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19Feb/08Off

Education And What We Can Learn From Other Countries

As the spouse of a teacher, I know first hand the challenges that many young teachers face in the US today.  From waning parent interest and participation to lack of administrative support to poor professional development plans.  Of course, there is also the issue of compensation; let's face it: $40,000 just doesn't go very far.


I'd like to think that my wife is one of those teachers that takes her work very personally and always takes the initiative to help her students.  As Claudia Wallis writes in "How to Make Great Teachers", she writes that one of the key characteristics of successful teachers is "an unshakable belief in children's capacity to learn."  Indeed, I think my wife has a certain stubborness when it comes to her students in that she doesn't accept excuses for failure and always pushes her kids.  I'm constantly surprised by the number of parents of former students who come up to her and tell her how she's changed their children's lives, especially when it comes to the topic of mathematics.


One thing that amazes me is the incredible cost of education for teachers in the US and how much of that burden falls on the shoulders of America's teachers and their families, especially for post-graduate education.  For example, my wife's graduate school loans total over $25,000!  Her commitment from her school district? $750 per year.


Linda Darling-Hammond comments:



All teacher candidates in Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, for example, receive two to three years of graduate-level preparation for teaching, at government expense, plus a living stipend.  Unlike the U.S., where teachers either go into debt to prepare for a profession that will pay them poorly or enter with little or no training, these countries made the decision to invest in a uniformly well-prepared teaching force by recruiting top candidates and paying them while they receive extensive training.


For certain, it seems like the US doesn't treat teaching like a first class profession.  Contrast this with Singapore's approach:



To get the best teachers, the [National Institute of Education] recruits students from the top third of each graduating high school class into a fully paid four-year teacher-education program and puts them on the government's payroll.  When they enter the profession, teachers' salaries are higher than those of beginning doctors.


Aside from the greather respect for the teaching profession, it seems like many countries also take a different approach to continued on the job professional development.



[In Singapore,] the government pays for 100 hours of professional development each year for all teachers.  In addition, they have 20 hours a week to work with other teachers and visit on another's classrooms.


Most US teachers, on the other hand, have no time to work with colleagues during the school day.  They plan by themselves and get a few hit-and-run workshops after school, with little opportunity to share knowledge or improve their practice.


Harold Stevenson noted that "Asian class lessons ae so well crafted [because] there is a very systematic effort to pass on the accumulated wisdom of teaching practice to each new generation of teachers and to keep providing teachers the opportunities to continually learn from each other."


In a paper titled Speeding Up Team Learning, Edmondson, Bohmer, and Pisano write, with regards to their study on surgical teams learning new procedures and practices in the area of cardiac surgery:



Teams that learned the new procedure most quickly shared three essential characteristics.  They were designed for learning; their leaders framed the challenge in such a way that team members were highly motivated to learn and the leaders' behavior created an environment of psychological safety that fostered communication and innovation.


I think we can take some of these ideas and merge apply them to the teaching profession as well by identifying what Darling-Hammond terms "expert teachers" and emphasizing the fostering of these individuals into drivers for team and mentor based professional development.  Furthermore, I think greater structured team based learning and communications would greatly enhance the experience of young teachers learning the craft.

Posted by Charles Chen

Filed under: Rants Comments Off
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