Humanizing Science Teacher Education

Last week this question appeared on the NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) Discussion List:

Can anyone suggest a resource (or resources) that addresses the problem of how to engage resistant in-service science teachers to experiment with more reform oriented instructional practices? Ideally there would be practical suggestions for instructional coaches (or other school or district supervisors) on how to deal with science teachers who are unwilling or uninterested in trying some new instructional approaches.

There were four discussion posts related to this initial question. Three of the comments described “approaches” to work with teachers to change their practice, including using professional learning groups, engaging teachers in an inquiry into their practice, and a third suggestion of having teachers “experience” new approaches. Their comments were thoughtful in general, but one discussant said “if nothing works, help them retire.”

But a fourth commenter  responded in this way:

Isn’t the most important aspect of the original email the way in which it frames the “problem”: Teachers, viewed through a deficit lens that require fixing and resisting to being fixed? Did Paolo Freire go to the peasants and tell them that they had to read to be worthy of consideration? If learning meant expanding one’s room to maneuver, gaining greater control over one’s environment, would teachers “resist” in what is offered to them? Who resists gaining a greater degree of control over what s/he does? Isn’t it that teachers “resist” because what is offered does not promise expansion of control over their life conditions?

Are not we in need if fixes: Learning to frame problems in ways that are fruitful and that offer opportunities to people (students, science teachers) so that they see value, that is, an increase in control and in their action possibilities?

In a paper that I referenced recently on this weblog, and published in Science Education by Wildson L.P. dos Santos entitled Scientific literacy: A Freirean perspective as a radical view of humanistic science education, the author challenges us to consider a humanistic framework in which to envision science education.  It seems to me that the author of the comment above frames his perspective on science education using a humanistic lens.  Using a ‘deficit lens’ in professional science teacher education ignores the notion that teachers can choose their own destiny (professionally), and indeed, will respond if provided the opportunity.

Here is a quote from dos Santos’ paper.  I’ve changed the word students to teachers, and the word teacher with science educator.  When you read the quote, the perspective for in-service teacher education takes on a different light.

The challenge of humanistic education is therefore not to give the answer but to prepare teachers to refect on, and select their own destiny. The role of the science educator is not to reveal the reality to the teachers but to help them discover the reality for themselves; not to impose their values or to give their solutions to SSI, but to help s teachers understand the different values and alternatives available so they can select their own.

Rather than trying to impose our own values and approaches, working with teachers would center in on expanding their control over their own classroom and school, and in the end help them realize their own potential as professional science teachers.

What is your take on this issue?

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.