NPR on Teacher Expectations

Laura M steered me to this NPR story by Alix Spiegel. She profiled one of my favorite scholars, UVa's Bob Pianta. Interesting twist: Spiegel covers health, not K-12.

So since expectations can change the performance of kids, how do we get teachers to have the right expectations? Is it possible to change bad expectations? That was the question that brought me to the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, where I met Robert Pianta.

Pianta, dean of the Curry School, has studied teachers for years, and one of the first things he told me when we sat down together was that it is truly hard for teachers to control their expectations.

"It's really tough for anybody to police their own beliefs," he said.

People often ask us: What is different about the courses at the Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education, compared to more traditional schools?

There are many. One is that our whole program aligns with Pianta's beliefs: don't tell future teachers what to believe by hammering away with theory; instead, get them to practice specific behaviors that, if done the right way, show kids you believe they can succeed. He puts it this way:

The traditional way, Pianta says, has been to sit teachers down and try to change their expectations through talking to them.

"For the most part, we've tried to convince them that the beliefs they have are wrong," he says. "And we've done most of that convincing using information."

But Pianta has a different idea of how to go about changing teachers' expectations. He says it's not effective to try to change their thoughts; the key is to train teachers in an entirely new set of behaviors.

There's a fierce debate in teacher prep, among Ed Schools and alternative pathways alike.

a. Some: It (teacher prep) mostly works. Just tinker a bit.

b. Some: It doesn't work. Need different raw material -- different people to enter the profession.

c. Some: It doesn't work. Teachers get certain knowledge from their classes, but those concepts are often wrong. Fix that.

d. Some: It doesn't work. So stop doing it. Let many people try to teach, without pretending to train them. Evaluate them. Only keep the good ones.

e. Some: It doesn't work. The ratio of time and money invested in gaining "knowledge" (loosely defined as what you get from classes, readings, writing, etc), compared to time and money invested in future teachers "practicing" (actually doing specific teacher-like behaviors, in various contexts, with a tight feedback loop) is off kilter. I'd file the NPR story under this last heading.

And of course "f" -- obviously some folks have a combo platter set of beliefs.