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Oblivion

This desk makes me question my convictions.

I have been convicted for some time that, to be a good teacher, you need not have experienced a bright light on the road, a deep voice summoning you to the job. To succeed here (at least in the short term) you need some combination of self-reflection, intelligence, and good humor. The rest can be taught.

But that desk testifies to certain attributes of good teaching that cannot be taught. That desk tells the story of a student who was so bored by her teacher’s instruction that she spent a not-insignificant fraction of her school year tunneling through an inch of wood. More importantly, it tells the story of a teacher whose tedious instruction was her lesser fault.

Her greater fault was oblivion. She had no idea what any of her students were doing at any given moment of class. She kept sacred that invisible curtain between student and teacher. She knew none of her students and knew nothing of what they did during the hours she thought they were paying attention to her.

I don’t know if anyone can untrain that kind of oblivion, to say nothing of training the kind of hyperattunement common to all good teachers, the kind of “court sense” that let Magic Johnson connect no-look passes, which manifests in the classroom as a certain omniscience, as “eyes in the back of your head,” as constant awareness of who is working, who needs refocusing, who is scheming, cheating, and plotting, at all times.

If that kind of oblivion can’t be cured (without great expense, anyway) we must direct ourselves, then, to identifying its precursors in our applicant teachers.

33 Responses to “Oblivion”

  1. on 16 Nov 2008 at 9:55 pmIan H.

    Situational awareness is something that everyone has to a greater or lesser extent. I’d be interested to know whether it can be taught… But I do agree that if a teacher is unaware that their student has put a hole through the desk, there is something wrong there. Either the instructor is tethered to the front of the class (as in your drawing), or they really are blissfully oblivious to what’s going on literally under their nose. In either case, something has to change.

  2. on 16 Nov 2008 at 9:55 pmTom Hoffman

    Ted Sizer describes classroom practices as the result of implicit and explicit negotiation between students and teachers. I think it is better to think of the hole in that context, rather than simply oblivion.

    The hole is a sign that things are NOT OK, but it may be more “somewhat over his or head teacher decides that Johnnie sitting quietly boring a hole in is desk is the best he or she is going to get from Johnnie at this point, all things considered” than “teacher is completely oblivious.”

  3. on 16 Nov 2008 at 10:03 pmAlec Couros

    Kounin coined the term “withitness” to describe the teacher that knew what was happening at all times within the classroom, pretty much the “eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head” mentality. The problem is, knowing what is happening in the classroom doesn’t mean knowing what is happening with students, in or beyond the classroom.

    I’m with you on your conclusion. I work in teacher education. Some days are good, and I see those ‘kids’ that I know will become great teachers. Others, I know should not be given the chance. Those are the days I want to home school my kids.

    The biggest problem I see are those ones that could be great teachers, who are motivated and prepared when they leave a teacher education program. Then … the realities of school culture and the pressures put onto beginning teachers contribute to eradicating that great potential.

  4. on 16 Nov 2008 at 11:21 pmaschmitz

    It’s an interesting point, and an interesting conclusion. I’d perhaps question your idea that the type of situational awareness you discuss cannot be taught, though it probably cannot be taught in the “traditional” lecture-based instruction that comprises the majority of teacher education at the moment. More experience? More preparedness? (The theory being that if a teacher is concentrating on what they’re going to say next, they’re going to miss what’s going on in the rest of the room, but if they’re comfortable with it, they’ll be able to see other things.)

    (Minor comment: That hole looks pretty straight and even. I seem to recall several of those on desks at school that went right along where a bolt would normally go, but the bolt was missing. I have no idea if that’s the case here, but it looks pretty similar.)

  5. [...] was reading Mr. Meyer’s blog about teacher awareness in the classroom. He talks about a lack of awareness calling it [...]

  6. on 17 Nov 2008 at 4:42 amMath Stories : Understanding Learning

    [...] talks about oblivious teachers, wondering whether that sort of awareness is learned, or [...]

  7. on 17 Nov 2008 at 4:49 amFlint

    I would have to agree with Tom – that at some point the teacher decided that it was better to have this student boring a hole through the desk – than the alternative (which I’m assuming would be disrupting the class).

