Friday, September 21, 2007

Comments on oncologist-teacher analogy, UFT

Mike Goldstein, founder of MATCH charter school in Boston, shares some spot-on thoughts on Randi Weingarten's oncologist-teacher analogy:

Whitney, there's another strand of the medical analogy. My  wife is an oncologist. She likes her job a lot.
Each day, she's put in a position to succeed. If she does what she's been trained to do on nuts-and-bolts medical issues, she gets to do the  "art" -- which for her is helping families deal with the intersection of health and emotion.
At No Excuses charter schools, teachers are put in a position to succeed, too. If a No Excuses teacher does what she's been trained to do --  phone parents to build relationships; start the class with a written do-now;  handle disruptions in a prescribed manner; etc etc -- he/she gets to do the "art"  of teaching, which is to make science or math or English "come  alive."
At many traditional urban schools, teachers are put in a position to fail. That's in part because teachers are taught in Ed School,  then again by the union, to FIGHT any school-wide methodology on how to handle nuts-and-bolts classroom culture issues.
While a doctor accepts that she will learn EXACTLY what to do on many matters (the science), before dealing with the nuance (the art),  teachers are taught that this means "their professional judgment, and  autonomy, is being questioned."
Funny, my wife pores over journals which tell her EXACTLY what  to do in a million different situations, and never feels her professional judgment under siege. (She only feels that way when insurers block her  preventive medicine efforts, particularly Medicaid/Medicare).
This dynamic gets exacerbated because traditional school leaders, when they do assert control, do it over the wrong thing -- curriculum. That's precisely BACKWARDS, the worst of both worlds.
Now teachers who are frustrated by behavior issues (since nobody is telling them to sacrifice their autonomy to follow a schoolwide approach) are getting curriculum that, no matter how "good" in theory, will necessarily be ineffective b/c the class will still be chaotic.
Many No Excuses schools go the other direction. They prescribe in great detail how teachers must develop and maintain classroom culture, then decentralize some/many curriculum decisions to individual teachers or small  groups of them.

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