Education: An endeavor to help build better lives
By Matt Renwick June 6, 2015
There are lots of occupations out there that do not demand a bachelor’s degree, including governor of Wisconsin. But teaching shouldn’t be one of them.
I was a classroom teacher for eight years, and now a school principal for just as long. Teaching is an incredibly complex and challenging craft. In my estimation, it takes at least three years of classroom experience beyond completed college experience for a teacher to become very good at his or her work. The foundational learning that occurs in undergraduate courses and during student teaching is essential. It is also only the beginning. Teaching truly is a profession that one learns as one does it, and the learning never ends.
Recently, I observed a teacher facilitate a math lesson on arrays (rows and columns of tiles to convey an equation or to form a shape). An uneducated bystander without the requisite background knowledge to understand teaching and learning would observe this lesson and probably think it was fine.
But that bystander would have no idea why. With a highly trained eye, here is what I saw:
■The intent of the lesson was clearly stated in writing, verbally and visually.
■The teacher kept the students active, allowing them to get up every 10 minutes or so between activities. This is pedagogically sound (How many people without a degree in education could accurately define “pedagogy”?).
■She used formative assessment, such as observing answers on held whiteboards, to guide her instruction and ensure that all students with a wide variety of abilities were ready for the next step.
■Small actions by the teacher avoided bigger problems with the students. For example, she used thoughtful language that focused on the positive of a student’s actions, instead of pointing out his faults and possibly causing a major behavior disruption. One wrong word could have led to 10 minutes of lost instruction.
■Wait time was given for a student who was struggling to process an answer and share it aloud.
■A clear segue between arrays and formal geometry was conveyed by the teacher only when every student was ready to cognitively make that transition.
This is only a snippet of the positive work I saw in her classroom and shared with her later that day. At our post-observation conference, I asked her how she thought she did. “Well, I wish my questions I presented for the students would have been more open-ended. I wanted to help them get to a deeper understanding of the math concept,” she said. Does this sound like someone who is less than a professional?
Teaching is a special vocation, reserved only for the very best and brightest. It takes both intelligence and empathy, a rare combination that appears regularly in our school and in many, many others in the state. To reduce our profession to something anyone can do clearly shows the ignorance of the policy-makers who somehow saw sanity in a decision they had no business addressing.
Attaining a license to teach in schools, whether public or private, shouldn’t be as easy as staying at a Holiday Inn Express. You don’t just wake up and become a highly qualified educator. It takes years of study, experience, reflection and collaboration to get to a point of excellence. Those who attempted to reduce our status as professionals did not succeed. We know better. All they did was to continue to set up public schools for failure in order to ensure privatization of public education gains momentum in Wisconsin. Education is more than just a job — it is a powerful endeavor to help build better lives.
Matt Renwick is principal of Howe Elementary School in Wisconsin Rapids.