discussion has raised a question: How do we define the "art of teaching"? This phrase is thrown around a lot, and now I see a division being made between the "art" and "technical expertise" of teaching (although I think no separation should be made). How are these different? Can the art of teaching being taught?
Nancy F. replied to several portions of Nancy D's commentary:
[Nancy D] Usually teacher comparisons to other professions are weak in that the inputs and outputs in most professions are drastically different from education.
[Nancy F] Exactly. Having some precise language about what it means to be a member of a "profession" is important, I think. Sometimes, teachers dwell on extraneous characteristics of professionalism without thinking the issue all the way through. As/if we move toward professionalism, there will benefits as well as additional responsibilities and consequences.
[Nancy D] Predictable outcomes via standard procedures are not close to being guaranteed in education and this is where the "art of teaching" comes into play--related to health care, this is where a doctor's intuition or bedside manner enter into the equation. I hope we will seek balance in our approach as the human mind is not predictable compared to many other components of the human body.
[Nancy F] I might suggest that predictable outcomes aren't close to being guaranteed even in "scientific" fields like medicine where the most effective, research-based protocols don't save some patients, and others survive when all the evidence says they won't. Fields like engineering are more precise. Even a very precise occupational training like (one hopes!) piloting an airplane involves human judgment in a crunch--think of the pilot who almost crashed, then re-landed a plane a couple of months ago in Germany. It's that intuition/human judgment/diagnosis element.
[Nancy D] If "technical-expertise" is the defining element of "professional," we must identify, test and celebrate the elements of teaching which fall outside standard prescription...and take the time to watch and learn from those teachers who make personal connections with students and then take those students to higher levels of success.
[Nancy F] I like the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ umbrella language: accomplished teachers know their students well and care about their learning--a concept that should also apply to anybody doing professional work, don't you think? Lawyers should know their clients well and care about justice, and so on.
While I agree that we need to keep the human element at the forefront, there is this idea out there that "we" don't know what effective teaching is--how to define it, how to transmit it, how to measure it in ways beyond testing. It's just natural.
Think of the doctors whose training and accumulated expertise was negated by the 1910 Flexner report. They were doing good work, relying on perception and a kind of diagnostic/treatment artistry--and all of a sudden, they weren't "professional."
My graduate school advisor at Big Famous University said to me: "We still don't know what effective teaching looks like or how to replicate it." I was tempted to say back...well, maybe you don't know what effective teaching is, but I have been doing it for a couple of decades now. And who is the "we" she mentions? Researchers and scholars. Which goes back to our original discussion question: why haven't teachers taken the reins in creating their own models of professionalism?
[Nancy D] This discussion has raised a question....how do we define the "art of teaching"? This phrase is thrown around a lot, and now I see a division being made between the "art" and "technical expertise" of teaching (although I think no separation should be made). How are these different? Can the art of teaching being taught?
[Nancy F] We have knocked around "teaching: art vs. science" on TLN before, but it's always a welcome topic. Most of us want to have it both ways, knowing that there *are* some people who just seem to "get" good teaching through intuition, creativity and good judgment.
Even so, I'll stick with the message that effective teaching can be studied and explicitly described. That's what the NBPTS standards were supposed to do: provide a measurable model and concrete descriptors of the kinds of teaching that yield deep learning.
If we don't have a body of researched knowledge on the kinds of teaching that yield greatest student growth, and good tools to measure our effectiveness, we don't have a profession.
Thanks for the Nancy/Nancy dialogue, Nancy. You raised some great questions.