Teacher Educators are Teachers First by Practicing What They Teach

Teacher Educators are Teachers First by Practicing what they Teach.

This is the first of several posts that will be published here about the art of teacher education.  There is a rich body of research on teacher education, and I will make use of recent work that shows that teacher education is a vibrant and energetic field that is being led by a new cadre of educators who are willing to get out there and do it.

Mike Dias, Charles Eich and Lauri Brantley-Dias are three members of this new cadre of teacher educators that will form the basis for this story and that is: Teacher Educators are teachers first: They practice what they preach.

For more than 30 years I practiced science teacher education, which meant that not only did I teach courses at the university, and I also taught science in K-12 schools, first as a science teacher in Lexington and Weston, Massachusetts, and then with being a professor at Georgia State University.  But there was also something that I found even more powerful, and that was the collaboration I had with practicing teachers and administrators.  As a teacher educator, I felt it was crucial that I worked in parallel with teachers in the metro-Atlanta area, and if possible to teach science education courses collaboratively with a practicing teachers.  Our doctoral program in science education attracted many local science teachers, and as graduate students, they worked as graduate teaching assistants in many of our courses.

Three of the graduate students, who would later go on and complete doctoral programs in education were Mike, Charles and Lauri. Michael and Charles were former students in our graduate science education program, Charles earning his master’s degree, and Michael his Ph.D.; Charles did his Ph.D at Auburn after completing his work at GSU.  Laurie did her doctoral studies instructional technology at GSU,  and was a member of the GSU faculty for several years.  She and Mike (her husband) have professorships at Kennesaw State University (GA), and Mike is a professor of science education at Auburn University.

 Practicing What We Preach

Mike, Charles and Laurie teamed up to organize a unique project in teacher education in which they asked more than a dozen fellow science teacher educators around the country to “practice what they preach.”  On a warm summer Atlanta evening, the three of them discussed Charles’ upcoming sabbatical leave after attending an Atlanta Braves game.  Charles had made arrangements to spend his sabbatical leave teaching eighth grade science in Auburn, Alabama, and at this informal gathering that night, that he work with Charles decided to study together his experience of going back into the classroom as a science teacher.  Working together, they “studied” Charles experience using quantitative and qualitative information.  Laurie played the role of the outsider prospective to bring further meaning and co-construction of ideas that emerged with Charles’ and Mike’s research.  Together they published papers about their work as teacher educators practicing what they preach.

Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Teachers

Then, Lauri suggested that the idea should be turned into a book.  Through the Association for Science Teacher Education, they put out a call for papers from fellow science teacher educators who would write chapters in a book describing their experiences practicing what they preach.  For more than two years they worked together with other teacher educators and produced a book that generated 16 unique accounts of science teaching at various grade levels, K – 12.  The book they published is entitled Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Teachers: Practicing What We Teach (2014).

I reviewed the book and found it to be a very important and astonishing autobiographical collection of papers written by our colleagues who in these pages took the risk of not only going back into the classroom to teach science, and to be transparent about their experiences by sharing their success, as well as the conflicts that they met with on their journey. (Disclaimer: I was the author of the last chapter of the book, which was the closing article).

There is richness in these reports, as well as creativity, and above all else, there is courage as shown by these teacher educators’ willingness to leave the safety of university life and immerse themselves in the world of K-12 classrooms.  Many of the authors took this step to find out how it feels to be back in a school in today’s classroom, and how this experience might affect their work as teacher educators.  Trying out inquiry-based reform, and constructivist approaches was also a central goal of most of the authors.  They also hoped that thoughtful reflection of their experience through the writing and critique of their chapters in this book would give the sureness and self-confidence to change their views and impact their university colleagues and their students.

The authors of these chapters described their experience through a process of collaboration and/or self-reflection.  Their immersion into the real lives of students and teachers showed the complexity of teaching, and in some cases, the difficulty in being successful in the classroom.  These were experienced teacher educators with strong backgrounds in science and pedagogy, yet they experienced a variety of problems.

In the posts to follow on the work of these teacher educators who choose to practice what they preach will lead us into the art of teacher education.  Teacher education, like medical education, requires people who have strong content backgrounds, and (in my view) they also need a stronger understanding of how to communicate with students, and how to choose the pedagogies that will help students understand, comprehend, and fall in love with the subjects that they teach.

This is no easy matter.  I look forward to telling you more about these teacher educators, and how their work can help us understand the nature of teacher education, and to provide research that outshines any of the critics of teacher education that seem to dominate the dialogue.