    Because the alternative is just really really bad. That a teacher has apparently not walked by a desk in their classroom once – at any time of the day (morning before the students come in – all the way till evening when it’s time to go home) and didn’t notice a hole in the desk.

    If I were the principal, I’d be ticked off for 2 reasons – one, the damage to the desk. Two, the implications of what it means.

  8. on 17 Nov 2008 at 4:59 amTom

    As a student, I used to do full size murals on the desks and floors of classes I was bored in. One teacher in particular was amazed and wanted to know when I did one particularly large Mr. Clean image on the floor. She could not believe I did it while she was teaching.

    I found this message bored into a desk in Colorado classroom and while not as deep as your example, it’s pretty good.

    I don’t think of teaching as a “religious” calling either but I do believe you have to have some innate traits to be really good. In some ways I see it as a scientific art. Your technique, skills, technical details can be flawless but without the rapport with your students you never reach that next level.

    I’m not sure how you teach people to make things interesting if they don’t really understand what interesting is to their students. A lot of it has to do with empathy maybe and it seems the worst teachers may be borderline psychopaths obliviously killing through boredom.

  9. on 17 Nov 2008 at 6:17 amScott Elias

    That’s very Shawshank Redemption. I’m picturing the student walking out of class and unloading a pinch or two of sawdust on the patio every day, all the while covering the work-in-process with a Post-It note or something.

  10. on 17 Nov 2008 at 9:39 amdan

    @Alec, is there any way to identify in advance these teachers who (safe money says) aren’t going to make it in the classroom and then reject their application? And if you don’t have that kind of veto power, what if you did? Which personality characteristics would function as red flags?

    Same goes for anyone else who isn’t turned off by the Calvinism of the prompt. What are the characteristics of someone who shouldn’t go into teaching? You should limit yourself only to characteristics you can realistically determine through an interview process. You aren’t omniscient. You can’t stare into the applicant’s soul. So now what.

  11. on 17 Nov 2008 at 10:22 amSheldon Plankton

    Re: #10.) Sounds kind of like the movie Minority Report. They could prevent “pre-crimes” and determine when a murder was about to happen. Interesting if you could do that for teachers. “We have determined you will have no classroom management skills are have rejected your application!”. Scary stuff.
    For the most part, I think all educators could find a place to be successful somewhere. I also doubt even the best educators could be successful everywhere. Just as in sports, there have been great college football, and basketball coaches that have done horribly in the pro leagues. Likewise, some great pro sports coaches have bombed when they take jobs at the college level. The same is true for teaching (replace the NFL with urban schools, replace college with suburban, or private).
    If you could determine who would be a poor fit for teaching, but also felt secure in that that teaching candidate would be successful in other areas of education, it would be your obligation to find different avenues. I am sure there are some great guidance counselors, or school nurses, or hearing therapist who work in schools that would make lousy classroom teachers. Likewise, there are some great classroom teachers that would make lousy guidance counselors, school principals, nurses, etc.
    Also, do we want all teachers to be the same? Some of my favorite teachers have been the less popular ones. They weren’t the most exciting, they weren’t the most knowledgable, they may never have skipped into the building every day singing about how much they loved the children and that they would work for free. However, they were human. Real people. Sometimes that is what the kid drilling the hole into the desk needs.
    Just my three cents.

  12. on 17 Nov 2008 at 11:00 amAlec Couros

    @Dan: To respond to your question, I am going to back up a step. I think the important piece is understanding how these processes are determined currently (across a number of institutions). While there are a number of criteria in place, how do the personal beliefs and backgrounds of the people making these decisions influence the outcome? For instance, do reviewers favour or privy: particular religious or ethnic background (either through prejudice, tokenism, or affirmative action programs)? What importance is placed on academic criteria, and why? Is the applicant known to the reviewer, or a father/son/niece/nephew/cousin/roommate of another known educator or contact? How does a reviewer’s philosophical and epistemological influences affect application decisions? What are the current market influences for the “low-end” of a successful application? What are the perceived needs of the local school districts/divisions? How does gender play a role in decisions (e.g., male applicants are often more successful applying for elementary than secondary)?

