Since writing my November 3rd post about proposed changes to Indiana’s educator preparation programs,I haven’t stopped thinking about what I see as the beginning of a policy trend in devaluing the importance of classroom teachers’ pedagogical expertise. Perhaps beginning with the No Child Left Behind Act and its surrounding rhetoric, increased emphasis has been placed on teachers’ content knowledge or lack of it. I contend that this renewed emphasis is extremely important. I have worked with and observed far too many teachers over my career whose grasp of their courses’ academic content was severely lacking. This is extremely problematic. If a geometry teacher doesn’t have a solid grasp of geometry, the odds of her student coming away from that course understanding geometry are slim to ridiculous. So again, I whole-heartedly support policy initiatives to make sure teachers have the required content knowledge to teach.
However, I do not support policies that place emphasis on teacher content knowledge but deemphasize the importance of pedagogical skill. Both areas are extremely important and must be jointly emphasized. Most of us, even if we have not worked as educators, realize that teachers’ content knowledge alone is not sufficient for providing the type of learning experiences that we want for our children. I have had the opportunity to observe quite a few classrooms just over the last year where the teacher standing in front of the room was unquestionably an expert in his or her subject area, but hadn’t the slightest clue how to convey their knowledge and understanding to the young people they were charged with teaching.
Effective teachers are those that have a firm grasp of both their content and pedagogical skill. Policies that sacrifice teacher training in one of these critical areas at the expense of the other not only put the learning of our children in jeopardy, but they are a slap in the face to good teachers who have worked extremely hard to master both.