Thursday, November 19, 2009

Teacher-training Ideas not Shared by 3 Hancock Principals

As we wait for more results from yesterday's meeting, it is helpful to remember the changes we are fighting against.  Indiana education needs thoughtful, well researched reform, not reform that is politically motivated. 

November 12, 2009

Teacher-training ideas not shared by 3 Hancock County principals

By Bill McCleery

If the views of three Hancock County principals are any indication, Indiana's superintendent of public instruction faces skepticism regarding certain proposals to change teacher-training standards.

Tony Bennett wants to reduce the amount of teaching methodology courses required to become a middle school or high school teacher and increase requirements for coursework in a teacher's intended subject area.

"All we're saying is teachers need to know the subject matter they're going to be teaching," said Cam Savage, a spokesman for Bennett's office. "No one is disputing the need for pedagogy (study of teaching methods). This proposal still requires it. . . . (But) teachers need to have a mastery of subjects they're going to teach at the secondary level."

Some area universities, such as Ball State, Marian and Purdue, already require the level of content-area coursework that Bennett is seeking to mandate, Savage said.

However, many educators following discussions over Bennett's proposal fear state education officials are undervaluing the importance of knowing how to teach, said Steve Bryant, principal of Greenfield-Central High School.

"Teaching is an art," Bryant said. "Those training to be teachers need more training and experience in methodology, not less."

"I'm against any proposal that does not make methodology and the art of teaching important," he said.

Bryant also said he might support a proposal requiring that more hours be spent on subject content areas, so long as it did not involve a reduction in the hours spent on teaching methods.

Bryant's counterparts at Mount Vernon High School and Doe Creek Middle School expressed similar reservations about Bennett's ideas.

"The talk among teachers is that those methods classes they take are valuable and are critical to their success in the classroom," said Bernie Campbell, Mount Vernon's principal.

"It's not black and white. You can come from the private sector, for example, and be a very successful teacher, but I think understanding how to teach is as important as knowledge of your subject matter," Campbell said.

People outside the field of education often underestimate the specialized skills needed for leading a classroom of 25 to 30 teenagers, he said.

"I have expectations of someone I am going to trust after the door shuts in the classroom," Campbell said. "It must be someone who has a working knowledge of how to work with kids."

Still, Campbell said, he is comfortable in knowing that he would retain the authority to hire whomever he considers the strongest teaching candidates, regardless of whether Bennett's ideas become state policy. He would continue looking for applicants with strong backgrounds in teaching methodology, he said.

At Doe Creek Middle School, Principal Jim Voelz said he would do the same thing.

"I've known teachers who have come in and know chemistry extremely well or were big history buffs who really loved their subject, but they did not know how to control a classroom," Voelz said.

"There are things such as classroom management, having rapport with kids, differentiating instruction for students' individual learning styles -- many of these things quite honestly have nothing to do with content knowledge," he said.

Voelz added that he considered content knowledge important in its place.

"You cannot be a great teacher without understanding your content," Voelz said. "But to be a master educator, there is so much more that goes into it than just understanding the content."

The state's Professional Standards Board will next discuss Bennett's proposals on Wednesday. A vote is possible, but the body may make a decision later.


1 comment:

  1. What is so striking about a lot of these so called "reforms" is that folks that hire teachers don't support them. I just heard of one principal who said he'll never hire another Teach for America teacher because the last one up & quit after 3 weeks (no notice, no conferences, just walked out). And where is this data that says the problem is lack of content anyway?