Category Archives: Teacher Education

Where Do Teachers Learn about Teaching?

Teaching differs from other jobs. What other career have you observed day-in-day-out for 13 or more years before you embark on it? Most of us are lucky enough to observe only hours of the work of a doctor, a dentist or a mechanic. Unless we have a family member in the job, we’ve probably only seen a couple of days or weeks of the work of a nurse, a shopkeeper or a hairdresser. But most of us have observed teaching for several hours daily for years on end.

Because we’re so familiar with teaching, it looks easy. It doesn’t have the mystique or glamour of jobs such as software designer, barrister, entrepreneur, newspaper editor, engineer or chef. But in looking easy, teaching is deceptive. It is a complex and difficult job to execute well. As David Labraee says, in learning to teach we have to contend with learning the complexity of something that looks easy. We also have to be careful about who we learn from because many people who express opinions on teaching know little about the work. Continue reading

Peer Pressure Affects Teachers Too

Most people who smoke know that smoking is bad for them. Yet the habit persists. Most cyclists know that helmets help prevent head injuries. Yet many cyclists don’t wear them.

It’s tempting to think we always act in accordance with our beliefs. But we don’t. Continue reading

Sunday Interview Highlight – Andy Burke

Andy Burke is known to thousands of teachers throughout Ireland and further afield through his work in St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra (now part of Dublin City University) and overseas for organisations such as the World Bank. His passion and enthusiasm for education are infectious.

After joining and later leaving a religious order, Andy worked as an electrician in Dublin and as a carpenter in Boston before dedicating himself professionally to education. Throughout his academic career in teacher education, he was preoccupied by the question about what type of work teaching is and whether it was a trade or a profession.  .

In this part of the interview I asked Andy if he now believes that teaching is a trade or a profession. Continue reading

If Schools Were More Like Coderdojos, How Would Teaching Change?

In a previous post I wrote about features of coderdojos that could be emulated in schools. Among the features I identified were:

1. Learning comes about through solving specific problems
2. Learners choose the problems and tasks that they work on
3. Mentors are experts in the content to be learned but not necessarily in pedagogy
4. Expertise is spread among mentors rather than concentrated in any one individual
5. Learners are organised by their interests and not by their age
6. Learners choose to work alone or in groups
7. Learners can actively teach others
8. The atmosphere is informal

If such features were applied in many schools, the work of teaching would change and particular aspects of teachers’ work would require more emphasis. I identify some of those aspects in this post. Continue reading

Changing Teaching, Changing Culture

How do teachers learn to teach? You might say by attending college, going on teaching practice, and from teaching experience. But according to Stigler and Hiebert, who wrote the book The Teaching Gap, teaching is a cultural activity. It is an activity that is absorbed from the culture through family conversations over meals, through watching television and listening to radio, and of course from spending 13 years as a student in various classrooms observing teachers teach. Learning about teaching in this way seems to be stronger than teacher education or continuing professional development. Continue reading

Coaching for Teachers?

I want to be the best teacher and teacher educator I can be. To try and do this I sign up for professional development opportunities when I can, read books and articles about teaching and learning, attend conferences, and engage in further study. But there is one opportunity to improve my teaching that I’ve never tried – partly because it’s difficult to set up, but mostly because I didn’t think of it: coaching. Continue reading

School League Tables and Improving Teaching

Teacher unions are critical of league tables. When tables of college entry linked to schools were published in national newspapers last week, the general secretary of the ASTI said that “It is important to recognise that these tables do not tell us about the real performance of schools. In fact they present a shallow, incomplete and distorted picture of the work of schools.” Although many educators might agree with this view, it can sometimes be helpful to look at the other side.

Let’s just suppose that league tables are useful. At their very best, what good are they? Here are some possible benefits that I can think of. Continue reading

A better way of deciding who’s fit to be president … or fit to teach

After watching the final TV debate among presidential candidates, I have to agree with my colleague on Inside Education, Barry Hennessy, who says that the debate format is not best the best way to decide who is fit to be president of Ireland. One limitation, according to Barry, is that the order in which you are asked the questions determines how original your answer sounds to the audience and how much time you have to think of a response to a particular question. Continue reading

Teaching Practice changes will help bridge schools and colleges

Changes are afoot in how schools and teacher education institutions interact with one another. The changes are set out in the Teaching Council’s document on Initial Teacher Education: Criteria and Guidelines for Programme Providers  and they are intended to benefit schools, student teachers and colleges. Highlights of the required changes are as follows: Continue reading

Differentiating instruction in mathematics class (1)

When student teachers start teaching mathematics, they find out quickly that children learn differently and at different rates. Consequently, after a period or two of school placement, student teachers appreciate the need to differentiate their instruction for the diverse learners in their classes. But knowing that differentiation in instruction is necessary is different to being able to teach in a way that acknowledges the different rates and ways in which learners learn. “We need to see concrete examples of differentiation” they say.

There are many ways of differentiating and in the next few blog entries I am going to describe some that I use. Continue reading