The Artistry of Teaching

The artistry of teaching is a commitment to the idea that there is more to teaching than the application of principles of teaching that have emerged out of research and practice.

Eliot Eisner remarked that the artistry of teaching occurs in the interstices (space, opening, interface) between frameworks and actions (theory and practice).

The artistry of teaching is personal and specific to situations and classrooms, and is not necessarily the result of the application of theories.

Teaching is more immediate than reflective, and the artistry of teaching, much like creativity, comes to the prepared, sometimes serendipitously, more often as an invention or ingenious solution to an immediate problem.

Image by Theo
Image by Theo

But what is the artistry of teaching?  Is there an artistry of teaching?  Many of you will agree that teachers are closer to being orchestra conductors than a technicians.  Yet, in 2013, we are in the midst of a sweeping assault on teaching and the teaching profession by people who focus on test scores, efficiency, cost benefit analysis, achievement, and common standards.

Over the next two months, I am going to explore the artistry of teaching from both personal experiences, and collaboration I have had with hundreds of teachers and researchers, as well as the literature related to teaching.

The artistry of teaching is the underlying theme of two books, Minds on Science and The Art of Teaching Science, as well as this blog which has focused on progressive teaching, science education policy, educational reform, and the philosophy of teaching.  Much of the content of the blog posts will come from these books and this blog.

The plan is to publish a series of separate posts linked by the topic, The Artistry of Teaching.  There will be about ten posts, which will be published once each week, and then assembled as an eBook available on this blog for free.  I’ve outlined the theme for each post, and the Wordle shown in Figure 1 was made from the key ideas in my initial thinking.


Figure 1. Wordle of ideas that will be explored in the blog series, Artistry in Teaching.
Figure 1. Wordle of ideas that will be explored in the blog series, Artistry of Teaching.

On a personal note, for more than 30 years I have written about science teaching from a progressive philosophy.  In 1992 HarperCollins published the first edition of Minds on Science,  a book about teaching science. I had initially intended the book to be subtitled “The art of teaching science,” but that never happened because of a missed communication with the publisher.

In 2001,  I submitted a book manuscript based on Minds on Science to the eduction editor at Oxford University Press.  The book manuscript was titled The Art of Teaching Science, and under the editorial leadership of Maura Roessner at Oxford, the book was published in 2005.  When The Art of Teaching Science was published, I started the Art of Teaching Science Blog.

In 2008, Dr. Michael Dias, Professor of Biology at Kennesaw State University (Georgia) joined me in writing the second edition of The Art of Science Teaching. We  published the second edition of the Art of Teaching with Routledge Publishers.

The series of blog posts on the artistry of teaching will begin during the last week of July, and will run into September.  Look for a free eBook based on the series of blog posts sometime in early October.

In the meantime, I hope you will be on the look out for blog post #1 on the artistry of teaching.


What Everybody Ought to Know About Teaching

In this post I am going to share some thinking about teaching that I learned along my journey as a teacher from three people.  I future posts I’ll share thoughts about teaching from other people who I’ve met along the way. What everybody ought to know about teaching is a response to what Henry Giroux calls “critical pedagogy in dark times.”  Education is dominated by conservative and neoliberal paradigms which has reduced teaching to skills, economic growth, job training, and transmission of information.

What everybody ought to know about teaching is NOT about tips for teaching, but more about the nature of education in a democratic society.  As educators ought to be advocates for a critical pedagogy that, in the words of Giroux,

connect classroom knowledge to the experiences, histories, and resources that students bring to the classroom but also link such knowledge to the goal of furthering their capacities to be critical agents who are responsive to moral and political problems of their time and recognize the importance of organized collective struggles.  (Giroux, Henry A. (2011-06-23). On Critical Pedagogy  (Kindle Location 145). Continuum US. Kindle Edition.)

There are many people who influenced my teaching and professional work including Dr. Marlene Hapai, Dr. Joe Abruscato, Dr. Julie Wiesberg, Dr. Ted Colton, Dr. Frank Koontz, Mr. Francis Macy, Mr. Sergei Tolstikov, Dr. Marge Gardner.  Each of them taught me what everybody ought to know about teaching.  Mr. Bob Jaber, Mr. Ken Royal, and Dr. Carl Rogers are featured in this post.

I am going to start with Bob Jaber.

Bob Jaber

Bob Jaber was a high school chemistry teacher who taught in the Fulton County schools (Georgia) in the 1970s and 1980s.  I first met him when he took one of my courses in the science education graduate program at Georgia State University.    While at GSU he studied advanced graduate chemistry and science education.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Bob Jaber.

