views updated Jun 08 2018


knowledge bases of
ralph t. putnam

learning to teach
sharon feiman-nemser

methods for studying
james calderhead


Researchers and other scholars seeking to understand and define the knowledge and thinking underlying teaching have focused on numerous issues and bring multiple perspectives to bear on this complex domain. Much of this work has addressed some combination of three sets of interrelated questions:

  1. What do (or should) teachers know? What domains or categories of knowledge are important for teaching?
  2. How do teachers know? What is the nature or form of various kinds of knowledge needed for teaching?
  3. How do teachers think? What thought processes underlie teaching?

Efforts to address these questions are motivated, in part, by the connection between how teachers teach and what teachers think, know, and believe.

Historical Overview

During the first half of the twentieth century the substance and nature of teachers' knowledge was relatively unproblematic. Judging from various assessments for teacher certification of the period, teachers needed to know the content that they would teach students and have some knowledge of pedagogical practice. As systematic programs of research on teaching began to emerge in the 1960s, attention shifted to various teacher characteristics and behaviors associated with increased student achievement. Although this research did not directly examine the knowledge or thinking of teachers, it was grounded in an assumption that knowledge of relationships established through systematic research could provide a "scientific basis for the art of teaching," as the title of the 1978 book by Nathaniel L. Gage suggested.

As psychology shifted from behavioral to cognitive perspectives, scholars of teaching followed suit and began to focus on the mental life of teachers. By the 1980s, cognitive psychologists had established that the accumulation of rich bodies of knowledge is critical to expert performance in various domains, ranging from chess playing to medical diagnosis. Scholars of teaching began trying to characterize the expert knowledge that is needed for good teaching. In 1986 Lee S. Shulman catalyzed interest in the systematic study of the knowledge underlying teaching, arguing especially for the importance of understanding the role of teachers' knowledge of the content they teach.

Domains of Knowledge for Teaching

Teaching is a complex act, requiring many kinds of knowledge. Some of this knowledge is general and fairly enduringsuch as knowledge of subject matter content or of general pedagogical principles; some is more specific and transientsuch as knowledge of the particular students being taught and what has taken place in a particular class. Various systems for describing the knowledge needed for teaching have been developed with varying emphases and purposes. With any set of categories or domains of knowledge, it is important to keep in mind that these systems are used to bring conceptual order to knowledge that is in reality complex and interrelated. The various categories of knowledge are not discrete entities, and the boundaries between domains are fuzzy at best. With these caveats in mind, the following set of categories of teacher knowledge is loosely based on a 1987 article by Shulman:

  • Knowledge of subject matter content
  • Knowledge of general pedagogical principles and strategies
  • Knowledge of learners, their characteristics, and how they learn
  • Knowledge of educational contexts
  • Knowledge of educational goals, purposes, and values

Because they are central to the daily work of teachers, general pedagogical knowledge, knowledge about learners, and knowledge of subject matter have been the focus of considerable research and scholarly discourse.

General pedagogical knowledge/knowledge about learners. These closely related categories of teacher knowledge include knowledge about teaching, learning, and learners that is not specific to the teaching of particular subject matter content. One large component of this domain is knowledge of classroom managementknowledge of how to keep groups of students engaged with various classroom tasks. Teachers must have repertoires of routines and strategies for establishing classroom procedures, organizing classroom events, keeping activities on track, and reacting to student misbehavior. Teachers also draw upon knowledge of instructional strategies for arranging classroom environments and conducting lessons to promote student learning. Experienced teachers have repertoires of strategies and routines for conducting lessons, keeping them running smoothly, and promoting student engagement.

Teachers' knowledge about managing classrooms and conducting lessons is intertwined with knowledge and beliefs about learners, learning, and teaching. Theories about how students learn guide teachers' instructional decisions and interactions with students, often in an implicit way. For example, a teacher who conceives of the learner's role as a passive recipient of knowledge teaches differently than one who conceives of the learner's role as an active participant in the learning process. The former typically presents information that students are expected to attend to, followed by rehearsal and practice of the presented information. The latter is apt to present problem-solving situations designed to stimulate students' thinking and knowledge-building.

Content knowledge. Obviously, teachers must know something about the content they teach. In drawing attention to the need for more attention to the role of content knowledge in teaching, Shulman in 1986 distinguished three kinds of content knowledge: subject matter content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and curricular knowledge. Subject matter content knowledge is what a content specialist knows, for example what a mathematician knows about mathematics. Pedagogical content knowledge is specialized knowledge needed for teaching the subject, such as understanding how key ideas in mathematics are likely to be misunderstood by learners, and multiple ways of representing important ideas in the domain. Curricular knowledge is knowledge of materials and resources for teaching particular content, including how subject matter content is structured and sequenced in different materials.

Early research sought but failed to establish a clear relationship between teachers' subject-matter knowledgeas measured by the amount of course-work, grades, and testsand teaching effectiveness; taking more university mathematics courses did not necessarily make one a better teacher of mathematics. Nevertheless, when researchers examined what was learned and hence known by teachers, they were able to establish a connection between the degree of disciplinary knowledge and teaching effectiveness. In general, teachers with rich subject matter knowledge tend to emphasize conceptual, problem solving, and inquiry aspects of their subjects; less knowledgeable teachers tend to emphasize facts, rules, and procedures. Less knowledgeable teachers may stick closely to detailed plans or the textbook, sometimes missing opportunities to focus on important ideas and connections to other ideas. When the goal is fostering student understanding and meaningful learning, as promoted by many U.S. educational reform efforts of the 1980s and 1990s, the demands on a teacher's content knowledge intensify. Helping students understand important ideas in a discipline and how these ideas can be use in varied contexts requires that a teacher know more than the facts, concepts, and procedures they are teaching. They must also know how these ideas connect with one another and to other domains.

