The Artistry of Science Teaching: It isn’t enough to simply boost beginning teachers’ pay!

I want to follow up from yesterday’s discussion of Georgia’s plan to boost beginning science teachers pay.  I am prompted to do so because of the compelling comment on yesterday’s post by Quin Harrell.  Here is how he began his comment:

While I agree with pay increases for math and science teachers, I totally disagree with a pay incease for only new teachers. What about the science teachers, especially in high school, who have been struggling for the last two decades to teach science to students who have been led to believe that science is not “really important because of increased emphasis on reading and math? Should these teachers get overlooked for an increase in pay?

And as Quin implied, this really isn’t about pay, but about the professional qualities that enable teachers (new as well as veterans) to help students become successful in learning science.  Unfortunately in Georgia, student performance as measured on high stakes tests, is the driving force in determining teacher effectiveness.  But I would argue the professional expertise of science teachers is a better and more significant place to focus our attention.

I would also argue that teaching is professional artistry.  Artistry in science teaching isn’t something that one acquires in professional training programs, but developed over time through real experiences with colleagues and students.  Rooted in professional artistry is the idea that science teachers (any teacher for that matter) constructs knowledge about teaching and learning rather than adopting the knowledge claims of others.  Teaching is a tough endeavor, as is learning, and it takes an attitude of commitment with ones willingness to experiment, tinker, explore, ask questions, collaborate with peers to become a successful science teacher.

In the last 15 years of my work at Georgia State University, I became involved with several alternative science and mathematics teacher education programs (TRIPS (A Research-Practice Program developed by Lovely H. Billups), Alternative Teacher Preparation Program in Foreign Language, Mathematics & Science, and TEEMS), some situated at GSU, and others within the public schools (Atlanta City, and DeKalb County).  The exhuberance that came from this work was the attitude of experimentation that prevailed amongst the faculty at GSU, the mentor teachers with in the school districts, and students who were attracted to these alternative programs.

One of the common factors across all of these program was how significant learning to teach from experience and reflection was in the context of real classrooms.  And this of course meant that a successful teacher education program was a collaborative effort involving beginning teachers with practicing mentor teachers.  Artistry in teaching is a developmental process that takes place in the classroom and requires creative courage.  According to some researchers and practicing teachers, professional artistry is the manifestation of creative courage in our encounters with students.  Simply paying beginners more money will not ensure any of this.

In his doctoral research, former high science teacher Tom Brown, now a professor of science education at Kennesaw State University found that caring is one of the most important aspects of professional artistry.  In his dissertation research, Dr. Brown put it this way:

This may sound too warm and fuzzy but I honestly believe that my most important role as a teacher is to care for my students as individuals.  As we all know, high schools can be very impersonal places and many students have a difficult time finding a way to fit in comfortably.  It is our job as educators to reach out to our kids and be empathetic and encouraging (as quoted in Hassard & Dias, p. 12, 2009).

Finally I would add a quote that supports something that Quin Harrell alluded to in his comment on yesterday’s post, and that is that a major reform in teaching is needed.  Eliot Eisner, author of Arts and the Creation of Mind, suggest that we need a paradigm shift in educational reform and teaching and puts it this way:

It may be that by shifting the paradigm of education reform and teaching from one modeled after the clock-like-character of the assembly line into one that is closer to the studio or innovative science laboratory might provide us with a vision that better suits the capacities and the futures of the students we teach (as quoted in Hassard & Dias, p. 12, 2009).

What is you view of teaching?  Is it artistry? Or am I dreaming?