part of the Education Reform Networks
How teachers taught: Constancy and change in american classrooms, 1890-1990.
Cultural beliefs about the nature of knowledge, how teaching should occur, and how children should learn are so widespread and deeply rooted that they steer the thinking of policymakers, practitioners, parents, and citizens toward certain forms of instruction. (…Most descriptions of classrooms portray the persistence of teacher-centered classrooms consistent with the historical tradition that took shape when men and women lived guided by a deep reverence for the accumulated wisdom of their elders.)
Author/Creator: Cuban, L.
Notes: There are a number of explanations for stability in teaching practices and instances of teacher-adopted changes… 1. Cultural beliefs about the nature of knowledge, how teaching should occur, and how children should learn are so widespread and deeply rooted that they steer the thinking of policymakers, practitioners, parents, and citizens toward certain forms of instruction. (…most descriptions of classrooms portray the persistence of teacher-centered classrooms consistent with the historical tradition that took shape when men and women lived guided by a deep reverence for the accumulated wisdom of their elders.)
2. The organization and practice of formal schooling function to socialize and sort students into varied socioeconomic niches.(Certain teaching practices are practical for both groups, but especially for children who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds: arranging desks into rows to secure uniform behavior; relying on textbooks to yield reams of homework for which credit is given or withheld; giving tests and quizzes to permit the teacher to sort students by their achievement or lack of it; and having students follow teacher-directed procedures for seatwork, recitation, and reports. These dominant teacher-centered practices endure because they produce student behaviors consistent with the requirements of the larger society.)
3. If educational policymakers had effectively implemented reforms aimed at changing what teachers routinely do, changes in instructional practices would have occurred. (Student-centered approaches, then, infrequently penetrated classrooms because of the inattentiveness, unwillingness, or inability of school officials to convert a policy decision or formal approval of an instructional change into a systematic process that would gain teacher support for classroom adoption.)
4. The organizational structure of the district, school, and classroom shaped teachers' dominant instructional practices.(Student-centered approaches where students work together, move freely around the room, and determine certain classroom tasks for themselves make a shambles of classroom routines geared to handling batches of students. These approaches are incompatible with existing school and classroom structures and would require a complete overhaul of basic modes of classroom operation. Few teachers are wiling to upset their controlled, familiar world for the uncertain benefits of a student-centered classroom.)
5. The cultures of teaching that have developed within the occupation tilt toward stability of classroom practices. (The occupational ethos of teaching breeds conservatism, that is, a preference for stability and a cautious attitude toward change. This conservatism is anchored in the very practice of teaching, the people who enter the profession, in how they are informally socialized, and in the school culture of which teaching itself is a primary ingredient.)
6. Teachers' knowledge of subject matter and their professional and personal beliefs about the role of the school in society, about classroom authority, and about children's ethnic and socioeconomic status shape classroom practices. ( The knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes that teachers have, then, shape what they choose to do in their classrooms and explain both the constancy and the change that have shaped the core of instructional practices that have endured over time.) Pages 14-20 Attributing to teachers the personal power to halt or divert change is a common tendency of those who locate explanations for events in individual action rather than assessing the potent influence of the situational contexts or a blend of many influences.
Pg. 262 The argument of situationally constrained choice stresses that social, cultural, and organizational influences were sufficiently potent to maintain teacher-centered practices, especially in high schools. But once teachers closed their classroom doors, they had limited discretion to alter their routines. This limited freedom increased for those teachers who, for any number of reasons, expanded and deepened their knowledge of subject matter and embraced different beliefs about children, learning, and what schools should do.
Pg. 264 Two reasons dulled teachers' appetites for fundamental classroom changes: the personal cost in time and energy and the lack of help to put complex ideas into practice.
Pg. 265 For one thing, it is clear to me that as long as the public schools' dominant social role in the culture (i.e. to bolster the economy and national defense, to solve major social ills, and to select those students who can succeed academically) remains unchanged, and as long as schools remain organized as they currently are (as age-graded schools, with hierarchical authority flowing down from the top, etc.), teacher-centered instruction will remain pervasive but not unchallenged. e
Pg. 277 The structural features of elementary schools offer a potentially rich arena for reform. Yet scant notice is paid to this level by those national and state policymakers who make the difference between dreamy intentions and fully funded programs. The results of this study are unambiguous, at least on the subject of how much teacher change is possible: The potential for change in the practical pedagogy that teachers have constructed is far greater in the lower grades than in high school classrooms.
Pg. 279 For such a strategy to succeed, reforms aimed at altering teacher routines need to secure the teacher's commitment. Teachers need to be persuaded that a change will be better for children, that it will not undercut their authority, and that it can be adapted to the particular setting. Where modest changes have occurred, they have occurred because teachers have absorbed rival beliefs competing with existing ones.
Pg. 281 As the evidence shows, many teachers over the past century, faced with large classes, many responsibilities unrelated to teaching, and innumerable social and cultural constraints, took risks in initiating incremental and fundamental changes. Thus, many teachers, as solo practitioners, were indeed leaders in their isolated, self-contained classrooms in the age-graded school.
Pg. 283 What complicates the task of researchers is that they often underestimate the impact of the workplace and prior constraints upon teachers and overestimate the power of the innovation to alter teaching and learning. Moreover, even when changes are made, researchers may imply that the changes teachers made were insignificant. That teachers even initiate incremental changes in the face of considerable constraints speaks of their strong impulses toward improvement. Pg. 287 In short, no consensus can be reached about which forms of teaching are objectively more effective than others without (a) gaining a consensus on the role of public schooling in a democratic society and what students should learn and (b) dealing explicitly with scholars' personal teaching preferences. Such a consensus has yet to be achieved either among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers or among the general public. Public discourse throughout the 1980s and in the early 1990s has vibrated between linking slipping test scores to the nation's eroding economic productivity and calling on the schools to provide essential social services to students and their families.
Publisher: Teachers College Press
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