Friday, June 27, 2014

Understanding Teaching with Mike Rose

Note: This is a post originally written for an internal Macmillan Education blog on December 7, 2013

More and more the work we do in higher education publishing necessarily and inevitably includes professional development for the teachers who will use our books and media. The business rationale for this is simple: if teachers understand the value and support and insight our stuff brings to them and their students, they'll use it more, require it, depend upon it, and students will then be required to log into our software and services, required to do some of their learning with us, required to buy, open, study from our books. Essential books and software equals profit. Simple. But even more important our mission as educational publishers is to foster better teaching and learning because the world requires good teaching and a humane and educated people.  By all of us understanding teaching and learning, and then applying that understanding on campus from the first sales call to ongoing training and professional development for adopting professors, we enact the better natures of books and media. We become what we promise professors can be.

Mike Rose, who has three books, two as co-editor, in Bedford/St. Martin's professional resource series -- An Open Language is the one solo authored and is a collection of his essays --  has the first of three posts in the Washington Post Online that looks at the complexities of teaching here: He's posting as a guest blogger in Valerie Strauss's The Answer Sheet, a blog that covers education.  Here's how Strauss sets up Mike's work:
Here is a thoughtful piece on the essence of teaching and the kind of teacher education programs we really need from Mike Rose, who is on the faculty of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and author of “Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education.”  This is longer than your average blog post but well worth the time, and is the first of three pieces on teacher education by Rose.
Those who know Mike won't be surprised by the quality and kindness of thought. Here is but one excerpt  that resonates for me, in main because it simply reminds me of my wife, Barbara, a brilliant fourth grade teacher whose job teaching fourth grade is so much more complicated by all kinds of factors and needs than my occasional job teaching college writing courses.
Teaching done well is complex intellectual work, and this is so in the primary grades as well as Advanced Placement physics. Teaching begins with knowledge: of subject matter, of instructional materials and technologies, of cognitive and social development. But it’s not just that teachers know things. Teaching is using knowledge to foster the growth of others. This takes us to the heart of what teaching is, and why defining it primarily as a craft, or a knowledge profession, or any other stock category is inadequate. I’m not sure there is any other work quite like it.

The teacher sets out to explain what a protein or metaphor is, or how to balance the terms in an algebraic equation, or the sociological dynamics of prejudice, but to do so needs to be thinking about how to explain these things: what illustrations, what analogies, what alternative explanations when the first one fails? This instruction is done not only to convey particular knowledge about metaphors or algebraic equations, but also to get students to understand and think about these topics. This involves hefty cognitive activity, as any parent knows from his or her experiences of explaining things to kids, but the teacher is doing it with a room full of young people—which brings a significant performative dimension to the task.

Thus teaching is a deeply social and emotional activity. You have to know your students and be able to read them quickly, and from that reading make decisions to slow down or speed up, stay with a point or return to it later, connect one student’s comment to another's. Simultaneously, you are assessing on the fly Susie’s silence, Pedro’s slump, Janelle’s uncharacteristic aggressiveness. Students are, to varying degrees, also learning from each other, learning all kinds of things, from how to carry oneself to how to multiply mixed numbers. How teachers draw on this dynamic interaction varies depending on their personal style, the way they organize their rooms, and so on—but it is an ever-present part of the work they do.
The full piece by Mike, which goes on to look at the role of college teacher education programs and the balance of classroom preparation for teaching to on the job experience, reminds those of us who do professional development that when we work with educators we are teachers and those educators are students. And what matters so much in our work then is following good pedagogy, applying the things our books suggest. So a workshop might open with a prompt or question and then asking people to write a few minutes on it before discussion, a simple writing to learn activity that helps focus the mind on the topic, gives people a private place to think though they're in a public space, assures that there will be things to be said when one asks for responses, and helps support learner to learner discussion. But what we also need to remember is how people learn, the role of anxiety and aspiration. When we do workshops, our rooms are full of teachers who will have, to borrow from Mike, silences, slumps, aggressiveness, and more.

To understand professional development then, to understand training, we need to understand that we are educators and that what we are doing is as important and complex and demanding and necessary as the work the teachers we are supporting will go forth and do in their classrooms.

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