Use of video to train
I was thinking about the cover story in Saturday's NYT about the use of video in classrooms (see last email). I've long believed that teaching is a high-skill profession and that top teachers are equivalent to top athletes, fighter pilots and brain surgeons. What do all three of these professions have in common? All start with basic academic/classroom training, but fairly quickly turn to real-world experience – but it's carefully controlled so that planes aren't crashing and patients aren't dying. They're apprenticeship professions, whereby young people are teamed up with seasoned, proven veterans who teach them and slowly, steadily give them more responsibility until they're ready to do it on their own.
But here's a key similarity as well: they VIDEOTAPE both practices and real-world activities so that the athlete/fighter pilot/brain surgeon can watch and learn. This struck me when I was reading this weekend's NYT Magazine article about the Oregon Ducks football team (www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/magazine/05Football-t.html): "They look back at the films from each practice — identify mistakes — and then point them out in early-evening players' meetings…" This reflects the fact that top athletes spend huge amounts of time watching video of themselves (usually with coaches). Ditto for surgery, which I believe is often videotaped these days (any surgeons want to weigh in on this?). And when I was in Israel recently, I visited an air force base where there was a full-size cockpit in a room-size simulator where pilots practiced dealing with emergencies that (for obvious reasons) couldn't be practiced in the air such as the engine conking out, the wheels not going down (and having to land the plane on its belly), etc. Not only were the simulations totally realistic, but they were videotaped so trainers could watch it afterward with the pilots and show them what they could have done better. In short, done correctly, using videotaping as one tool to both help and evaluate teachers makes a lot of sense.
More broadly, why don't we have a sensible system for training teachers like we do for athletes, fighter pilots and brain surgeons? Instead, we take the youngest, least-experienced teachers and throw them in the toughest schools and the toughest classrooms in whatever school they end up in. Could you imagine what would happen if we took recent medical school graduates and threw them into the operating room, with no senior surgeon present? People would die! Which is exactly what happens in our schools – the only difference is that the dying is slower. Students who get rookie teachers who have been poorly trained year in and year out almost always fall further and further behind and eventually drop out, making it very likely that they will lead broken, ruined lives. Here are some statistics from page 51 of my school reform presentation (www.arightdenied.org/presentation-slides) about the cost of this.