    So I guess, to me, I think it’s more important to understand how the system may be flawed because in terms of criteria, we can create wonderful lists of personality traits, but will it work out that way?

    Then, as you suggest, “you can’t stare into an applicant’s soul”. So, many programs take the following approach: a) good grades, b) entrance essay, c) interview.

    a) I do not think I have to debate that good grades alone will not determine one’s effectiveness as a teacher. In fact, some of the best teachers I know, had horrible grades and barely got into a program, or had to upgrade first. In some cases, the experience of difficult learning can be a tremendous asset in the classroom in terms of student empathy.

    b) With a little help, especially if you know a teacher in the field, it is not difficult to answer a few questions regarding “why I want to become a teacher”. In fact, MANY new teachers want to be teachers because their parents were/are. Having parents that are teachers for 18 years certainly helps with writing that essay.

    c) With enough practice, a 10 year-old can learn the lingo and tell the changes that need to happen in education (e.g., See Dalton Sherman).

    And, on a personal note, I’m lucky to be in this profession at all. Through my entire B.Ed process, from application to completion, I never wanted to teach. I was just killing time, wanted a degree, but had hoped to get into business. However, when I was complete, I was offered a coaching (Hockey) position that happened to come with a teaching position. I reluctantly moved to a First Nations reserve, coached hockey, and began to teach. It was in those first, VERY difficult months that somehow, someway, I fell in love with teaching. It was the first time I had left my isolated, homogeneous, white community, and had actually been given a chance to do something worthwhile. I fell in love with the people. I fell in love with the community. And I fell in love with teaching. This was all unexpected, and something that would have never happened had the reviewers caught on to my early, negative attitudes.

    So, I am sure I didn’t answer your question, but here’s a summary of what I think I said (and a couple of additional points I think):

    1) We need to better understand the processes involved in determining who is privileged enough to teach in our communities. There is often a huge difference between our policies and practice in admittance to teacher education programs.

    2) We need better approaches to assessing teacher applicants, but the rigor of the program itself must be sound. There needs to be checks and balances within the program, and mechanisms that would support students in determining alternative vocations (e.g., We think you may want to consider becoming a ” “)

    3) Students need alternative, life changing experiences. What if students actually ‘experienced the world’ before even being eligible to get into a program? Would that make a difference?

    4) It’s not too late to become something you never expected to be, and there countless junctures for change. Schools need to determine their “duds” quickly, and go beyond reallocating people to different areas. There is nothing worse than a “bad teacher” becoming a consultant or an administrator because a district no longer wanted that person in a classroom. Think Zappos … what if we told these teachers, if you leave right now, we’ll give you x dollars never to come near a school again? Hmmmmmm.

    Wow, that was a rant. Thanks for the opportunity, Dan.

  13. on 17 Nov 2008 at 2:06 pmMr. K.

    there any way to identify in advance these teachers who (safe money says) aren’t going to make it in the classroom

    I’m quite sure there isn’t, considering how different those classrooms are from school to school, and district to district.

    We’ve had experienced teachers come highly recommended from other districts who completely lose it when they get to my school. Obviously, they’re qualified to teach somewhere, just not here.

    I’m not sure how much an administration is supposed to create an easy teaching environment – I suspect that the better they do, the better the teachers and the students do, but I’ve got no way to measure that, or evaluate it if I did.

    I’ve discussed this before. All I’m sure of is that at this point in time it seems impossible to set a standard for what is reasonable to expect of a teacher.

  14. on 17 Nov 2008 at 7:42 pmdkzody

    I have a teacher in my department that I HAD to take as he was downsized from another school. The man had never taught, in 20 years, at a comprehensive high school but rather at these made-up alternative schools where the teacher/student ratio was 1/2 or 1/3, so when he came to a school where he had large (30) classes, he couldn’t manage to control the ensuing chaos. It has not been a fun time. His students destroy the equipment, leave their trash, steal items from rooms. The rest of us in the department do not have these issues. He is clueless as to why these things happen to him.

