“Was it Good, Sir?” Thinking Deeply About Teacher Education
I was even more amazed to have been accepted into York’s then-new Concurrent teacher education program than I was to have been admitted to the university at all. I had, after all, dropped out of school at 15 (well, “left” would be more accurate; one could not drop out legally until 16, after all…) to pursue a career in rock and roll. I would learn the educational value of my life in the music business in many ways over the years that followed it—some great bands with students, for instance—but it was in what would be the first year of my last position as a secondary teacher that really brought it home.
I was teaching students who, by the simple fact of their presence before me in our senior English class, were demonstrating that they were managing to do something I had never done—complete high school—and this had become the current topic of their queries about my background. How I lost sight of their qualifications relative to mine—even for the moment that was about to grab me—I cannot explain. But it was Mike, a smart and compellingly irreverent student (and, by the way, a fine drummer in his own right) who created a standout moment for what Schön calls “reflection-in-action.”
“Was it good, sir?”
Certainly, I felt the gravity of his question in that moment, as I did the honest answer. I hesitated, the cowardice of which I felt keenly, even then, but I knew what I had to do.
“Yes,” I said, partly in terror, imagining the conversations likely to occur around dinner tables that evening. “It was great. I loved it.”
The truth is that my experience also provided some helpful back-up: although I had, in fact, dropped out of high school to play music, I would learn in my 20s that a good ear and the ability to pick up fast could all but guarantee work, particularly if you were the same suit size as the player you were replacing. It paid my way through university, so I can report with authority that rock and roll quite literally made me the teacher I became; I knew it then, as I did anew in the Schönesque moment that Mike created.
Once again, Stephen has posed some fine questions to frame the thinking he seeks to inspire in us. In a recent “guest post,” both here and on http://teachingoutloud.org/, I considered the value of being a kind of “visitor” in the context of serving on secondments to a variety of teacher education programs in Canada. In the interests of serving—and being served by—the various constituencies they share, each of the faculties of education has taken clear steps to engage teachers in deliberate professional thinking and experience, within and across pre- and in-service programs, as well as in undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies. Whether the pre-service programs were concurrent or consecutive, the relations between the various constituencies were always rich, in part because of the value each places on the work of others involved. It is these “relations between” that I want to explore here.
For my part, I enjoyed my work in all of the faculties where I was seconded. In very general ways, the concurrent programs captured more of the “in-progress,” if I may put it that way, nature of learning about learning and teaching practice in the emerging contexts of one’s own academic studies. I particularly appreciated this dimension of my own pre- service experience in York’s Concurrent program: by Christmas of my first year in the elementary B. Ed. stream, I knew that my academic program, Honours English, although great, simply wasn’t going to sustain my aspirations. The revision would take two years, and involve willing participants in the Faculties of Arts, Fine Arts, and Education, but eventually, I switched to, and graduated with, a General Honours degree in Fine Arts (Theatre, Film and Video) with enough English courses to qualify for Honour Specialist certification at the secondary level. The whole enterprise added a year to my undergraduate program, but it also sustained the opportunity to volunteer in the school where I would work upon graduation, alongside my regular practicum placement.
I very much appreciated the value of what York called the “principle of concurrency” at the time, expressed, as it was, in somewhat broader ways than requirements defined by my program. But the value of concurrency—maturation, over time, in context—was rich, to be sure. I would see this again in my role as a faculty member at York in the 90s.
The consecutive programs offered by institutions to which I was seconded—Simon Fraser; OISE—benefited from the experience of teacher candidates who, in general, had more academic grounding, at least when compared to those enrolled in the earlier years of concurrent programs, but, in general, my sense is that the experience of graduates in concurrent programs was richer over all.
For my part, the opportunities to participate in areas that become possible when organizations contribute to, and draw upon, constituencies and areas of shared interest and activity—such as we see in, say, university-based pre-service programs, and district- based professional programs—are probably among the richest and most professionally sustaining I have seen.
But they are not the only ones.
As I noted here earlier (please see my guest post “Surprise!” ), my work in the Writers in Electronic Residence (WiER) program has provided multiple points of entry into the influence of engagement in areas of shared purpose—in this case, writing—on the professional insights and practices of the constituencies involved—in this case, writers, teachers, and, yes, students. In WiER, it is really because of the interests each constituency shares, more than the similarity of those interests, that matters. It is the more catalytic dimensions that develop within and across constituencies engaged in the context of mentorship that emerges to meet the particular—and differing —needs and aspirations of those involved in shared work with one another.
It is true that WiER was not conceived as a program of teacher professional development —and, indeed, its primary focus is on linking students and professional writers in areas that are important to them, namely, creative writing and considered response—but there is little question that the program serves the professional interests of participants, including teachers. In WiER’s case, though, the “credential” is not provided by the program; rather, it is provided by the schools, which operate WiER in their English and writing classes, creative writing clubs, and the like, and occasionally by faculties of education in the form of graduate courses and theses on mentorship, learning with technology, engagement and the like, or in various facets of pre-service and professional teacher education.
For its part, WiER offers a program known as “The Virtual Practicum,” in which pre- service teacher education candidates participate in WiER as part of their initial teacher education. To date, WiER has operated these programs at the former FEUT, SFU, and York, and currently offers it each May at OISE in their “Internship Program.” Interested readers can learn more about this program at WiER’s web site , and interested institutions are invited to make contact as well.
WAS IT GOOD, SIR?
That class with Mike was a dozen or so years ago, and if my terror at unleashing parental horror had any unhappy consequences, I can report that I am not aware of any.
But I did hear from Mike’s mum.
It turns out that, in addition to being Mike’s mum, she is something of an activist. I saw her at one of Mike’s gigs (and a wedding or two) “back in the day,” as they say, and these days, I hear from her a few times each year, mobilizing people, and nurturing more thinking in areas she is passionate about. I can see—and have learned more about—that nurturing and passion in her son, too, so I did eventually realize that he already knew the answer to his question when he asked it of me in our class, even if I didn’t, and that its lasting value would be to me.
And that, I think, is very good. Sir.