Professor Richard Elmore from the Harvard Graduate School of Education was in Australia recently working with Victorian teachers on leadership issues to improve learning and teaching. While here, he wrote a letter (published in the Age on August 27) responding to an opinion piece claiming that ‘teaching is not rocket science.’
Essentially, Elmore argues that current perceptions of teaching and its professional ‘value’ is a result of 19th century schooling when it was largely ‘women’s work supervised by men.’ What remains is a under-valued and lowly paid profession, which is struggling to keep up with a burgeoning knowledge economy.
As an objective observer, Elmore believes Australia must re-build its education system into one that is highly professionalised. He suggests that if you invest across the system, you’ll improve the results across all classrooms.
I think Elmore makes a very good case. We know that learning and teaching is in period of exciting change. Given the digital revolution over the last two decades and the resultant effect on the nature of the young people who come to our schools; never before have we needed a more capable, professionally well-equipped workforce.
Good teachers in any age have found teaching demanding. It involves not only the science of teaching but the the art of building complex relationships that establish trust, engender respect and encourage young people to take risks in order to grow and to learn continually. This is demanding enough without the need to continue and maintain a commitment to ongoing professional growth.
The learning space of the 21st century is not a classroom, it is more like a studio where learners enegage in “ensemble pieces” either alone or in groups in collaboration with the teacher. The skills required by the teacher in this environment would test the best professional in any field. So rather than trivialise the task, why not help contribute to supporting this critical work.
I love Elmore’s quote in which he says:
Teaching is not rocket science. It is, in fact, far more complex and demanding work than rocket science.