  15. on 17 Nov 2008 at 7:45 pmDean Shareski

    I recognize I may not be hitting the nail on the head here and missing the big ideas that Alec raises but something that I can’t help but thinking is, where does the value of community enter in here? I mean, was this student simply allowed to sit at a desk and tune out? I wonder about the value and emphasis of social learning. What if students had some responsibilities to help each other? What if her classmates were in some way responsible for her learning and she for her classmates? I’m convinced that every classroom needs to build some type of social learning experience into it. I realize that if a teacher is that oblivious, that may be a bigger problem but certainly if we ask kids to take some responsibility for their classmates, we’d have fewer of these cases.

  16. on 17 Nov 2008 at 8:07 pmClaire Thompson

    Screening applicants for education (or many other disciplines) is always going to be an inexact science. Some people have poor grades, but have excellent teaching skills. Others do really well in interviews and but flounder in the classroom. Terrible applicants can sometimes get glowing recommendations.

    What we can do better is to provide our future teachers with really good training by good teachers. Our pre-service teachers should not not be learning how to teach in a lecture hall with 100 other students. They should have teachers who practice what they preach. They should have teachers who are good role models.

    We can also provide better support for our pre-service teachers when they are doing their practica. We should place all pre-service teachers with good mentor teachers and good advisors. There are lots of situations where a sub-par teacher often gets a student teacher because they are favoured by the admin, or if s/he doesn’t get a student teacher they’ll be off on stress leave *again*.

    When our new teachers get their first teaching assignments we need to support them their too. We have to stop the insanity of sticking the new teacher with the most difficult class. We have to stop expecting the new teacher to coach their first year. When we are overtaxed we often revert to a ‘stand and deliver’ / fight or flight style of teaching. First year teachers need to have at least some time to reflect on what they are doing.

    I guess what I’m saying is that maybe withitness isn’t nature vs nurture.

  17. on 18 Nov 2008 at 8:01 amken

    Shall we abdicate student responsibility outright?

    Basic respect on the part of the learner shouldn’t require ‘situational awareness’ on the part of the teacher.

    Oranges and snorkels.

  18. on 20 Nov 2008 at 9:56 am10 - Compassion

    [...] with it very seriously and very personally which was ironic because I did everything in my power to remain detached and impersonal with my students. My first years were not very fulfilling or successful because I removed that which is key to [...]

  19. on 23 Nov 2008 at 7:18 amdan

    Here’s hoping everyone clicked the little button at the bottom of the screen. I’m having the hardest time blogging or reading or commenting lately but I’ve gotta get back into this thread because I basically disagree with everyone to a certain degree, which is rare in any thread but especially rare in a thread full of smart people.

    First, to Alec, I don’t see much sense in getting hung up inefficiencies and disparities common to all hiring processes. My question is this: is there any reason why I can’t sit you down in an interview and determine if you have the raw, unrefined stuff of good teaching. What questions do you ask? Do you have that person teach a lesson (to the best of her ability)?

    While I agree that no single factor (grades, essay, or interview) will correlate exactly to great teaching, that tells me we need to improve these hiring mechanisms, not throw our hands up and assume it’s all an educated guess.

    (ie. obviously if you ask a third-generation teaching candidate, “Why do you want to become a teacher?” you’ll receive a mostly-generic platitude about difference-making, but if you ask a question like, “To what extent is a student’s final grade a reflection of her teacher’s skill?” you’ll scrape away the layers covering meaningful philosophy. Or you’ll realize that the candidate has no meaningful philosophy.)

    And I agree with Mr. K that different teachers function differently at different schools but only to a slight extent. If the transfer we’re talking about is from Marin County (wealthy, intact, college-educated families) to Oakland (the opposite) then, yeah, different training is necessary. (I’d recommend a different credential, entirely.) But I’d be very surprised to find any research supporting the claim that a teacher moving from school to school under typical circumstances sees anything other than similar results, plus or minus 10%.

    All I’m sure of is that at this point in time it seems impossible to set a standard for what is reasonable to expect of a teacher.

    Adaptability is reasonable to expect of a teacher.

