Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Dynamic Learning Environment/Continuing Education

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How can teachers continue to educate themselves?
The classroom teacher is the most important factor in a student’s progress.[1]

—Susan Brownlee of The Grable Foundation

Students look up to teachers as purveyors of knowledge. They often accept their teachers’ words as facts, and will quote them as such for years to come. I cannot count the number of times I have heard full grown adults say, “Well my professor said….” This act puts a tremendous amount of responsibility on the educators. They are the primary source of information to the students, so they must ensure the information is as accurate and unbiased as possible. This feat is not possible with a four-year undergraduate degree alone. Continued education for the teacher is essential to offer students the best education possible. This should include workshops, consulting other faculty, reading recent textbooks and journals, and most importantly, learning from their pupils.

Continued Professional Development[edit]

Teacher effectiveness is not forever fixed. Through [professional] development, teachers can build their effectiveness over time.[2]

—Katie Haycock, the directior of the Education Trust

The Virginia Department of Education requires school faculty to participate in continued professional development. These regulations provide many options for completion, including taking college courses, attending conferences and workshops, and observing the classrooms of fellow faculty. This program is designed to “improve and increase teachers’ knowledge of the academic subjects the teachers teach, and enable teachers to become highly qualified.”[3] Since the course material is constantly changing, this ensures faculty members stay up to date on the most recent developments in their field.

The requirements also designed to assist teachers in finding the best methods for educating their diverse classrooms. Teachers are given the opportunity to witness many different teaching styles. They are also provided with feedback from another trained professional on their own teaching method. Over time they will be able to better develop their lesson plans in a manner that best provides for the advancement of all of their students.[4]

Peer Assistance Beyond the Requirements[edit]

As a first-year teacher, I was mentored by the experienced teachers on my team without any of us realizing it.[5]

—Terry Dozier, the senior adviser to former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley and the 1985 National Teacher of the Year

Faculty should not consult each other only when the state mandates they do so. Another article in this wikibook has mentioned the buddy program and mentoring.[6] A comparison to the open professional conversations shared by lawyers and doctors has also been mentioned. There is no reason that educators cannot have this same open environment, with or without mentoring or buddy programs. Whenever a question arises with either the material or the method to teach it, another faculty member should be consulted. An inadequate buddy or mentor assignment is no excuse to improperly educate the students. There are plenty of other faculty members at the school, and if no one is willing to assist, the principal is always an option.

Educational Resources[edit]

A smart student with Google is better than the best teacher from 100 years ago.[7]

—Patrick O’Shea, project director of HARP

College professors have offices filled with textbooks. When students ask questions that stump them, they often consult not only the textbook for that class, but dozens of other materials until they reach an answer. These college professors are sent these textbooks by the publishers to persuade them to use these books in their classrooms. This leaves k-12 educators at a distinct disadvantage, since textbooks are chosen by the school district and shared by students for many years. This makes it unlikely for publishers to provide k-12 teachers with free books. K-12 educators are still required to teach much of the same information, and must find some method to gather their own library. The subject being taught is one they chose, so supplying some of their own materials is not much to ask. The easiest method is saving their books from their own education. These books can also be pooled with those of other faculty, and the administration can be campaigned to provide extra books for the faculty.

When these hard copy resources fall short, a plethora of scholarly resources are available over the internet. These can actually be preferable to hardcopy resources because students will have just as much access as the teacher. Extrinsic motivating techniques like extra credit can be offered to encourage students to obtain the information on their own.

Learning From Students[edit]

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This is the most vital and most ignored method of teacher development. Articles and books addressing this subject are in short supply. A Google search for “teachers learning from students” results in only 797 links, compared with 34,400 links for “teachers as learners.” This is a sad reality, because the students are a terrific resource available to the teacher. Few teachers would claim to be experts their first year in the job, but most would claim significant improvement by their fourth year. What is the difference between the first and fourth year? Three years of experience, teaching students, and learning what teaching methods work best in the classroom.

Many undergraduate educational courses mention the idea of learning from students, but this lesson seems quickly forgotten once in front of a classroom. Even when mentioned, it is typically in reference to the technical prowess of today's youth. There is no reason to limit learning from students to just teaching methods and technology. Often students will ask follow up questions and inquire specifics that the teacher may not know. There may not be time for answering all of these questions, but the “it is beyond the scope of this class” answer should still be avoided. Instead the teacher may offer to look it up, or have him or her stay after class to help look it up. With the new internet age, it can even be assigned as homework for all students to find out.

Admitting to students that even the teacher does not know everything is advantageous. Giving them an opportunity to educate the teacher and the rest of the class is estimable. It will provide the students with new found confidence. It will inspire creativity and free thinking. A new more open and active classroom will be born, and both student and teacher will benefit.

Conclusion[edit]

Albert Einstein, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Benjamin Franklin all had teachers. Each one of these men proved to be more brilliant than any of those who taught them. For this reason every educator must realize his or her fallibility, and not enter the classroom as the almighty teacher. If we choose only to give the students the knowledge we already possess, then we choose to stifle the education of the children in our classroom.

We must, instead, guide them on their educational journey, often sitting and learning with them. If students are allowed to speak freely, we may find they have ideas and solutions to problems that we have never considered. This is why we should discourage the “purveyor of knowledge” title students so often grant their teachers. Learning should be a process of problem solving and independent thinking, not regurgitation.

