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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Distance Between Two Points

I attended a conference yesterday involving area superintendents and the education faculty at a large university in the region. The goal of the meeting focused on opportunities to form a conceptual partnership among the two groups.

I thought of the distance that separated the parties from the perspective of time and educational engagement. I recall reading an article written several years ago by Tom Guskey of the University of Kentucky. After realizing the rather significant amount of time that separated the education professors from their own personal experience as a public school teacher (if my memory serves me correctly it averaged 17 years) Guskey took a sabbatical and taught 1st grade for a year. I believe in most cases, as you reflect on this same observation regarding professors you’ve interacted with in your own experience, you will discover that it’s been a while since they were actually teaching and/or administering  in the school classroom/school – the same environment for which they prepare aspiring teachers/principals. Whether it is seventeen years or seven years, that’s a long time given the breadth and rate of changes confronting teachers and principals now.

On the other hand, here in the state of New York teachers are required to obtain their masters degree in an education related field within five years of beginning their career in order to maintain certification. So, for the sake of argument, let’s say a freshly minted teacher graduates from college at age twenty-two. That teacher has five years, until they are all of twenty-seven, to receive their appropriate graduate degree. For many, that degree is a terminal degree. Few choose to advance beyond their first graduate degree. Following this line of thought leaves one with the understanding that the formal and systematic learning for teachers stops fairly early in their career.

I know, I know – professors visit classrooms/schools to observe student teachers and perform research and other activities. I also realize that teachers experience a steady diet of professional development. I don’t dispute that these opportunities enrich the learning of members of both groups. The distance between experienced professors and veteran teachers is not the fault of either party. However, it makes you wonder about the expanded gap between professors who have long ago left the daily routine and demands of public school teaching and the teachers who have not sat in a college classroom in a long time.

Among my proposals during the conference was a simply job swap between the groups every once in a while. Let the classroom teacher speak to prospective teachers on college campuses on teaching methods and the reality of the classroom, while professors step into the public school classroom and assume the opportunity to implement theory into practice. This would be a rather simple and low (or no) cost for participants.

I don’t doubt the ability of either group to benefit those they would serve in this swap. And, I believe very strongly that the experiences would leave both sides of this equation with a more vivid view of the other’s roles and responsibilities. In that sense, the challenge would be worth the commitment.

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