    Dean, the largest factor contributing to this student’s success is teacher quality. The teacher that can’t produce lessons of any engagement or coherency, that doesn’t check for understanding, isn’t going to structure a class wiki or peer coaching effectively either.

    Ken, I’d find it easier to respond to your comments if they didn’t end with (and sometimes begin with and hang their supporting arguments on) non-sequiturs like “Oranges and snorkels.”

    The student has some obligation to engage herself with a lesson that is skullcrushingly boring, to engage with a teacher who doesn’t engage with her, but I’ll argue that this obligation is very limited, mostly limited to her desire to pass the class. Just like I have no obligation to sit through or engage with a tedious seminar at a conference. Teachers are paid to be engaging. This isn’t some icing they’ll pipe on the cake if they feel like going above and beyond their assigned duties. This is their job.

    The crucial issue here, anyway, isn’t engagement. It’s checking for understanding, formative assessment, and establishing relationships with students.

  20. on 23 Nov 2008 at 10:42 amAlec Couros

    Dan, thanks for the response.

    re: “don’t see much sense in getting hung up inefficiencies and disparities common to all hiring processes”. I did not mean for my previous rant to be a list of inefficiencies that could simply be tweaked so that we have better processes. If we speak of inefficiencies, our language may betray us as it implies that we accept the current system if it were only to be improved. My list of points was meant to display the deeper epistemological rifts within our current system, and that there are inherent flaws in the ways in which we (dominant societies) view and support education. Whether it is in teacher education or K12 or higher education, we need to better understand the systems of power and authority and better understand who makes decisions (on what criteria), why these decisions are made (for the benefit of who), and how these current systems do not represent the well-being of those being “served”.

    So, I am not implying that we need to throw up our hands and say it’s all an educated guess. We can improve these ‘efficiencies’ on one hand … education has a rich tradition of snail’s pace improvements (heck, just bring in the German efficiency experts to fix our power plant). The education system is not a total failure as it did bring *us* here, to this conversation. Yet, I do not think we should ever rate a society’s progress by whom we serve, but rather by those we do not. (similar to Churchill’s quote “the best way to judge a society is on how it treats its prisoners”). So while we have those inside repainting the walls, there needs to be others, inside and outside, who are philosophizing, revolutionizing, and creating systems that will be of greater service to all learners. What this will look like, no one knows, but it starts with understanding power, influence, and authority.

  21. on 23 Nov 2008 at 11:15 amClaire Thompson

    “My question is this: is there any reason why I can’t sit you down in an interview and determine if you have the raw, unrefined stuff of good teaching. What questions do you ask? Do you have that person teach a lesson (to the best of her ability)?” This is a great question, which no one seems to have addressed. Many of us seem to be hung up on what is wrong with the system.

    What does that raw, unrefined stuff look like? Did the truly wonderful teachers that I’ve had the privilege of knowing have glimmerings of their greatness before they entered teacher training? If so what did those glimmerings look like? Is it like great athletes where the talent is evident from a very early age (think Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Tiger Woods…) Do we need to start training talent scouts who can pick out the future teaching stars? Who are our top talent scouts right now and what are they looking for. (I really hope that some school administrators chime in on this discussion; after all they’re the ones trying their best to pick teachers right for their students.)

    An aside; am I just late in noticing that Dan changed his tag line? Anyone else worried?

  22. on 23 Nov 2008 at 12:54 pmdan
    Alec: we need to better understand the systems of power and authority and better understand who makes decisions (on what criteria), why these decisions are made (for the benefit of who), and how these current systems do not represent the well-being of those being “served”.

    Such a macroscopic lens is unhelpful here. Yes, employers from all fields will hire for reasons of party or religion or family or nepotism but I don’t see how that is anywhere near the crucial issue of finding and training qualified teaching candidates. It’s as if you’re saying, “if only we subjected all candidates to a blind review process, we’d fairly select good teaching candidates.” whereas I think the review process needs a drastic and immediate overhaul. The interview questions are often insufficient. The demonstration of interest and skill on the part of the candidate is often insufficiently rigorous. Isn’t there anything we can do with that?

    Basically what Claire said.

