Editor's Introduction: Teachers and Teacher Education Research
Nelson, Thomas, Teacher Education Quarterly
As editor I often receive online press releases and news briefs from sources near and far. Recently John Perricone, a veteran high school teacher from New York state, emailed me a press release announcing the publication of a his book, Zen and the Art of Public School Teaching, along with his upcoming schedule for speaking engagements. My curiosity was piqued by both the books title as well as the extensive nature of his keynote speaking itinerary. I emailed John, explained my dual roles as editor of Teacher Education Quarterly and professor of education, and asked if he would be willing to have the publisher send me a copy of his book for my review. John agreed, and three days later I found myself engaged in his elegantly thoughtful perspectives about what it means to be a teacher. Mr. Perricone establishes in his book two primary and interrelated assumptions. One is that "we teach who we are," and two, that "one's philosophical identity ultimately dictates one's teaching style." Simple enough I thought. But on further reflection, I began to associate those assumptions with what typically occurs with school of education practices in preparing teachers to work in public schools. The pressure to conform to national and state legislation is enormous. In today's politically-driven standards climate associated with mandated curricula, teaching techniques, and testing, typically decisions about the nature of teaching and learning are driven by non-educators far from the realities of classroom life. And, too often it seems, that humanness is a variable that is mostly perceived as something of lesser value than are the techniques of writing lesson plans, designing classroom management strategies, organizing text-driven curricula, and adhering to rigid testing regimens. Educational policies typically fail to recognize the powerful nature of teachers' beliefs and philosophical orientations about the ways in which teaching and learning are conceived. Learning to teach has become relegated to a programmatically intentional willingness to disregard the human and personal aspects of who we are and our philosophical orientations to life and work, at the expense of seeking a standardized system based upon technical efficiency and strict and narrowly-defined accountability measures. The ways in which humanness can be manifested in learning environments have apparently become secondary to specifically-designed and prescribed outcomes. Academic scholars Madeleine Grumet and Nell Noddings, among others, have a long history of promoting human relationship development and pedagogy of caring as central components to teaching and learning. Perhaps this work ought to be more centrally considered in teacher education curricula.
As the teacher education profession wrestles with the contradictions between technical skill acquisition for the purpose of preparing teachers to raise student achievement levels on standardized tests and promoting the development of meaningful and human relationships, it would be wise to seek out and recognize more often those passionate teachers who are clearly making life-long differences in young people's lives. Just the other day I received a most moving email query. The note was from a long forgotten name. After apparently having seen my name on a website, she wrote inquiring whether I might be the same Mr. Nelson she had as a middle school science teacher back in 1979-1980. In her note she stated that if indeed I was one and the same, "I just wanted to say thank you for the respect and thoughtfulness you gave to us as students. In turn you taught us to give the same back to our world and the people and things in it." We never know the long-term impact we have on our students. What we do remember is the incredible significance of the depth of the human relationships we forge and nurture with and among both our students and colleagues. And, the most exciting part of the email note was that she became a teacher! …