At root, teaching and learning are intuitive acts. Kids are naturally curious; they’re natural learners. The human mind is hard-wired to ask questions and seek out knowledge. And adults are predisposed to share knowledge, interests, and skills. When one feels confounded or overwhelmed by the challenges of educational improvement, it’s worth keeping in mind that teaching and learning aren’t the product of some mysterious alchemy—they’re deeply natural acts. Systems, structures, and bureaucratic rules designed to support and promote learning need to be scrutinized with an eye to whether they respect that truth.
We can all do a lot better to steer clear of words that have been stripped of meaning. School reform is filled with such words: “consensus,” “best practices,” “differentiation,” “21st century skills,” “rigor,” “effective teaching,” “accountability,” “empowerment,” and so on. Most of the time, it’s not clear what any of these placeholders really mean. They’re often just a way to skip past complicated questions. The problem is that mushy language leads to fuzzy thinking. When I use these words, I frequently realize that even I don’t know exactly what I’m saying.I was lucky to have many first-rate teachers. One thing they avoided was buzzwords and empty process. They knew how to keep order (and were not undermined in this by their institutions), they knew their subjects, and they cared about nothing but making the intellectual contact necessary to get their knowledge and skills across. Some did this warmly and personably, others with a cool, demanding style. Some were didactic, others collaborative. They gave and demanded respect. They believed that what they had to teach was valuable and showed that they cared whether I got it.
The bad teachers were checking off boxes, warming benches, picking up paychecks, perpetuating fads, using their desks as a soapbox. If they knew their fields at all, they didn't get much of a charge out of communicating its content.
I honestly don't know what's supposed to be going on in education colleges. There must be some training going on there that circumvents the thick fog of buzzwords; I'm sure some of my good teachers--the ones from public schools--had made it through without being ruined. At worst they had some of their time wasted.