  23. on 23 Nov 2008 at 2:02 pmAlec Couros

    “Such a macroscopic lens is unhelpful here.”

    Actually Dan, I’d argue that we need an even BIGGER macroscopic lens that what you (in your previous comment) have identified.

    Think systems of influence of power beyond teacher ed … think in our greater society. Think of these in (small ‘e’) education. What I am saying is that these small changes that you identify merely scratch the surface when we are just trying to predict who will be a “good teacher”. Whatever definition we come up with is meaningless when the entire system in which we identify “good teachers” is not good enough.

    And, think about it. I’ve come to visualize what kind of teacher YOU are over the past couple of years. What you have shown all of us is exemplary; not only the quality of resources you have shared, but the reflective and innovative qualities you have demonstrated. But, even with how open you have been, I (we) do not see everything. We do not *truly* know how good of a teacher you are, how “effective” you are in the classroom, we can only guess by what you give us. Interviews, essays, or any other particular measurement given throughout an interview process is very much the same: selective pieces chosen (mostly) by the candidate. So no matter what measurement, it comes down to at these issues: what answers/responses/data are given by the candidate, and what questions/measurements/data are requested by the interviewee (the latter already heavily influenced by one’s own world view).

    So back to my thesis: we can improve/tweak things to an extent, but if that’s all we are doing, we aren’t doing enough to change the things that will be important in the future.

    p.s. We probably have more points of agreement than are immediately apparent, I’d love to discuss face-to-face if the opportunity ever arises.

    Cheers.

  24. on 23 Nov 2008 at 2:28 pmdan
    So no matter what measurement, it comes down to at these issues: what answers/responses/data are given by the candidate, and what questions/measurements/data are requested by the interviewee [you meant "interviewer" here, correct? — dm] (the latter already heavily influenced by one’s own world view).

    So I’m asking, given your worldview, what questions / measurements / data would you request of the interviewee to ensure the best possible applicants?

    Or, alternately, you could explain why that question is irrelevant to the matter of selecting good teaching candidates. In all this are you suggesting that until we resolve issues of inequity across our respective nations, we can’t address the issue of teacher selection / preparation?

  25. on 25 Nov 2008 at 11:08 amken

    Dan,

    You say, “Teachers are paid to be engaging.”

    On that point, we are in complete agreement.

    On a related point (working to avoid non-sequiturs), I have no memory of any pre-service teaching class ever going over this point.

    On a slightly tangential note, I’m thinking poor hiring choices on the part of school districts is the unfortunate result of universities churning out poorly trained teachers by poorly designed curriculum delivered by ‘been-there’ educators.

    My anecdotal evidence (gathered over the last 13 years) seems to indicate over and over again that my coworkers view ‘engagement’ as trendy a concept as ‘tech integration’.

  26. on 25 Nov 2008 at 12:27 pmMike Wills, Jr.

    Wow! I’ve never seen a blog point with this great perspective. It’s funny that you say that… Look back on all of your teachers. The ones that you say are your “favorites” and the ones that changed your life are the ones with that Magic Johnson court awareness. The other ones, you don’t really remember…

    Ken, you’re right – the bar must be set MUCH higher for graduating and hiring teachers.

    Mike

  27. on 25 Nov 2008 at 9:41 pmdan

    Schools don’t exercise their prerogative to dismiss lousy, unengaging teachers who then constitute the next generation of teacher educators, perpetuating practice which is unengaging.

    Just give me a little head nod if I have you right.

  28. on 02 Dec 2008 at 1:20 amCandace

    Hi Dan,

    As a first year teacher, I must say that my weakest areas are classroom management and formative assessment.

    I have kids who draw on desks in my class (though I have managed to catch some…particularly those who write their names on their desk), and I’ve lost a bathroom pass. I want to do more formative assessment, but right now, after school tutoring and just day to day planning are pretty overwhelming. Right now, most of my relationship building and formative assessment only happens with those kids who come in for extra help.

    If in 3-5 years I’m still finding the same problems, then perhaps this isn’t the job for me, but I’m optimistic that in 3-5 years I will have at least some of the things I’m struggling with down. Right now, there are just so many demands on my attention, including the fact that I’m teaching everything for the first time, that I’m really just trying to keep my head above water.