In the end we must recall what attracted us to teaching in the first place; a passion for learning. This love and desire of knowledge makes the requirement of professional continued education seem more like a job perk than an obligation. We have all chosen a career that not only encourages us to continue learning, but actually provides us with countless opportunities to do just that, what we love most.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

What is an approved method of continued professional development?
A. Attending a state approved educational workshop.
B. Observing another teacher's classroom.
C. Taking night classes towards a Master's Degree.
D. All of the above.

D. All of the above.

A student asks Mr. Mills about hydrogen bonds and the chemistry textbook doesn't explain them very well, what should he do?
A. Inform the student that it is not relevant to the course.
B. Tell the student he doesn't know.
C. Check other resources with the students.
D. All of the above.

C. Check other resources with the students.

The textbook for Mr. Mills classroom is from the 1970s, and seems out of date on much information. How will this affect his teaching method?
A. Not at all, teach to the textbook.
B. Mr. Mills should inform the class that the textbook is out of date, and omit bad sections.
C. Mr. Mills should campaign the school district to buy more relevant text. In the meantime, he should take the time to help the students find more accurate resources.

C. Mr. Mills should campaign the school district to buy more relevant text. In the meantime, he should take the time to help the students find more accurate resources.

Mr. Mills' class is continually failing his tests. How can this be fixed?
A. Make the tests easier.
B. It can't. Mr. Mills should realize some people can't be taught, or just don't want to learn.
C. Consult other faculty, especially the other teachers of his students. See what they are doing to better engage their students.
D. Call parents and complain.

C. Consult other faculty, especially the other teachers of his students. See what they are doing to better engage their students.

Mr. Mills now has to start his second year, what should he do to prepare?
A. Print out his old lectures and rehearse.
B. Review the materials, check for updates, and edit his curriculum based on the updates and what he learned from the previous year.
C. Read the files of his students to find out who is worth his effort.

B. Review the materials, check for updates, and edit his curriculum based on the updates and what he learned from the previous year.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Think back throughout your history as a student. How did your truly inspirational teachers manage their classroom? How did they choose to continue their education? Was this teaching method as effective for the other students in the classroom? As an educator, what will you do to ensure you are effective?

Enthusiast instructors whose students know exactly what is expected or them, who exhibit consistency, and discipline in a positive manner, staying away from negative reinforcement are truly inspirational teachers. These teachers treat their students with respect by showing them that they can be responsible and they are needed in the classroom. This helps the student feel it is their classroom as well. Educators who cultivate a welcoming and inviting environment and take into consideration individual needs, personality, talents ,and weaknesses and get to know their students outside of the classroom are most effective in their profession.

These truly inspirational teachers chose to continue their education by attending conferences on classroom management, curriculum development, and technology integration. Effective teachers also continue education by taking college courses to keep up with current methods of classroom management, technology, curriculum, etc. Teacher education can also be continued by subscribing to journals for educators and peer mentoring and coaching with fellow educators.

This was effective for other students because these teachers were well rounded and engaging. Teachers who are welcoming, understanding, enthusiastic, intuitive, and make learning fun are always the most inspirational and effective. Teachers who genuinely like children and are interested in the way a child learns and develops are the most effective.

As an educator, I hope to be able to deal with each student on an individual basis. I plan to use as many methods of continuing education as possible and use innovative teaching methods. I also think it is important to keep in mind what I enjoyed about school and past teachers who left a lasting impression on me. —Mara Workman


My favorite teachers effectively held open discussion classrooms. The class was expected to read the materials before the class period, and then we would talk about it the next day. In U.S. Government, we would discuss the structure and policies of the government. After we would debate the merit of different proposals offered by politicians, and compare the American system with that of other nations. In Chemistry we’d often be given different reactants, and thumb through on our own to find what product would be made.

Both teachers typically acted as participants in the discussion, only taking on the roll of a moderator when the discussion ran off topic or the class got stuck. Both were often forced to, “go to the books” themselves. The government teacher was politically active, and kept up on current events. The chemistry teacher was active in the American Chemical Society and often brought in stories about new chemical advances and compounds available in the private sector.

It was obvious both liked their jobs. The class seemed to enjoy it too. The Advanced Placement exam scores showed that it also managed to be effective. Not all students passed, but the scores were much higher than those of any other AP classes in the school.

I would like to have an open discussion classroom as well. I enjoyed it, and felt everyone in the classroom experienced a more active and constructive environment. It tested and affirmed everyone’s knowledge, and led to better understanding of the material. The challenge will be to motivate my students. This type of classroom requires a proactive and interested class, and it will be my responsibility to create an atmosphere that allows for this.

References[edit]

  1. Mavis Burks. March 30, 2007. The Heinz School Review Volume 4, Issue 1 http://journal.heinz.cmu.edu/articles/susan-brownlee/
  2. Katie Haycock. March 1999. Good Teachers Matter... A lot. Results http://www.nsdc.org/library/publications/results/res3-99haycock.cfm
  3. Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education. April 2004. High-Quality Professional Development Criteria. http://www.pen.k12.va.us/VDOE/nclb/HQPDcriteria4-04.pdf
  4. Dr. Sandra Leaton Gray. April 2005. An Enquiry Into Continuing Professional Development for Teachers. http://www.esmeefairbairn.org.uk/docs/Education-Rep.pdf
  5. Dennis Spark. It All Comes Down to the Teacher. Journal of Staff Development, Fall 2000 (Vol. 21, No. 4). http://www.nsdc.org/library/publications/jsd/dozier214.cfm
  6. http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Social_and_Cultural_Foundations_of_American_Education/Edition_3/6.3
  7. Patrick O'Shea. Skype classroom interview September 11, 2007