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Is teaching the same as shoeing horses?

By John Published: July 21, 2011

The New York Times today has an interesting story on a new teacher training school in New York, the Relay Graduate School of Education, that emphasizes practical techniques over pedagogical theory.

Here's a quote from Relay's future provost,  Brent Maddin:

''To make a crude analogy, if I am learning to become a blacksmith, I also don't learn how to be a pipefitter,'' Mr. Maddin said of Teacher U's focus on pedagogical technique. ''I also don't read a ton of books about how to shoe a horse. What I do is I show up and shoe horses.''

But does such an approach that is light on graduate level and faculty scholarship make teaching less professional?
The debate mirrors a larger concern nationally, which is that by treating teaching as a trade instead of an art, and permitting new teachers to run their own classrooms from the first day, alternative education programs will, in the long term, reduce the quality of America's teaching force. A great teacher, critics of the new approach argue, should also be trained in advanced work in his or her field, as well as be versed in child psychology, cognitive theory and educational philosophy, so he or she can work in any setting.

Lin Goodwin, the associate dean at Teachers College, describes Relay thusly: ''What they are doing is teacher training, to follow a protocol, to be able to perform in a particular context, to know how to work in this way. And I think that what that does is it dumbs down teaching, and takes us back a few steps, in terms of our struggle in the profession for teachers to be seen as professionals.'' At Teachers College, she added, graduate students commonly spend three and a half days a week in student teaching, in addition to a full evening course load in theory, pedagogy and advanced subject-area content.

That argument would carry more weight if education schools in general produced more rigorous scholarship, which  I discussed in this post.




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