    The reason I mention this is because I think it’s hard to “identify its precursors” when it comes to who will become less oblivious over time…it might be easy to spot who is already really good “having eyes in the back of their head,” but especially when hiring first year/relatively new teachers, I think it’s a toss up when trying to identify who will be really bad even after several years. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has said their first couple years were rough in this area (unless they are really just trying to make me feel better). They also say, that as you become more comfortable teaching and have fewer things that take up so much attention, and you start becoming more attuned to what’s going on in your class.

    I think perhaps one of the only things that MIGHT help identify whether or not a teacher will be someone who is highly attuned to what’s going on in their class is if they are open to constructive criticism and have a desire for personal growth and change. The teacher who doesn’t know he or she is oblivious (and refuses to believe that he or she is oblivious) will never gain the sense of classroom awareness you’re talking about. The teacher who is aware of the need for more formative assessment, who sees his or her own weakness in classroom management, and who desires to change has some hope of growing in those areas.

    Another side thought on hiring teachers: I think it’s just really hard to “screen” teachers thoroughly. Especially math teachers because there aren’t a ton to choose from. My school hired several teachers very last minute, some without credentials, simply because there was a need.

    - Candace

  29. on 02 Dec 2008 at 8:39 amdan

    Your last paragraph isn’t insignificant, Candace. Who do you screen when you have three middling applicants for two positions?

    I’d like to address principle, not practice, though, if for nothing else but for fun: assuming one had 100 applicants to select from, what interview questions would one ask, what kind of demonstration would one require, what education would one look for, etc.

    Part of me suspects, given your self-aware assessment of your own practice, I’d walk out of an observation convinced you had the essential elements in place, if not yet fully formed.

  30. on 02 Dec 2008 at 2:02 pmKilian

    Dan,

    Would you really limit yourself to (merely) asking questions? Or would you design a more far-reaching approach to screening. Those OTF kiddos you hung out with before did the following:

    1) made it through a paper screen (essay/ resume/ etc)

    And then came to an interview day, which consisted of

    1) sample teaching lesson
    2) group discussion on ed issues
    3) writing sample on class/ school specific issue
    4) individual interview

    This is the process that TNTP/ TFA utilizes. If I had my druthers, I’d include an opportunity to solicit/give feedback on the sample lesson, provide time to respond, and then watch that person reteach the lesson with alterations.

    If we’re screening for something that is a mix of fundamental ideology matched with a skill-set that is both present and potential, it can’t just be about questions.

  31. on 03 Dec 2008 at 2:26 pmdan

    Without leading the commentariate along, this is what I was after. I was hired on the strength of an interview, along with the usual grad packet filler. Gotta be a better way than that.

  32. on 03 Dec 2008 at 7:06 pmSarah

    Kilan While TFA doesn’t have you reteach the lesson, you are asked to reflect on your lesson during the individual interview. Complete with, “Were you successful in teaching?” and, “What would you do better if you retaught the lesson?”

    Though, after that, my school hired me with whatever paperwork they had from TFA and the basis of an interview. My question, “Where does the screening take place?” My instinct says the school that hires, but we keep talking about the programs that train.

  33. on 04 Dec 2008 at 7:06 pmSarah

    This week’s Education Gladfly spotlighted a recent study “Can You Recognize an Effective Teacher When You Recruit One?”. (The link’s an abstract. You have to pay to read the article elsewhere.) It seemed too related not to share.

    I haven’t read the article itself, but from the abstracts and reviews “it examines content knowledge, cognitive ability, personality traits (like conscientiousness and agreeableness), feelings of self-efficacy, and scores on a teacher pre-screening evaluation, which measured level of organization and planning, among other areas” correlate with student achievement.

    Their measures seem traditional, looking at people’s background to predict their teaching ability. The model to have new hires provide evidence they can teach (and that they can reflect on and improve their lessons) makes sense.

    Again I’m wondering, how does that evidence of actual ability correlate with training? How early can you realistically make predictions?