Ever since Socrates, teaching has been a difficult and even dangerous profession. Why is good teaching such hard work?
In this provocative, witty, and sometimes rueful book, David K. Cohen writes about the predicaments that teachers face. Like therapists, social workers, and pastors, teachers embark on a mission of human improvement. They aim to deepen knowledge, broaden understanding, sharpen skills, and change behavior. One predicament is that no matter how great their expertise, teachers depend on the cooperation and intelligence of their students, yet there is much that students do not know. To teach responsibly, teachers must cultivate a kind of mental double vision: distancing themselves from their own knowledge to understand students’ thinking, yet using their knowledge to guide their teaching. Another predicament is that although attention to students’ thinking improves the chances of learning, it also increases the uncertainty and complexity of the job.
The circumstances in which teachers and students work make a difference. Teachers and students are better able to manage these predicaments if they have resourcescommon curricula, intelligent assessments, and teacher education tied to boththat support responsible teaching. Yet for most of U.S. history those resources have been in short supply, and many current accountability policies are little help. With a keen eye for the moment-to-moment challenges, Cohen explores what “responsible teaching” can be, the kind of mind reading it seems to demand, and the complex social resources it requires.
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About the Author
David K. Cohen is John Dewey Collegiate Professor of Education and Professor of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
What People are Saying About This
Policy schemes abound today for improving teaching in our nation's schools. Yet few seem to comprehend what quality education in the 21st century actually entails for teaching in America's classrooms. 'Take the tour' with David Cohen through Teaching and Its Predicaments. It is an essential primer for educational reformers, as we cannot improve what we do not really understand.
Anthony S. Bryk, President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
In this incisive little book, David Cohen shows why the ambitious teaching that offers students real intellectual challenge is always praised and yet so seldom achieved in America. Expertise is not enough: teachers need empathy, persistence, familiarity with their students, and back-up from their colleagues and the community. Since teachers can succeed only if the students succeed, they always face a dilemma: less ambitious goals and thus easier success, or more ambitious goals with greater chance of failure (and student resistance)? Cohen argues that attempts at teaching reform fail because disappointing student achievement is invariably blamed on individual schools and teachers, instead of a fragmented system without broadly shared standards, skills, and resources. If American teaching is weak, it's because every teacher is asked to reinvent teaching every day. Teaching and Its Predicaments offers a startling new understanding of our problems and points the way to a solution.
Milbrey McLaughlin, Stanford University