Handbook of Research and Policy in Art Education

By Elliot W. Eisner; Michael D. Day | Go to book overview

24
The Practice of Teaching in K–12
Schools: Devices and Desires
Judith M. Burton
Teachers College Columbia University

INTRODUCTION

For many years it has been my practice to ask the graduate art education students I teach what influenced their decisions to become artists or embark on a teaching career. Almost without exception, responses have focused on the words or actions of past teachers; comments— often idiosyncratic and delivered in passing—have “stuck” with a force that might well have astonished their originators. Even if not precipitating a future direction or career, most of us look back on the practices of favorite teachers with benign nostalgia. Indeed, whenever we think about education, we inevitably think in terms of the practice of teachers as the single defining quality that marks our school experiences. Yet, and perhaps surprisingly, the practice of teaching is the least researched and possibly the most polemicized arena of art education. This chapter, thus, will be concerned with the practice of teaching: the instructional work teachers do, the lives they lead in art classrooms, and what we expect of them.


A LITTLE HISTORY

Those of us who have made the journey from pupil to teacher know how complex is the context in which teachers operate and of which they are a part. The 20th century has witnessed a radical and far-reaching evolution in our conceptions of schools, schooling, and what teachers are expected to know and be able to do (Efland, 1990; Eisner, 1998; Greene, 1994). Beliefs about the nature and worth of artistic knowledge and practice, how children should be taught, and the use of evaluation and assessment in instruction are certainly different today than they were even 20 years ago. Since the advent of Sputnik 1, American schools have been subject to a stream of reform efforts that have almost equally inspired and inhibited change (Cuban, 1990; Eisner, 1983, 1998; Gardner, 1991; Greene, 1994).

We know, for instance, at least theoretically, that the practice of teaching does not consist of a generic set of pedagogical skills; it is a complex performance involving interweaving

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