Bakemaster wrote:To continue the appliances analogy, I have strong opinions about what functionality I want in a blender for my own personal use, but I apply those strong opinions by being discriminating about the blender I use. I might go so far as to tell someone responsible for engineering the blender's parts about what I want the blender to do, but it would be ridiculous of me to tell them how to design the part or what sort of materials to make it from, having only the background of a consumer of appliances.
I work in the gas turbine field, and after that plane crashed into the Hudson due to birdstrikes, I and my friends in the field got a lot of "You guys should put mesh in front of the engines so that birds don't get sucked into them.". I (and my friends, as far as I know) didn't think it was ridiculous; it's a common-sense suggestion with non-obvious flaws. After explaining those flaws, I hope that the other person walks away with a deeper understanding of the trade-offs that inform engineering design.
An analogous response could be "I understand how might think that; you should read the survey article by Brown and Schwartz in this quarter's Journal of Secondary Education. They found statistically significant improvements in retention when teachers used powerpoint correctly." That way, they will see how you use objective evidence to make pedagogical decisions.
After all, if they think you just use your gut feelings (and you do nothing to disabuse them), then they have no reason to trust you over their own gut.
tl;dr: Treating suggestions about your profession as learning opportunities rather than "ridiculous" impositions will make these encounters a lot better for everyone.
I've bolded the part which I think was a poor assumption based on inexperience interacting with irate students and parents. The kind of person who will make a suggestion about turbine design is a lot more likely to accept your objective evidence; they are thinking about how things work, and probably have encountered enough non-obvious flaws in their own diy projects and whatnot to understand that you know what you're talking about. In my experience working in student services at the college level, there is such a prevalent attitude that what we do is far easier and more straightforward than it really is. (When I say "what we do" I am perhaps being too liberal—my work as a staffer in admissions and financial aid was of course very, very different from the work done by faculty in the classroom, though I felt this perception was applied to us as well by virtue of also being under the umbrella of working in higher education.) The students and parents who would respect your objective evidence, or even give a shit that you know the word "pedagogy" to begin with, are the ones who will not get into a debate with you in the first place; they will come to you to have a discussion. But there are so many who come to debate you. I don't have the experience to know how elementary and secondary education compare, but all these students and parents I interacted with at the college level were at one time students or parents of students at the elementary and secondary level; that, combined with the fact that people of course think the lower the grade, the easier it must be to teach (because it pays less and everyone knows how to add 2 + 2 and spell "vegetable"), makes me suspect it's a hell of a lot worse from the parents, at least.
I've been an offender myself! One semester, I had a class with a young new instructor (new to the school, and presenting a curriculum that had been newly revised in a process she was heavily involved in). General biology for science majors. I had just finished a really, really great public speaking class, and so after a couple lectures with PowerPoint slides absolutely crammed
full of information, nearly all of which existed in the required textbook for the class, I thought, "Aha! I can help by sharing what I learned in that great public speaking class, about how when there's too much text on the slide, people stop listening to you because they're too busy writing notes or trying to take in the slide." I wanted to be helpful, and also to make my experience in that class better—those slides were really awful! So I approached her after class and voiced my concerns, trying to be tactful, friendly, not disrespectful; but firm about my concern. She sort-of agreed but was resistant to the idea of trimming down the slides because she was afraid there was so much material to cover, and she wanted the students to have absolutely everything in the slides when reviewing for the exams. So now I'm thinking to myself, "I've said my piece, she doesn't see that I'm right, but I'll drop it for now, don't want to be an ass."
It wasn't until later in the semester, when I started prepping for group tutoring sessions I was leading for a conceptual physics class, that I realized how much I had underestimated the difficulty of her task, and how I had internally disrespected her by thinking she just wasn't canny enough to recognize I was right and cut down her slides. I am glad I kept it internal but still I was compelled to tell her, somewhat apologetically, how I hadn't realized just how hard it is to decide what you can and can't present, when you have a group of people (and I usually had 6-12 in those group sessions, which is a *beautifully* small group to be able to work with) with different learning styles and some pretty solid curricular goals you need
to meet in order to feel you've done any sort of good job of teaching. Yeah, her slides were still pretty terrible, and I wasn't wrong
that they needed to be more concise, but I was
wrong to think she hadn't considered that already or that it was any sort of quick fix. What I realized was that since this was the first time that class was being taught, not just by her but by anyone, it was necessarily still a work in progress. There's no other way to get the data you need in order to analyze the effectiveness of your lesson plans, than by using them and observing things not working. If this had been any other field, I would have accepted her hesitance as being informed by experience and study; instead I attributed it to her being young and new and not knowing what I knew because hey, I got an A in my public speaking class and I'm all puffed up about it now. Never mind that there's no way in hell she got through her M.Ed. without ever having to study how to deliver a lesson in far
greater detail than I had studied how to hand them a sandwich
It's really insidious, this idea that teaching is easy. The fact that we pay our teachers so poorly and have so much less respect for the difficulty of their preparation than we do for that of doctors and lawyers helps to feed that myth, and really, so does the way that we refuse to systematically hold bad teachers accountable by demanding they improve their skills. We think "some people are just good at teaching, and some are just bad at it" without considering that educators can become more educated, can be taught to use the results of good research when selecting textbooks and designing lesson plans, can improve when given the proper resources and guidance.
I am totally off on a sermon so I'm going to just stop now.