Professor Tries His Hand With 4th Graders

Shaun Johnson is assistant professor of elementary education at Towson University. And a blogger. He wrote a great essay about his decision to try a 4-week summer stint of teaching 3rd graders. What motivated him?

Something changed in my mind when I became an actual assistant professor...I feel like the pressure to be an “expert” on teaching and learning is greater as my previous memories of being an actual public school teacher evaporate.

...[H]ow can I profess if I no longer put my own abilities to the test? So, I stand by my new rule: if you’re going to tell young people how to teach, then do it yourself.

He ran into his first challenge.

I had nowhere to turn. School systems are largely closed to people like me (former schoolteachers who have become professors). My certification was long expired and it didn’t seem worthwhile to go through any process of renewal.

He found a gig in a DC charter school.

My return to the classroom consisted of 20 days teaching a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class for roughly four hours, split between language arts and math. I was given daily objectives for both subjects, but also had absolute control of how I addressed them.

So what did he find?

[I]n teacher education, my mentors and I both encouraged undergraduates to use inquiry, cooperative learning, and other so-called “hands-on” strategies. Fine.

But these students were having none of it. I had to strip the activities down to their essence. That is, rather than actually implementing centers or a Jigsaw, I spent the first few weeks simply rehearsing rotations, getting in and out of groups, and reading directions.

The whole thing is worth a read. Johnson concludes:

Teacher educators and education professors are not worth their salt if they do not return to the classroom with some regularity during their tenure. I plan to do so every summer that I can.