Photo of the day

Not quite the usual surfing I like to post, but this is super-cool, surfing the tidal bore in Alaska (via In Focus):

The bore tide sweeps up Turnagain Arm near Girdwood, Alaska, on July 15, 2014. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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Great teachers are made, not born

Or so that’s the lesson in education research Elizabeth Green’s new book.  There’s an interesting interview with her at Vox:

Libby Nelson: What’s the most important thing about teaching you learned while writing this book?

Elizabeth Green: Teaching is not something that even the most brilliant and gifted among us is born knowing how to do. I think I would have said of course, it’s hard work, it’s important, it’s a skill. Even early elementary school teachers are doing so much more than sitting on carpets and wiping noses. They are really thinking about ideas — numbers theory and algebra in math, and teaching a child to read is an incredibly detailed enterprise…

LN: When we talk about improving teacher education, one idea that tends to come up most is that education schools need to be much more selective — that teaching needs to be like law or medicine.

EG: One place we have to start is with the reality of the scale of the teaching profession. There are 3.8 million teachers in this country, and that number actually understates the challenge because of teacher turnover. In the next several years we’re going to have to have a million new teachers.

That is unlike any other profession. It just totally pales in comparison. We can’t simply expect to get the best and brightest — it’s not a feasible idea at all. If recruiting talented, smart, more academically successful college graduates were enough, then Teach for America would not think it needs to invest so much in training. They obviously invest more in recruiting the best and brightest and even do a better job of it than some investment banks.

There is nothing wrong with elevating the status of the teaching profession. I think that’s a great idea. It’s just obviously not enough.

I’m really looking forward to reading this book because it substantially challenges my own notions about quality teaching– largely formed by watching dozens of new college teachers that come through our graduate program.  Some of the new TA’s have a natural rapport with students in the classroom as well as great enthusiasm and energy.  Most importantly, they seem to intuitively/instinctively have a sense of how to present a topic, engage students, and adjust on-the-fly to the atmosphere in a classroom.  And, sadly, some are lacking in all of these things.  My personal take has always been that every person has a natural ability as a teacher (let’s just put it on a 0-100 scale) and some people start out at a 70.  By really learning the craft, they can max that out close to 100, but, to me, it seems that natural gifts go a long way.  Others, meanwhile, start out more like a 20 or 30 and through learning about the craft of teaching they may be able to get up the 60-70 range through sheer hard work and determination of learning all there is to learn about good teaching.  And, hey, it is quite possible I am wrong about this, but it has always struck me that a huge part of successful teaching comes down a natural ability to engage students in a learning environment.  I shall look forward to reading Green’s book to see if I really need to re-think things.

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