Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The DoE Approach

My buddy the Pissed Off Teacher wrote a great piece about the much-derided "chalk and talk" approach to teaching. It's a wonder that we (having suffered through years of this method) are not all dribbling lunatics, if the lackeys of Klein and Bloomberg are to be believed. Apparently, the only possible way for anyone to learn anything is the workshop model, in which you the teacher talk for a maximum of ten minutes, and then have the kids discover the meaning of life in small groups.

In fact, Klein, Bloomberg and all the DoE, having been instructed the old-fashioned way, should disqualify themselves from instructing anyone on anything. To follow their way of thinking, only students educated in New York City schools utilizing the workshop model are qualified to teach anything to anyone. Sure, that sounds absurd. But when educrats visit my school, demanding we follow whatever trendy idea that's come down the pike (including renamed and repackaged greatest hits from years gone by), they invariably posture themselves as though they're carrying the Ten Commandments.

Such incredible ignorance is almost beyond belief. I'm a reader, and some authors I really like are Henry Fielding, Joseph Heller, Amy Tan, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Elmore Leonard. To say they all approach writing in the same way is ridiculous, yet they're all quite effective in reaching their readers. I don't know much about art, but I'm very much aware that different artists use different styles as well.

Teaching, at its best, is an art, and while it's not celebrated like literature or painting, great teachers have different approaches. I had wonderful English teachers in college who relied on lecture and discussion (the dreaded chalk and talk), and mediocre ones who relied on group work (some of whom obviously wanted to weasel out of doing any work themselves).

My favorite ESL colleague doesn't approach teaching remotely as I do, and wouldn't be very effective if she did. This is simply because she is her and I am me. Experienced teachers find their own voices and do what works for them. They can be far more inspirational than the cookie-cutter automatons the DoE (and many "educational experts") would like to see spit out for our children.

Teachers aren't widgets, and anyone who thinks they are has no business teaching, let alone running the largest educational system in the country. Great teachers don't simply raise test scores. They inspire our children.

Thanks to Ms. Cellania
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