As well as scientist, Bob Jaber was also an artist.  His work used mixed media to create textured art forms.  One of the art forms that he perfected was using colorful carpet samples to design floors, walls, and create poster size wall hangings.

Like Jacob Bronowski, the British-Polish mathematician and scientist, Bob integrated science and human values in his high school chemistry classes. Like Bronowski, Bob Jaber believed that science can be part of our world, and can create the values that humanize our experience.  I learned from Bob Jaber that values and attitudes should be as important as the content that we are teaching.  Everyone should know this about teaching, yet, in the present day, we are breaking teaching down into dozens of components, and in doing so forget that there is something much more important about teaching.  Teaching is something much more than the way it might look on the Danielson Framework for Teaching or Flanders Interaction Analysis.  Teaching is about the whole thing  on so many levels.  It’s not about skills (although they are important to know), it not about lists of content spelled out in the standards, and it’s not about the tests that are given to students.  It is harmony and holism in teaching, and to teachers like Bob Jaber, teaching is a journey of  profound and enduring connections with students.

Ken Royal

I first met Ken in the mid-1990s when he was teaching science at Whisconier Middle School, Brookfield, Connecticut. At the time I was conducting national seminars for the Bureau of Education and Research, and I met Ken at one of my seminars in Hartford. At Ken’s invitation, I visited his school and classroom, and actually presented a seminar at his school for science teachers in his district.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Ken Royal.

Two aspects of teaching jump out when I think about what I learned from this man.  First is his willingness to take risks, and try new stuff.  Second, Ken epitomized the experiential educator, who like Giroux believes that school should be a project intent on developing a meaningful life for all students.

His classroom was a model for the experiential science approach, and he was also a pioneer in the use of technology as a tool to enhance student learning in science. His students were involved in global conversations and research with students in at least three continents, and his students were posting results of their research using digital cameras and text at a time when the Web was in its infancy. His classroom was an environment where students were involved in active inquiry, and with the rapid development of technology in the 1990s, Ken was one of the leaders pioneering ways that this technology could be harnessed to help students get excited about science. He later became technology coördinator for the Brookfield School District, and then started writing as a freelancer about technology, and making presentations around the country. Scholastic saw one of his presentations, and hired him as senior editor in technology and teaching.  You can follow Ken on his website at Royal Reports.

One of his most popular blog posts is Flipped, Blended, Disrupted Nonsense!  It’s a must read.

Carl Rogers

Carl R. Rogers
Carl R. Rogers

While I was a graduate student at Ohio State University in the 1960s (yup, that’s right), my advisor, Dr. John Richardson, suggested that I read Carl Rogers’ book, On Becoming a Person.  You can read between the lines, but I think he had something in mind for me.  But later in my life, when I read what others have written about this book by Rogers–that it was revolutionary thinking–did I realize how significant Richardson’s recommendation was for me.

In 1969, the year that I finished my Ph.D. at Ohio State, Rogers published Freedom to Learn, the most important book published to date on humanistic education.  The book became the guide that I used as a professor of science education at Georgia State University, where I worked from 1969-2003.  It was a guide in the sense that it encouraged me to be experimental with my courses, and the programs that I developed, and working with others at GSU, had the gumption to swim upstream away from more traditional approaches to teaching and especially, teacher education.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Carl Rogers.

I learned so much from Rogers’ work, that I’ll only share some of the ideas that I think influenced the way that I designed courses, and programs at the University level, and in so doing encouraged K-12 teachers to consider Rogers’ ideas for their own classrooms.

One idea I want to share here is the notion of being willing to be experimental as a teacher, and to have the courage to try new ideas, and be willing to be open to the opinions and ideas of your students.  In Rogers’ book, Freedom to Learn, Chapter Two is entitled “A Sixth Grade Teacher Experiments.”  Rogers describes the despair and frustration that teacher Barbara J. Shield felt, so much so, that she tried a drastic experiment in her classroom by promoting an experiential type of learning in her classroom.  Rogers tells us that Shield decided to change the way she was teaching which she described as teacher centered to an approach based on student-centered  teaching–an unstructured or non-directive approach.  What’s important about this chapter is not the particular approach that Shield unleashed in her class, but the attitude and philosophy underpinning her wish to change what she was doing, and try out something that was new (to her), risky, and took courage, and support.

