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Claiming an area of speciality in teaching: some personal insights and challenges

Posted by: | June 7, 2012 | No Comment |

Many professions like medicine, law and dentistry, have specialties – areas in which doctors, lawyers and dentists can chose to develop further expertise through continuing education and professional internships. One can also chose to stay in general practice without specializing in one particular field (i.e. a family doctor is a general practitioner vs. a cardiologist who specializes in disorders of the heart). In the teaching profession we also have specialties; however, one does not necessarily receive specialized education in the same way as the abovementioned professionals.

All teachers start as general practitioners after their pre-service teacher education. Some stay as general practitioners throughout their entire career, while others become teacher leaders (or move into other educational leadership positions). To be a teacher leader, a teacher has to have an area that he/she claims as his/her specialty, at least I believe this to be the case – and this is what distinguishes (G.P). teachers from teacher leaders. In addition, a teacher can claim his/her specialty without any additional education – experience (practice) and passion alone can provide the professional development and the motivation that a teacher will need to claim an area of expertise, and thus develop in that specialty as a teacher leader. And maybe this is enough, or not enough!

On a personal level, I have had many interests in education including instructional leadership, action research, global education and most recently, socio-scientific activism. However, the challenge has been to find that one area (or marrying or blending several areas) which I can claim as my specialty. This is where teaching profession differs from other professions: the teaching specialties are not always so clear-cut (one might disagree with me here, and that’s fine). I wonder if teacher education in Ontario (at the undergraduate or graduate level) could address continuing professional growth of teacher leaders in a better way. I can’t help but to think about Harvard’s groundbreaking doctoral program for education leaders, which is also tuition-free!  Could this program serve as a model for teacher leadership education in Ontario?

I feel that we can improve how we educate and guide teachers (especially teacher leaders) into various specialties, despite the overwhelming number of Additional Qualification courses, which I think are not adequate enough in terms of addressing development of teachers as leaders. Most of us are left to our own vices when it comes to developing our specialties, which may work fine for some. Developing expertise and the capacity to lead is certainly a challenge that comes after one has developed enough knowledge and skills in their specialty. In other words, one cannot be an effective leader without first knowing his/her specialty (feel free to disagree here as well).

What would be some advantages (and disadvantages) if after the pre-service education and at least two years of experience, teachers could pursue a specialty of their choice at a graduate level/or specialty-focused continuing education programs (for example, I want to work to become an expert in assessment and evaluation, or I would like to claim instructional technology as my specialty)?  One might say that OISE (or other Faculties of Education) already offer some of these specialties (ie. Curriculum, Teacher and Learning vs. Theory and Policy Studies); however, as a graduate student in the CTL program at OISE, I still do not feel that I am becoming a specialist in any one domain within the CTL program – am I missing something? Maybe I need to continue into the Ph.D. program!  My point is that we might need to re-think and reform teacher education if we want to produce better educational leaders. I don’t have the answer as to how one can go about this. As I mentioned earlier, Harvard’s program for education leaders and the medical/law/dental specialty programs might shed some light on how we might begin to think about educating teachers as leaders within their own specialties.

Image Credits: Belmont University, Graduate Education (http://www.belmont.edu/graded/tel/index.html)


under: EduThoughts

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