HomepageISTEEdSurge
Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
Join ASCD
October 1, 1993
Vol. 51
No. 2

Response / Teachers vs. Professors: The University's Side

    Instructional Strategies
      In “Snapshots From High School: Teachers' vs. Professors' Views,” Dona Kagan describes an “indirect dialogue” that she orchestrated between two high school teachers in Tuscaloosa, Alabama—Laura Hunter and Jim Chesnut—and two unnamed education professors at the University of Alabama (Educational Leadership, March 1993). Kagan's study leads her to the view that university folk denigrate the teacher's perspective. As one of the professors who participated in that indirect dialogue, I have another perspective on the lessons to be learned from the two teachers. What I learned is not what Kagan learned, nor does she present my positions accurately.
      Kagan's and my views first diverge on the mission and purpose of teachers. According to Kagan, Laura Hunter and Jim Chesnut consider their purpose to be preparing students to succeed and helping them to develop into well-balanced persons with self-esteem, appropriate social skills, and healthy values (which neither Kagan nor the teachers define). In sharp contrast, Kagan characterizes university educators as preoccupied with the “acquisition of problem-solving skills that students can apply beyond academic contexts” and with teaching methods derived from educational research.
      Implicit in Kagan's characterization are three flawed notions: first, that problem-solving skills are purely academic; second, that university professors are intellectual cads interested only in students' brain output; and finally, that the locus of professors' pedagogy is somewhere in the ether of ivy-leafed towers rather than in the chalk dust of high school classrooms. The pedagogy that I and most of my teacher education colleagues advocate is student-oriented, democratic, and rooted in the assumptions that not only are students worthy of active participation in the classroom conversation but also that education is a process of “learning to `take a hand in what is going on' by joining the `conversation of mankind'“ (Bruffee 1984, p. 647).
      Kagan writes that Laura Hunter and Jim Chesnut believe educational psychology and research are “relatively useless” because they “rarely examine learning in authentic classroom contexts.” In contrast, university professors are said to recommend that teachers select pedagogical methods by looking to educational and cognitive psychology and research. This view radically simplifies my beliefs about the fit between teacher and methods. I believe that a significant amount of any teacher's pedagogy derives from the teacher's personality, but I also know that teachers can modify their pedagogies by trying new methods, gradually incorporating them into their teaching styles. Teachers who refuse to consider what research tells us miss valuable opportunities to develop their teaching personalities; teachers who never venture intellectually beyond the boundaries of their classrooms risk reification of their beliefs and stultification of their practice. They present a negative example of “lifelong learning.”
      What Kagan reports as Hunter's and Chesnut's anti-intellectual attitude about research is also misguided in light of the increasing amount of classroom-based and ethnographic studies of teaching and learning. In my discipline, researchers have been studying how writers compose by using interviews, observation, and protocols for at least 22 years (see Emig 1971, for a famous early study of how 12th graders learn to compose). If Kagan implicitly endorses the two teachers in their view that the examination of learning in their own classrooms is the primary tool for professional growth, she risks advocating a position that may ultimately increase the isolation of classroom teachers and distance them from the intellectual world at large.
      And, contrary to Kagan's notion that the professional literature is “virtually monopolized by education professors,” the National Council of Teachers of English, intensely egalitarian, has been broadening its academic conversation for years to include as many classroom teachers as will join. Six of the 17-member executive committee are classroom teachers or affiliated with public schools (National Council of Teachers of English 1993). Several Council journals, such as English Journal and Language Arts, contain a predominance of publications by classroom teachers. This is hardly denigration or exclusion from the research community.
      Besides seeing university professors as exclusive, Kagan thinks we have “cavalier” attitudes toward the curriculums to which our secondary colleagues are often committed. This is an inaccurate, unfortunate, even an incendiary choice of words. To encourage teachers to rethink the ways they teach their curriculums and to urge them to reconsider the content of outmoded curriculums that restrict their creativity and preclude their professional involvement is hardly cavalier. It is, rather, honorable—an attempt to persuade teachers of their power, to help them begin to effect meaningful local educational change, and to put a timely end to mindless “teacher-proof” curriculums born of a distrust of teachers' knowledge and abilities.
      Another disturbing undercurrent of Kagan's article is that education professors are totally unfamiliar with the secondary classroom. In fact, increasing numbers of us have full and recent classroom experience. I have 11 years of secondary teaching experience, 6 years after my B.A., 1 year after my M.A., and 4 years (1986–1990) after my Ph.D. Each time I returned to the classroom after a stint in graduate school, I had a more confident grasp of my discipline and was consequently freer to focus on my students' intellectual, social, and emotional needs. At each interval, my teaching methods changed dramatically, an alteration and improvement that might not have happened without my contacts with the university. I believe that I was an excellent high school teacher, and I practiced then what I invite my student teachers to practice now.
      Laura Hunter and Jim Chesnut operate under the misconception that university programs are badly out of touch with “real” classrooms, and they consequently believe that university programs of education ill-prepare novice teachers for teaching. Kagan implicitly agrees. I think that most education professors will agree that teachers don't “acquire the sensitivities to read and negotiate the needs of students by completing university programs of teacher education.” But this is true not because the university is out of touch with the secondary classroom, but because teaching can't be taught. Teachers prepare to teach by learning their disciplines; by reading, thinking, talking, and reflecting on pedagogy and on what happens in schools; by observing in real schools; and by student teaching. When graduates leave university schools of education, we do not expect them to know teaching; the deepest and truest lessons occur when novice teachers are fully responsible for their own classrooms.
      In short, Kagan misrepresents and oversimplifies the differences between the university and the school classroom and those who labor in each domain. This is regrettable, because in her zeal to promote the experience of the classroom teacher over that of the university professor, Kagan polarizes two groups of professionals who desperately need to work together.
      References

      Bruffee, K. (1984). “Collaborative Learning and the Conversation of Mankind.” College English 46, 7: 635–652.

      Emig, J. (1971). The Composing Processes of Twelfth Graders. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English.

      National Council of Teachers of English. (1993). 1993 Directory. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English.

      C. Beth Burch has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

      Learn More

      ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

      Let us help you put your vision into action.
      Related Articles
      View all
      undefined
      Instructional Strategies
      Taking Risks with Rough Draft Teaching
      Sam Rhodes & Matthew Melville
      1 month ago

      undefined
      Creating Autonomy Within Fidelity
      Mike Anderson
      1 month ago

      undefined
      Been to a Good Lecture?
      Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey
      1 month ago

      undefined
      Picture Books Aren’t Just for the Youngest Students
      Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey
      2 months ago

      undefined
      For STEM Education, the Time Is Now
      Anthony Rebora
      2 months ago
      Related Articles
      Taking Risks with Rough Draft Teaching
      Sam Rhodes & Matthew Melville
      1 month ago

      Creating Autonomy Within Fidelity
      Mike Anderson
      1 month ago

      Been to a Good Lecture?
      Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey
      1 month ago

      Picture Books Aren’t Just for the Youngest Students
      Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey
      2 months ago

      For STEM Education, the Time Is Now
      Anthony Rebora
      2 months ago
      From our issue
      Product cover image 61193174.jpg
      New Roles, New Relationships
      Go To Publication