Teacher as Expert

As a teacher the one idiom that irritates me to no end is “Those that can, do; those that can’t, teach”. Unfortunately George Bernard Shaw did not create this sentiment, but only helped to give it voice. But, Shaw’s infamous line does serve as a window into the perceptions of many into the profession of teaching. It makes me wonder, why aren’t teachers viewed as experts?

As unpopular as I feel this may sound, I think we, as teachers, must recognize aspects of how we have traditionally gone about our work that has contributed to this sentiment. I see three main issues

  1. Transparency

In a recent conversation I had with Sean McComb, 2014 National Teacher of the Year, he proposed an approach that would remove the mystery of what happens in the classroom: Invite policy and decision makers into our classrooms. By having legislators and policy writers experience first-hand the realities of the classroom, we, as a profession, can better influence the decisions that are made throughout our system. Have you invited your superintendent into your classroom? Your local congressman? A Board of Education member?

Not ready to invite guests into your classroom? Well, there are other steps to make our work transparent: blogging. I know, I know, you are probably rolling your eyes at this point, but hear me out for a second. Writing and publicly sharing what happens in our classrooms demonstrates to the world that learning is at the heart of a classroom. It makes public the messiness of the classroom. It shows the world that we are indeed practitioners. It demonstrates that we are focused on growth. There is also another benefit, people might give you feedback and we might all grow together.

2. Abdication
Closely linked to a lack of transparency is the fact that we have abdicated many of the decisions that are made about teaching and learning. While we rely on our elected officials to make decisions for constituents and Education is a national political issue, do we as teachers actively engage in a solutions-oriented manner for this end? To do so, it requires proactive instead of reactionary thinking.

We must become practitioners of action-research in order to learn for ourselves what’s best for our students and classrooms. For too long, we have relied on “experts” to “train” a work force to help others learn. We must be the lead learners, in order to impact our craft and student outcomes, but most importantly to inform and influence the legislative and policy decisions that are being made for us.

3. Best vs. Good Enough

When it comes to the re-imagining that our schools need, we are mired in the models of the past. These experiences that confine our own schema are difficult to overcome, but in order to change the experience that school needs to be for today’s students, we must be willing to question everything. We settle for “re-purposed” tools and experiences that never really worked to begin with, but provide us with a certain level of comfort and security. I know the common idiom is “Don’t let perfect become the enemy of good”, but I believe in Education we practice “Don’t let Better happen, because we are good enough”. We must continue to strive for better. We must consistently be willing to analyze our programs and strategies and techniques in order to assess their effectiveness.

I know all of these ideas probably aren’t popular. But I would like to engage in a conversation about what we, as teachers, can do to improve our profession. How do we transition from a job to a profession? How do we do a better job at working together for the behalf of all students? How should we engage with others to improve outcomes for all?

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