Yo Teach…! Or how to avoid teaching like Jason

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 06 2012

The Psychology* of teaching part II

* My philosopher friend tells me psychology is the wrong word because there is absolutely no science in these posts, just discussion and extrapolation of first-person thought processes. The real word is phenomenology, apparently. Sorry.

Quick thought: what is the most powerful incentive to teachers? Keeping their job? Getting a promotion? Getting a bonus? Not losing a bonus? A report card that is published in a newspaper? I will break the ranks of many reading this and say that these are all probably fairly effective incentives. But, can anyone who has tuaght before not agree that the most powerful incentive for teachers is this:

The simple fact that that students are entrusted to your care and you (usually) have substantial control over how successful they are in your classroom (on the whole). In the end, their scores on the assessments you find meaningful are a profound reflection on you and the seriousness with which you take this hallowed responsibility. The problem is, the less autonomy teachers have, or the less they buy into the ways schools regulate what they do in the classroom, the more this incentive will begin to evaporate. For example, I am given a reading program that scripts out every minute of my hour and a half block with students. I have no time to teach routines or procedures, no flexibility in organizing the classroom in a way that works for my specific bunch of students. How driven am I going to be to ensure that these students grow compared to my situation last year, where I had my own guided reading groups, centers organizations, etc. which I could shape to the best of my ability? I will certainly try very hard, but there is a point in the night, a point in the lesson, and perhaps will be a point in the semester where I just shrug my shoulders, sigh, and say “what can I do?” That unrelenting motivation that I believe is the greatest asset to educational organizations wanes. Oh I also have a couple thousand dollar bonus if my kids grow a lot. It’s rarely on my mind.

My point from the last post is no different: I think policymakers, districts, and principals need to consider this as the most important incentive, and therefore do everything they can to make sure teachers believe (by carefully persuading them, giving them more autonomy, or letting them have a hand in choosing their resources) that they are in control of how their students will do. If they want to throw in a couple bonuses or promotions after that then go right ahead.

One Response

  1. meghank

    And students would do a lot better if teachers had more autonomy.

    The fact is, those with power over how public schools are run do not want students to do better. They will leave whatever district they are associated with before they have to face any real consequences over failing test scores.

    They are only interested in making money for themselves (bribes) or their friends (the owners of curriculum or educational software).

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