In the summer of 1973 I designed a graduate seminar at GSU for teachers that was based on Rogers’ ideas in Freedom to Learn, but especially, Chapter 2.   Teachers who took the course knew in advance that it was the intent of the course to encourage experimentation in their own classroom during the 1973-1974 school year.  About 30 teachers signed up for the course.  Our sessions were designed to explore a variety of pedagogics, and approaches to give the participants ideas to help them formulate their plans for the school year.  Some of the teachers actually took the experience of Barbara Shield’s and reorganized the curriculum of their course (usually in science) along the non-directive, student-centered approach.  Other participants delved into project based teaching, team teaching, collaborative and cooperative learning.  All the teachers agreed to collect “data” on their own and their students attitudes and concepts learned, but also to sample student work, as well as student journals.  In the summer of 1974, a second seminar was held at GSU (which met only for one week), where the teachers presented their work in a conference type of setting.

A second idea I want to share here that I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching comes from Rogers’ book On Becoming a Person.  The same chapter also appears in his book, Freedom to Learn.  The title of the chapter in each book is Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning (Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.  The very short chapter is a talk he gave at Harvard University, April 1952 where he was asked to put on a demonstration of “student-centered teaching.”  After taking some time painting, writing and photography in Mexico, he “sat down” and wrote a personal view of what his experiences had been with teaching and learning.  He said this about what he wrote:

I may have been naïve, but I did not consider the material inflammatory. After all the conference members were knowledgeable, self-critical teachers, whose main common bond was an interest in the discussion method in the classroom. I met with the conference, I presented my views as written out below, taking only a very few moments, and threw the meeting open for discussion. I was hoping for a response, but I did not expect the tumult which followed. Feelings ran high. It seemed I was threatening their jobs, I was obviously saying things I didn’t mean, etc., etc. And occasionally a quiet voice of appreciation arose from

Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 4256-4260). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

What he said influenced me throughout my entire career as a science teacher educator, in my work as a seminar leader for the Bureau of Education and Research, and in my work with colleagues in other nations through the Global Thinking Project.  Here is just an excerpt of what Rogers said in 1952 in Boston at Harvard:

a. I may as well start with this one in view of the purposes of this conference. My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.

b. It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential, and has little or no significant influence on behavior. That sounds so ridiculous I can’t help but question it at the same time that I present it.

c. I realize increasingly that I can only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior. Quite possibly this is simply a personal idiosyncrasy.

d. I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.

e. Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.

Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 4283-4290). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

I took what Rogers said seriously, and to some extent acted on it while I was at GSU.  I did away with tests in my courses, because I agreed with Rogers that most of what we test is inconsequential, and as a result there was no reason for tests.  I couldn’t do away with grades, but I could create different systems in which grading was student-centered.  Here is what I did in nearly all my courses:

All class sessions were experiential encounters that were designed as informally as possible.  On the first day of class I arranged with the on campus food caterers to have coffee, juice, fruit and cookies delivered to my classroom just before class began.  Nearly all my students were full-time teachers, and after a full day of teaching, food and drink seemed to be the ticket.  In some courses, we took two weeks to work out the curriculum with the students.  In other courses, students were encouraged to try any of the activities that were done in class back in their elementary, middle or high school.  If special materials were required, such as ozone monitoring strips, or chemical powders, they were provided.

But in nearly all the courses, the only requirements that were expected were drawn from Rogers’ chapter on his way of facilitating a class as outlined in Freedom to Learn.  As Rogers points out, every instructor has her own style of facilitating the learning of her students.  And I also agreed that there is not one way of achieving this.  The requirements that I outline here, worked for me, and my students.   This is what I gave the students on the first day of class in the form of a handout.

Course requirements for students taking my courses at Georgia State University
Course requirements for students taking my courses at Georgia State University. Rogers, Carl (1961). On becoming a person. Columbus: Merrill Publishers 

What would you like to add about What Everybody Ought to Know About Teaching? Who influenced you, and what were the consequences in your professional work?

Practicing What They Preach: Science Teacher Educators Return to School

In a forthcoming book, 25 science teacher educators describe their experiences after returning to teach students in K-12 public schools and informal settings.  Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Teachers: Practicing What We Teach was edited by Michael Dias, professor of biology and science education, Kennesaw State University (Georgia), Charles J. Eich, professor of science education, Auburn University, and Laurie Brantley-Dias, professor of instructional technology, Georgia State University.  The book will be published early in 2013 by Springer Publishers.

I was asked to write the last chapter of the book, and my comments here are based on reading the pre-published manuscripts, and content of the chapter that I wrote.

