How Hard is Education Delivery?

From a recent comment, re: the comparative effectiveness discussion: “And thanks for the reminder that teaching reading IS rocket science.”

That’s an important point.  Without having any real data to support the claim I’m about to make, there’s a fairly pervasive belief in our society that teaching isn’t that difficult.  Especially in relation to other well-regarded professions (i.e. physicians).  There’s no old saw that says, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, perform neurosurgery.”

How difficult teaching is depends upon what we’re expecting of teachers.  If we expect teachers to show up for the minimum number of hours delineated in a contract, in order to make sure there’s as adult in front of children, without measuring the impact of that adult on the children’s lives, the criticism is more understandable.  To extrapolate, the job of the school system in that scheme is to place an individual adult with some experience in front of every child in a predetermined geographic boundary.  But that’s not what teaching really is, nor should that be our expectation.*

REAL teaching – great teaching – is about a teacher taking the 20-30 children in his.her charge, understanding their current level of content knowledge and practical abilities, and subsequently finding a way to move each of those individuals to a higher level of understanding vis-a-vis the area in which one is instructing, toward some high standard.  The lower the baseline level of understanding, the harder the task. Oh, and by the way, teachers have to do this all while managing the classroom behavior of students, many of which are – shudder – adolescents.  And to extrapolate again, the school system’s role is to make sure that someone capable of this MUCH HARDER job is in front of every child in a jurisdiction, with considerable attention to the unique needs of special education students, English language learners, and students that are multiple grade levels behind in literacy and numeracy.

But we all know this, right?  Why do I bring this up.  Two things.  One, anyone who writes or thinks about education regularly needs to constantly confront that reality and understand what it means for policy positions.

The second reason, though, is that I’m on a crusade to eradicate the “fixing education should be easy” ethos from the collective consciousness.  At the risk of building a strawman, if we continue to believe as a society that teaching is a fundamentally easy task, then we will never direct the appropriate resources or talent to teaching our most vulnerable children and fixing our systems of education.  There’s general consensus that the politics of education change are really hard, but I don’t think there’s a lot of consensus that the technical solutions also are really hard.  They are, and I think that’s important to acknowledge.

*Side note: a friend at the National Center for Time a Learning once remarked to me that the “teacher in front of every child in a geographic boundary problem” isn’t exactly an easy one to solve anyway.

One Response to How Hard is Education Delivery?

  1. Pingback: Specialists « Meeting the Turnaround Challenge

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