Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Does Teacher Know Best?

I have been reading the textbook I was given for the class I will be teaching at UNL this fall. I have moved on from study skills to teaching a sort of Educational Psychology 101. I am pretty excited. The text book is well written but reading it has reminded me of a big question I have had since starting graduate school: "why is research so ineffective in influencing practice?" In other words, even though there is a ton of research being done on children, teachers and learning, very little of that research seems to trickle down into the classroom.

One thing I have noticed is that much of research suffers from OTS (omniscient teacher syndrome). It is not that the research is useless, that it doesn't make sense or that it is wrong; it is just that the suggested practices that come from much of research would only work if the teacher was omniscient.

For example, we are supposed to teach with intrinsic (natural desire) rather than extrinsic (rewards or punishments) motivation. However, in order to do this correctly we have to know what intrinsically motivates each child. For many, it is just easier to use extrinsic motivation because we can pretty well predict what rewards or consequences will work. Extrinsic motivation does work – in the short term; in the long term – not so much.

Reading instruction is another good example of OTS. Almost any reading method works with equal success provided we know what is best for each child. Most children will do well if the reading material they have to work with is in their instructional level, meaning it is not too hard and not too easy. This is easier than it sounds, of course, as it requires teachers to know exact reading levels. Even tests can't tell us exact reading levels because it is not just a matter of the number of words per paragraph, but also the interest level, and whether or not the child is intrinsically motivated to read that book.

Discipline is another huge OTS area. In order to teach perfectly, a teacher needs to be able to apply law and gospel perfectly. So that means we have to know what motivates each child, whether the child genuinely repents, what is the best way to redirect, what is the most effective consequence, and does that child in "time out" really think about what he/ she has done?

Then there is the need to be omniscient where parents are concerned; let's not even go there.

Teachers have a tough job. Find a teacher and give him or her a hug,

and some chocolate,

and maybe some bath salts, or a beer or something.

I mean really, how many of you have to be omniscient at your job?

Think, for a minute about the blessing of God's omniscience. He knows everything about us, our sins, our wants, our needs. Jesus died and rose again to work our Salvation even before we started sinning because He knew it would be necessary. The Spirit intercedes for us when we don't even know our prayers well enough to put them into words. God knows everything about us and He still loves us.

When we are extrinsically motivated; He still loves us.

When we don't know the right answer; He still loves us.

When we think and do evil, nasty, shameful, embarrassing things; He still loves us.

He knows what we need: forgiveness, grace, mercy and love. He knows this perfectly. He knows and loves us perfectly and completely.

My Teacher knows best.

Abba, Father, thank you!

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3: 17-19

You may notice a new badge on my web page. I have joined High Calling blogs. I encourage you to check them out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kim for the virtual hug this morning. What a wonderful topic. It's true, it is so hard to know everything about every child. It is such a great feeling to know that God knows all and can equip us teachers do what is right by them in all aspects of their education. Have a blessed day!