In the current era of reform, teacher education has been thrown under the bus, especially by the U.S. Department of Education.  Education policy and practice are being radically transformed in American education, and teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities are being pressured to fall in line with the marketization and privatization of K-12 schools.  In teacher preparation this is clear by looking at proposals to privatize or deregulate the education of teachers, in the increasing reductive entry and exit tests for prospective educators, in differential funding to those teacher preparation institutions whose students score higher on high-stakes examinations, and the increasing growth of home schooling because of various reasons, but perhaps the wish to reject formal schooling and indeed professionally educated teachers (Please see Michael Apple’s chapter entitled Is deliberate democracy enough in teacher education?, 2008).

One of the most important ideas that I took away from these narratives is how the professional images of these science educators changed because they were willing to take risks, and work in a culture that was very different from the one given by academia.  In crossing cultures from academia to public school and informal science settings, these professors put themselves in the environment of teachers, who in a way were more knowledgeable about the practice of teaching science than they were.

I found richness in these reports, as well as creativity, and above all else, there was courage as shown by these teacher educators’ willingness to leave the safety of university life and immerse themselves in the world of K-12 classrooms   Many of the authors took this step to find out how it feels to be back in a school in today’s classroom, and how this experience might affect their work as teacher educators.  Trying out progressive teaching strategies such as inquiry-based, the radical idea of helping students construct their own ideas, and problem-based approaches was a central goal of most of the authors.  They also hoped that thoughtful reflection of their experience through the writing and critique of their chapters in this book would give the assuredness and self-confidence to change their views and impact their university colleagues and their students.

But not everything which was reported was rosy.  And this is why these reports have such credibility.  Most of these professors had strong background in science and how to teach science.  But every one of them had problems when they entered the classroom.  Some professors left university life and took jobs in secondary schools, thinking that this would be a permanent career change.  Others took leaves of absence and taught either one or two semesters in a K-12 school.  Another group, while remaining at their university post, took time weekly to teach in a local school.  And the last group taught in more informal settings, such a camps or summer school.

Why did these professors decide to do this and then write about their experiences?  Some of them indicated that they want to improve their “street cred” with their teacher education students who sometimes would make comments such as “How can you teach us anything about teaching science when you haven’t been in a classroom for years?”  Other professors wanted to find out how progressive teaching ideas such as inquiry-based learning would actually work in the classroom.  Many of the professors were successful here, but even the ones that were successful had to make constant changes, and get help from teachers and colleagues.  Still, other professors simply wanted to work with children and youth and experience again why they decided to become teachers in the first place.

I’ll tell you more about these fascinating experiences in the coming weeks.  For now, I simply wanted to let you that this book is coming along, and that there are teacher educators that are trying to reform education from the inside-out, rather than the top-down corporate and conservative model that is strangling K-12 schools, and teacher education.

If you are teacher educator, what was your most recent experience teaching K-12 about?  How did it work out?


Anthony Cody Writes: A Million Teachers Prepare to March Out the Classroom Door

Guest Post by Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody spent 24 years working in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high needs middle school. He is National Board certified, and now leads workshops with teachers focused on Project Based Learning. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning. For additional information on Cody’s work, visit his Web site, Teachers Lead. Or follow him on Twitter.


The Metlife survey of American teachers has been much discussed in recent weeks. The biggest red flag I see waving here is the 70% increase, over the past two years, in the number of teachers who are likely to leave the profession in the next five years (from 17% to 29%). Assuming this data is accurate, this amounts to more than a million teachers who are preparing to march out of our classrooms. And this is in addition to the roughly one million baby boomers approaching retirement age! I wonder if the teaching profession as it is now being redesigned and redefined is one that any of us would have chosen when we began teaching? And I especially wonder who would choose to teach in a school with a high level of poverty?

Here is what the Metlife report says:

There is a strong connection between this dissatisfaction and the rising levels of poverty we are seeing impact our schools.

The very strongest educational data available shows a huge correlation between poverty and student achievement. As has been discussed here many times, poverty impacts student achievement in many ways. As unemployment takes hold on a community, and more families lack food security, housing and health care, the impact is felt in the classroom. Students become more transient, because their housing is unstable. They do not have a place to do homework, because they are crashing on someone’s couch. They come to school late because they do not have transportation any more. They eat corn chips for breakfast because they do not have someone helping them get ready for school. And they worry! They are preoccupied with fear and insecurity, and that makes it hard to focus on academics.
Continue reading “Anthony Cody Writes: A Million Teachers Prepare to March Out the Classroom Door”