Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Some things never change


My  mom Janet Martin
In October of 1950 my mom defended her Master's thesis at the University of Alberta. Her area was teacher education and her goal was to assist the relatively new education faculty to find out how it could do a better job of predicting which students would make good teachers. 

The introduction to her paper identifies province wide concerns about the high turnover of teachers and speculates that even if teachers were to be paid higher salaries, it would not be enough to retain them if they were never suited for the job in the first place. Sound familiar?

There were 222 students in the Faculty of Education in 1950. My mom recorded their high school and university marks and conducted a battery of spelling, intelligence, reasoning and personality tests. Then she compared the data with their student teaching reports. What correlation did she find between their knowledge, skills and attributes and their ability to teach? Girls seemed better than boys. Those with higher scores on intelligence tests and those with better university marks did a bit better in their student teaching.  Good spellers and those with good vocabularies were better teachers. As far as reasoning and personality traits went, there was no correlation.

I still have all my mom's raw data from her research. I wonder what happened to those young teachers who would be in their late 80s now. How many of them continued in their chosen profession? Did the excellent student teachers become even more excellent? Did the poor and average student teachers improve and become good or even excellent? Would a teacher who was excellent in 1950 be considered excellent today?  If I could talk to them, what would they tell me about teaching excellence? 

Today, are we any closer to knowing what qualities make an excellent teacher? The Task Force on Teaching Excellence does not define teaching excellence. Neither does it attempt to find out why 45% of beginning teachers leave the profession. Like their predecessors, were some never suited for teaching? Were they driven out by the demands of the classroom or a lack of respect for their chosen career? Or tempted by higher paid and more prestigious jobs in other fields? These are the real problems facing Alberta today. These are the questions the Task Force should attempt to address.