I have learned over the years not to get in a fight with Gary Stager. I will lose. He has more followers than me, he has more degrees than me, he has more “cred” than me. So I will say right up front that this is not picking on Gary Stager. He once got mad at me for using his image in a post that was a critical response to a blog entry he wrote. He once got mad at me for something I said on Twitter about him and his wife Sylvia Martinez, whom I greatly admire. My amigos in east Texas told me that if he doesn’t get mad at you, then you are doing something wrong and that I was now an official member of the People Gary Stager Got Pissed At Club or PGSGPAC. So, right up front this is not picking on Gary Stager. This is merely some thoughts I had after reading his blog entry.—TBH
Recently, Gary Stager posted a blog entry about how we educators should not call our fellow teachers “facilitators.” Facilitators, Stager argues, are not true teachers of anything, but rather more like Walmart greeters, pointing shoppers in a general direction, but never really showing them anything. So far, I agree with him. Teachers teach by definition. Facilitators facilitate by definition. Stager argues that there are far too many teachers-as-facilitators these a days, with too many not being able to teach in small groups and fewer still being able to identify the learning needs of students, thus relegating themselves to teaching pre-formatted lessons such as these found in the Common Core standards.
With him so far? I am. I tend to agree mostly. Teachers that actually can anticipate the needs of students, can learn from their everyday lives what they need in class, and apparently “spend thirty minutes per month in Toys R Us on the lookout for cool stuff to use in the classroom and as a means to learning about the culture of the children they serve” are great, but in my mind, uncommon. Teaching is moving away from an art form and more into a service industry mode. Okay, I agree mostly with this as well.
When did this shift from teacher as teacher move to teacher as facilitator? Stager says it all had to do with the current round of education reform talk started…was that A nation at risk, NCLB, Race to the Top…who knows. The point is, Stager says clearly, “In my humble opinion, classrooms became less productive contexts for learning when teacher education became more concerned with training facilitators than creating teachers.”
Okay, so now, this is where I start diverging down the snowy path with Stager. Consider the following questions:
- Who trains teachers to be teachers?
- Who creates programs that teachers and administrators buy into?
- Who writes textbooks that teachers teach out of, or in the current climate, facilitate out of?
- Who wrote the Common Core Standards?
- Who researches and publishes papers that support ideas like “Teacher as Facilitator?
In almost all cases, the answers to the above are people in higher education or people closely associated with higher education. Professors that live and die by grants that are awarded based on “innovative programs” that they think up and then have to implement in order to keep the funding. “Innovative programs” usually mean doing things differently than what has always been done, and then providing data that shows the “innovation” was a success, thus guaranteeing the next round of funding. Innovate enough and suddenly you have a book, a program, a lecture tour, your own podcast, and professional development company, and schools across the country believing that your method of saving education will actually work.
EdDs that train the next generation of educators usually train them in their own images because they haven’t set foot in a real classroom or left their own geographical area except to mix with others in the same condition, for any extended period of time for more than a decade. While Stager bemoans that there are very few great teachers, I suspect that there are even fewer great Professors of Education that truly teach innovative teaching styles, and those things that Stager complains are lacking. Where are the profs that teach the teacher NOT to be facilitators? Why are teachers more compliant these days as Stager states? Not because they collectively got together and attended a compliance conference. They do what they are asked to do. They are asked to do things that politicians place into law on the recommendations of, you guessed it, citizens of the ivory towers or academia.
If one wants to place a blame, one has to look into the mirror of higher ed where Stager resides. Policy, research, planning, training and curricula all are either conceived in, or nourished in those hallways, in those journals, and in those conferences. The research that promotes or kills a program or innovation comes from academia, not from a Kindergarten teacher that is just trying to get through the day using the latest “innovative program” developed at “a leading University.” Everyone knows that if you have “PhD” after your name, or “Dr.” before it, the politicians will listen more carefully when it comes to policy recommendations. Very few teachers have those credentials. Fewer still have those credentials and use them to affect policy or curricula. So you gotta ask yourself, who is to blame for teachers acting as facilitators?
To complain about teachers as facilitators and not to even mention the role that higher ed has in planning and implementing policy is akin to the NRA blaming everything in the world for the Newtown school shootings except the easy availability of guns that their policies lead to. As Bill Clinton used to say, “that dog don’t hunt.”
One last issue with Stager’s column, and it is the same issue I often have with Will Richardson’s columns: While it is easy to point out the faults in something like the guy on the couch yelling at the blown play in the big game, it is something entirely different to actually spell out a viable plan of action to address the problem. Just saying “Let’s get rid of teachers as facilitators” does nothing. It is like praying for a cure to disease without actually going to the doctor and getting something done. The thought is nice, but the results probably are worthless. Stager proposes no cure to the disease, only that the patient has the symptoms. If the problem of teachers being facilitators is a bad thing, then what are the actual real world steps that real school districts in real cities can do in the current educational environment to fix that problem?
To me, that is a real blog post worth reading. Let me know when that one is posted.