Thursday, December 12, 2013

apprenticeship of observation

Guest Bloggers: University of St. Thomas faculty members Muffet Trout, PhD and Debbie Monson, PhD
We often think about beginning teachers as being new to the classroom. For most, however, classrooms are very familiar places. Lortie (1975) describes this familiarity as an apprenticeship of observation. This apprenticeship begins long before beginning teachers become leaders of their own classrooms. All teachers were students at one time, and as such, have been in several classroom settings with different types of teachers creating both positive and negative memories. Watching one’s teachers over the course of K-12th grade is the apprenticeship to which Lortie refers. His concern is that these formative years as a student define how new teachers will teach. Without careful analysis of the complexities that make up teaching, this apprenticeship can hinder teachers from imagining different ways of approaching their practices.

We want all of us teachers to recognize our experiences in education prior to becoming classroom teachers.  Like Lortie argues, we have been students at the elementary, secondary and college levels and have been student teachers during our teacher preparation. Britzman (1991) describes these times when teachers learn about teaching as four chronologies. The first chronology begins when we are K-12 students, the second begins when we take university courses in general and in teacher preparation, the third commences with student teaching and the fourth begins when we assume full-time status as teachers.

As members of the TC2 community, your experience in the second and third chronologies to which Britzman refers is different than most K-12 educators’ experiences.  As members of the TC2 experience you have taken coursework on methods, psychology, general education and other topics while essentially teaching fulltime. You have had opportunities to apply learning from your coursework directly to the classroom.  For the first year, TC2 graduates, you are now officially on your own and trying to make use of all the knowledge you learned from both coursework and classroom experience to create a meaningful learning environment for your students. 

Looking back at Lortie’s  apprenticeship of observation and Britzman’s four chronologies, it would be interesting to see which of those times in your lives are the most impactful now.  Do you refer to “how you were taught” when thinking about how to plan lessons or manage your classes? Do you tap into theories when envisioning how you want to design units or lessons? And how do your students factor in to your teaching style and choices?  What is the center of your decision-making process, your experience, your content, your students, your schooling, or a combination of all of these?  And it would be interesting to see how that evolves over time.  How do the pressures of your first year compare to that of student teaching?  And how will that ease over time and give you the flexibility that most teachers feel to begin to evolve and create the environment you want?

Hopefully your time in TC2 and all of your other experiences have taught you to keep learning, growing, and searching for ways to connect to ALL of your students.

Britzman, D. P. (1991).  Practice makes practice. New York: State University of New York Press.

Lortie, Dan C.  1975  Schoolteacher: a sociological study.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

About the authors:
Muffet Trout is an assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of St. Thomas. Muffet started at UST in 2012, bringing with her more than 25 years of teaching experience pre-K through doctoral level classrooms. Muffet specializes in care theory and effective teaching practices that cultivate relationships.

Debbie Monson is an assistant professor of mathematics education at the University of St. Thomas. She spent 14 years teaching in St. Paul before completing her doctoral work and joining the UST faculty. Debbie’s research focuses on the relationship between beliefs and practices for teachers using a reform mathematics curriculum.


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