Yesterday, February 18, I attended a seminar on quality teaching sponsored jointly by the Education Writers Association and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. There were more than 50 journalists who write about education, just over a dozen educators, each of whom blogs/writes about education, and several experts who presented and took questions. I will before the holiday weekend is over write a more extensive piece about my reflections on the event.
One interesting part of the event was a dialog among the journalists and educators. In an email discussion, the educators have decided to offer some suggestions to the journalists about stories they can do to more completely tell their readers about teaching, schools, education. The first such post was by Ariel Sacks and can be read here.
I want to expand on an idea I shared with a journalist from San Antonio, an editor who supervises four reporters who cover education. It occurred at dinner, in an Indian restaurant, when she was sitting with three of us. I am, as regular readers know, a teacher of social studies in suburban DC, who came to teaching late. The other two were Dan, who teaches English at a DC charter school, and Mark, who after graduating from Harvard and getting an MBA developed his own business in New York. It was after he sold his business and moved to Washington, where he too teaches English.
Please keep reading.
The journalist, Audrey, asked what we thought might be characteristic of effective teachers. I turned to Mark and suggested he talk in detail about any five students he taught. At first he asked if I were serious. I assured him I knew he could. So he started.
I won't repeat the stories, which were powerful, of the several students he discussed. He talked about each in detail, for several minutes each. He knew them, he made clear to them that he knew them, and that it was because he knew and cared about them that he was going to continue to challenge them.
My point to Audrey was this, that while we may each do it in our own way, I would suspect that were she to talk to any of the educators there we would be able to tell similar stories, if not about every student in our care, about most. Effective teachers get to know their students, not merely as the person in my class for 45 minutes a day, but other things that matter to them.
What might this suggest for stories that would more completely tell about the real task of teaching, which is something very far from focusing on test scores? Perhaps journalists could do stories about teachers where they share about their students and the work those students do, and also ask the students to share about why they do that work, for those teachers? Ask the students what matters in their education, what motivates them to work hard - in most cases it is not focusing on the test or the grade for its own sake, but because the student does not want to disappoint the teacher, because the student knows s/he matters to the teacher.
Somehow within this one can explore with teachers how they came to focus on the students in the way that they do. And within such a story readers can begin to understand what the best teachers bring to their craft, why they are effective, and how we can develop such teachers.
I realize this may seem a bit vague. It has to be so. That is because very good teachers are very different, each very much herself. We all care, but how we demonstrate that care might vary as much by the type of students we have as it will by the curriculum we are assigned to teach. Please note the way I phrase that, because during the day when a journalist asked me what i taught my answer was always the same: I teach students. From there we can get to their age - mainly 10th graders - and the subject for which they are assigned to me - two different levels of government. The focus is first and foremost the students.
I will explore the event more in a subsequent post. It had its good points and its weaknesses. Linda Perlstein, public editor of the Education Writers Association, should be commended for organizing this event, perhaps the first time the voices of teachers were so publicly included in discussions about how to cover education.
For now, since Ariel had posted her story suggestion, I thought I also ought to offer mine.