Archive for April 3, 2010
My blog posts are picked up in Facebook via RSS feed, and Fred Martin commented there that he prefers “professional development” to “training” to describe in-service educational opportunities for teachers. It’s a good point. My advisor, Elliot Soloway, once appeared on PBS talking about how “Dogs are trained. Teachers aren’t trained. They’re taught.” ”Professional development” sounds more like what executives and other knowledge workers do, so it’s a better, more respectful, and more descriptive term. I agree with all of that, but I propose an argument that claims that “teacher training” is not a bad thing, and may be something we need more of, especially in computing education.
“Training” is defined as activity leading to skilled behavior. Fire fighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, and soldiers are “trained.” Training is associated with providing service to the community, which is certainly what teachers do. Training is about developing skill, and teaching is clearly a skill. Athletes train. I trained for three years for my black belt. In these senses, “training” is about learning to the point of automaticity, so that the learner can demonstrate the skill under stressful conditions.
CS1 teachers do learn to the point of automaticity how to help students. After a few years of teaching Media Computation, I could often tell what was wrong with a student’s program just by looking at the output image or listening to the output sound. Totally silent output sound? You may not be incrementing the target index, so all the source samples are being copied to the same target index. Black edge on your composed pictures? Probably an off-by-one error where you’re not changing the right and bottommost edges of the picture. That automaticity comes from knowledge of the domain and seeing lots of examples of student work, so that you learn the common errors. Such automaticity is useful to be able to help many students debug their programs in a brief class time or office hours.
A teacher’s job is stressful. It is hard for a teacher to manage a classroom of (sometimes unruly, always attention-demanding) students. A teacher must apply learning under stressful conditions, and reaching automaticity will help with multitasking around many students. However, in computing education especially, we barely have time to teach teachers the basics of computing, let alone become proficient, and in no way, automatic. Without the time and “training” to develop those automatic responses, teachers have to work harder, spending more time to figure out each student problem.
Fred’s right — “professional development” is more respectful, and clearly conveys that teachers are knowledge-workers. ”Training” is also an appropriate term, that recognizes the skilled service that teachers provide and the hard, stressful job that they have in responding to many students needs. In computing education especially, we need to give teachers more support that looks like “training,” and not just introducing the concepts in “professional development.”