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Taking Care of the People Who Take Care of Kids

I just finished re-reading an article by Parker Palmer entitled Good Talk about Good Teaching. I never tire of reading his work. I find it refreshing and hopeful. I have often thought that schools do a terrible job of taking care of their teachers. Additionally, teachers make it very difficult for schools to take care of them. Some teachers reading this might be of the opinion that to really take care of teachers, throw a little something extra in their pay envelopes. While I am always open to discussions about how much teachers ought to be paid, I don't necessarily equate taking care of teachers with increased compensation.

Palmer highlights three conditions of teaching in this article. I would like to focus on the privatization of teaching, the fact that teaching is more than technique, and the human conditions of our students. As most of my opinions have a tendency to be inflamatory, I will pose them as questions and hope for your comments.

The Privatization of Teaching: Palmer acknowledges that increased privatization may well be attributable to the notion of academic freedom, but contends that it is most likely perpetuated out of choice. Teachers choose isolation as an attempt to escape the scrutiny of others and evaluation by supervisors. I tend to agree. The worst part about teacher isolation if the fact that it breeds what Palmer refers to as "institutional incompetence."

Are teachers really isolated from one another, or is this just an overblown notion? Is it true that teaching in a public school is the most private job you can have?

Teaching is More Than Technique: Most school improvement efforts have a "technical" component. The logic behind this fact is alluring; if teachers do this, student achievement will be increased. Palmer cites an American tendency to believe that all problems have technical solutions. He is quick to follow-up, however, with a piece of scathing insight into most school improvement efforts. Palmer points out that focusing on technique, we can make the conversations much more "safe" for those involved. The price for this safety is continued neglect of the more important issues that are likely to uncover the real barriers to improvement.

Can we have deep conversations about important topics, or will the school's immune system kick in and squash the dialog like a virus? How do we get started?

The Human Condition: One sentence from Palmer's article that haunts me is his description of the current condition of our students. He describes the fact that many teachers have mis-diagnosed students as "brain dead." This diagnosis has led to the prescription that these students require "pedagogies that function like life-support systems, dripping information into the veins of comatose patients." Palmer continues by pointing out that "nothing is easier than to slip into a low opinion of students, and that opinion creates teaching practices guaranteed to create vegetative states even if students who arrive at class alive and well."

How have your opinions of students (good or bad) shaped your instructional practice?

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