Training, Really, Not Cho-Chos

When we go to a doctor, what do we expect as a minimum?

  • The doctor has graduated from medical school
  • The doctor has been licensed and certified
  • The doctor has had rigorous training as an intern and as a resident and beyond

We would expect that the doctor consults with his or her peers, stays current on the literature, and probably belongs to one or more professional associations that provide continuing education and training.  If the doctor is a specialist or a surgeon, the expectations on training probably broaden to learning new procedures and use of equipment.

If you hire an architect, or a lawyer, or a professional of any sort who is accredited, your expectations for their education, experience and training are similar.

Other Professionals Get Training, Too

It will come as no surprise that actors,  professional athletes and others get lots of training, too.  For athletes, it’s not just the pros.  From a tender age, kids (and parents I might add) who are sports minded enroll in camps, leagues, clinics and engage consultants and trainers to get a competitive edge not only for their young players but to get on varsity teams in high school, get noticed by the recruiters, and eventually move to top tier, and top earners, with professional teams.  Granted, a certain amount of natural talent and body build for both actors and athletes is essential, but those who excel rely on constant and high intensity training.

Has Some Train(-ing) Derailed?

If you carefully examine how many professionals are trained, you will probably observe that what they are taught, and how they are taught, is not casual but follows well established and even rigorous principles.  It’s not just the doctors.  In the past few decades, training for professional athletes has advanced well past ad hoc respected coaches to include sophisticated technology.  From biomedical devices to video recording and analysis to monitoring, these systems have advanced training from an art to a full blown science.  Not that for any training there is no art, it simply enhances what is generally available.

Sadly, this level of training sophistication has not yet arrived in our educational institutions.  Yes, teachers get college degrees and certifications and continuing education, but their training is far from the methodologies and rigor other professionals expect and get.  What contributes to this woeful lack of advanced training?

K-12 school systems are not homogenous bodies. Each state has its own educational structure, and those are further broken down (broken down often in more ways than deconstructed) into local school districts run by locally elected school boards.  Politics? Certainly.  Economics?  Definitely, as most are substantially funded by local taxes and augmented by state and federal funds.  But isn’t this a good thing, to have local control in order to reduce costs and have more direct administration?

It seems to work for hospitals.  So why do school systems, teachers, and ultimately students not always get the best results?  Perhaps their goals and the assumptions about how they  serve us differ greatly.  And perhaps it is because hospitals look at their health care providers to meet standards of how they provide care by looking to training developed across many hospitals, and across many countries.

Great and Less So Teachers, Administrators

All of us can fondly remember one or more really great teachers who inspired us or were pivotal in our lives.  But we can also recall those who were disasters in the classroom who perhaps wrecked our interest and subsequent mastery of particular subjects (“I was never good at math”).  Has this contributed to the truism that good teachers are born, not made?  What makes a teacher good, anyway?  That we fondly remember them, that look at where their students are as adults?  That we look at test scores and grades?  Can we make great teachers, and can we get rid of bad ones?

The truth is so many things go into education and learning, not just these and a few other metrics that have been proposed and tried.  The bigger truth is that knowing, really knowing, what we should do to educate our kids is complicated and may often run counter to some individual family values (creation theory e.g.), or to real costs to foster education.  So we take easier routes.  Reduce class sizes, use standard curriculums, allocate billions from the federal budget for initiatives of one sort or another.  But we see mixed results from all of these, that they work in some locales but not in others, that we are still shooting in the dark.

Do you think doctors would take this approach to how they are trained to practice medicine, to take a fractured approach to providing medical care?  Certainly there are alternative approaches, attempts to improve or expand care that do not work, and unfortunately unethical actors, but these self correct more often than not and often more quickly than not.  But we have been whacking away at education like a Whakamoley game for as long as I can remember.

The vast majority of teachers I have known, or known of, are a dedicated lot who deeply care about what they do as a profession and deeply care about how their students learn and perform.  They have a variety of gripes and complaints regarding what they feel are impediments to successful teaching ranging from burdensome procedural tasks that support school administration but not to teaching itself to not enough resources to not enough time to too much time with parents.  Some of these are legitimate but the questions, like the larger issues, are which ones are pertinent, which ones are missing, and what to do about them.

Teaching is not just about kids and schools, but about being trained, learning and developing expertise.  Returning military veterans can benefit from learning how to leverage their military skills like leadership and logistics into viable career skills. Many in our work force who can’t find good jobs need to master new skills, and this is true for just about everyone even if they don’t work.

We go to a doctor or a hospital expecting at the very minimum a skill set and bevy of equipment that is the result of incredible training, yet we send our kids off to school with only vague expectations of what they will receive there. Don’t they deserve better?  Don’t we?  Don’t blame the teachers, as they deserve better, too.


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