July 5, 2006

Pondering my teacher quality

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:03 pm by mrsmauck

ChemJerk‘s post on teacher quality has got me to thinking…Here’s the gist of it:

I’ll say it more succinctly: Our kids need to be taught science and math by scientists and mathematicians, not by educationalists.

I could hardly be considered an educationalist: I’ve had four graduate-level education classes. My undergraduate degree is in Journalism, with an English/Writing minor. I’ll have had 21 hours of graduate-level English class after this fall, and I’m a freelance writer (generating an average of $200 a month from PR profiles and features) in addition to my full-time PR/education job. I think I can say I’m a subject matter expert when it comes to writing…I’m getting there on literature, partially with my university training, and partially by reading teacher-recommended and -taught books like a fiend.

But am I highly qualified?

When I begin applying for English teacher jobs next spring, I will have never taught English.

However, according to Oklahoma’s definition of No Child Left Behind’s Highly Qualified Teacher, I’ll be highly qualified to teach English as soon as I pass the English Subject Area Test in the fall (a little confident, aren’t I? You would be too if you were reading a book a week for three months until the test.). So a person with a degree in Engineering could read like a fiend, study for the English OSAT, pass, and not only land a teaching job, but also be considered a highly qualified teacher?

Two of my cousins, an aunt, and my mom are teachers, and they’re totally nervous for me trying the sink-or-swim method of classroom management. My mom knows I can do it, but my other relatives are definitely doubtful.

According to a study by The Education Trust, highly qualified teachers make a HUGE difference in students’ learning. Their standards, however, were a little different for being highly qualified: 1) Teachers’ performance on college-admissions tests, 2) the selectivity of the college they attended, and 3) their ability to pass certification tests the first time. Teachers who exhibit above average or high marks in these areas taught classes with higher-performing students.

Now we’re getting serious. I can meet Oklahoma’s standards, but can I meet the standards necessary to help kids learn? Obviously learning is the goal, not the label “highly qualified.”

I stumbled onto a a great little blog via the Carnival of Education (check it out!) by an elementary school librarian, GuusjeM, and she had some great thoughts on what makes a great teacher, not just a highly qualified one.

Those who really do excel have the inborn passion to teach – and you can’t “teach” that – it’s apparent from day one who is gifted and who is not. Classroom management can be learned, as can pedagogy skills but only someone who is born to the profession can make learning come alive and their classroom a welcome and nurturing place.

In the paragraph before the above one, GuusjeM says many women get into teaching because it’s a convenient profession for a mother. This cut to my heart: When people ask me why I’ve decided I want to teach, this is the primary reason I offer. It’s not truly my primary reason though; it’s just difficult to explain this “inborn passion to teach” I feel stirring within me. I want to just tell people to go to my blog, read about my quest. It’s difficult to articulate the revelation I’ve had about writing versus teaching: that I have a wispy, fluttery dream about writing, but that I have a fiery, all-consuming desire to teach. When I explain ideas and talk about art, I come alive. When I see the light of understanding in someone’s eyes, that glint that means the world just got more complex, but more real, to them, my heart soars. Plus, I love kids at that age. The possibility, the energy, the promise.

How do you explain that? I don’t even try. I beg off easy, with the “family way” excuse.

These formulas for highly qualified just don’t add up. As silly as it sounds, my feelings, my instincts, my dreams, are what I know is right. And I know I can and will be an enthusiastic and passionate teacher.

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