The Antonym of Mediocrity

16 Oct

Last evening I watched as my grandson attack my piano with gusto.  He sat and played with all he had, sometimes even his feet getting into the act.  He’s 14 months old.  I learned how to play piano when I was five and took lessons for five years.  I was never a great pianist but I play for my enjoyment.   The last time that I pursued anything with that intensity like my grandson with my piano, was learning how to fly and before that, teaching.

This past week I read an article that was published in the Washington Post and referenced in The Simple Things in “L”ife by Gregg Hake  blog titled Why aren’t our teachers the best and the brightest?   I found the article to be very interesting but it left me with the nagging question.  If I were seeking a teaching degree under the approach to teacher recruitment used in Singapore, Finland and South Korea would I measure up?  According to the article  “these countries make teacher training programs highly selective, accepting no more than one out of every seven or eight applicants.  Their governments also limit the number of training positions to match the expected demand for educators, so that those admitted are assured jobs.” 

At first I focused on the fact that they sought the top one-third students.  I would have fit into that category no problem.  Second, the article stated “academic achievement isn’t the whole story in these countries.  They screen would-be teachers for other important qualities, and they invest heavily in training teachers and in retaining them for their entire careers.”  They never mention the important qualities besides academic achievement that they screen for in the process.  It’s something I’d like to know. 

I was thinking about the education selection process in Finland, Singapore and South Korea and something sounded vaguely familiar about it.  It took me a few days to figure out what it was and then I realized it is very similar to the process that is used in the United States in the medical field for accepting students into medical school.  If these top students make it through medical school they are most likely assured a job in their field provided they are willing to accept one where they are needed. 

The number of students accepted to medical school is kept low enough so there is always a demand for their services when they finish.  In a time when there is a need for more doctors, nurses and other medical personnel it would seem the appropriate time to make openings for more students to attend medical school.  The downside of this is there might be students admitted to the program that might only be in the bottom of the top 30%. Do these students have a  good bedside manner or bad and does it matter?

After reading the article I walked away with the feeling that I was somehow inadequate as a teacher.  Perhaps I didn’t demonstrate the scholastic prowess that they would desire in their countries.  I don’t know if I would qualify based on their other important qualities.  I would hope so.  I do know that not all education students do not have 100% of their time available for study.  There are many college students that worked their way through college and had to divide their time and attention accordingly.  Does that make them any less of a teacher?  Perhaps in their work experience they will learn valuable skills to relate to their future students.

I love to teach and know that just knowing the material is not all there is to teaching.  It takes the ability to engage your students in what you are teaching.  In order to teach you first have to get and keep their attention.  Teaching takes compassion for the student beyond the subject matter.  If your student comes to school without eating breakfast or wondering if it’s Mom or Dad’s weekend to have them, little of what you are trying to teach them will be learned.  Excellent teachers are able to instill a lifelong love of learning in their students, always yearning for more.

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Posted by on October 16, 2010 in education


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