Often, when one thinks of understanding a disciplinesuch as mathematics, biology, or historyone means knowing important concepts and principles in the field, how they are related to one another, and how they connect to ideas in other domains. Additionally, to be truly knowledgeable, or "literate," in a particular field involves knowing how experts in that field think. Knowing science, for example, entails knowing something about rules for evidence and how scientific knowledge is established. Knowing literature involves knowing what makes a good critique or argument about a literary point. To teach particular disciplines well, a teacher must be aware of these aspects of disciplinary knowledge and be able to make them explicit in ways that are accessible to learners.

Nature and Form of Teacher Knowledge

A potential danger in describing various categories of knowledge for teaching is coming to think of teachers' knowledge itself as organized into abstract, discrete categories. In fact, what teachers know is complexly intertwined with other knowledge and beliefs and with the specific contexts in which teachers work. Numerous scholars have posed constructs to try to capture the complex contextualized nature of teachers' knowledge. Some researchers have argued that teachers' personalities and life experiences play a major role in shaping the kind of knowledge they develop about teaching, calling this knowledge "personal practical knowledge." In 1987 Kathy Carter and Walter Doyle argued that much of what experienced teachers know is "event-structured knowledge"knowledge organized around the activities and events they have experienced in classrooms. Others have argued for the importance of articulating the "craft knowledge" of teachingthe implicit theories, skills, and ways of perceiving that teachers develop through their work.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, such efforts to understand knowledge for teaching have intersected and been informed by a more general movement in psychology and education to view knowledge and cognition as situated. Situative theorists posit that how and where a person learns a particular set of knowledge and skills become a fundamental part of what is learned. An individual's knowledge is intertwined with the physical and social contexts in which it was acquired. All of these efforts to characterize the ways in which knowledge for teaching is intertwined with contexts, other people, and personal histories help one appreciate the rich and complex nature of what teachers need to know. A number of important implications arise from this work.

What teachers know and how they know it are tied to particular contexts. Developing expertise in teaching entails working and learning in the contexts of teaching. Much of what teachers know is connected to particular toolssuch as textbooks and instructional materials. Much of what teachers know is routinized and automatic. Just as a person driving a car with a manual transmission is not conscious of the coordination of movements of feet and hands as they driveunless a problem arisesmuch of how teachers interact with students is similarly guided by routine. It is having much of what they know embedded in these routines that enables teachers and students to manage in a highly complex social environment. A downside of much of teachers' knowledge being routinized and automatic is that it can be difficult to examine and change when desired.

Teacher Thinking

As psychological perspectives shifted from behavioral to cognitive in the 1970s, a number of researchers began to focus on the thinking processes entailed in teaching. Much of this research focused on teachers' planning and decision-making. Research on planning suggests that it occurs at different levels (e.g., across a year, across a unit, across a day), that it is mostly informal (i.e., formal written plans play less of a role than does informal thinking about what to do), and that planning requires a broad knowledge base (i.e., of the various categories discussed above). Research that focused on the decisions made during interactive teaching itself found that teachers made few decisions as they taught and that those decisions dealt primarily with keeping planned activities on track. Other research suggests, however, that the well-established routines that teachers and students have developed do much to determine the nature of instruction and minimize conscious on-the-spot decision-making.

See also: English Education; History, Teaching of; Language Arts, Teaching of; Mathematics Education; Reading; Science Education; Social Studies Education; Teacher Education; Teacher Evaluation; Teaching, subentry on Learning to Teach; Writing, Teaching of.


Anderson, Linda M. 1989. "Learners and Learning." In Knowledge Base for the Beginning Teacher, ed. Maynard Clinton Reynolds. Oxford: Pergamon.

Borko, Hilda, and Putnam, Ralph T. 1996. "Learning to Teach." In Handbook of Educational Psychology, ed. David C. Berliner and Robert C. Calfee. New York: Macmillan.

Brophy, Jere, ed. 1991. Advances in Research on Teaching, Vol. 2: Teachers' Subject Matter Knowledge. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Calderhead, James. 1986. "Teachers: Beliefs and Knowledge." In Handbook of Educational Psychology, ed. David C. Berliner and Robert C. Calfee. New York: Macmillan.

Carter, Kathy. 1990. "Teachers' Knowledge and Learning to Teach." In Handbook of Research on Teacher Education, ed. W. Robert Houston, Martin Haberman, and John P. Silkula. New York: Macmillan.

Carter, Kathy, and Doyle, Walter. 1987. "Teachers' Knowledge Structures and Comprehension Processes." In Exploring Teachers' Thinking, ed. James Calderhead. London: Cassell.

Clark, Christopher M., and Peterson, Penelope L. 1986. "Teachers' Thought Processes." In Handbook of Research on Teaching, ed. Merlin C. Wittrock. New York: Macmillan.

Connelly, F. Michael, and Clandinin, D. Jean. 1985. "Personal Practical Knowledge and the Modes of Knowing." Review of Research in Education 16:356.

Doyle, Walter. 1986. "Classroom Organization and Management." In Handbook of Research on Teaching, ed. Merlin C. Wittrock. New York: Macmillan.

Gage, Nathaniel L. 1978. The Scientific Basis of the Art of Teaching. New York: Teachers College Press.

Leinhardt, Gaea. 1990. "Capturing Craft Knowledge in Teaching." Educational Researcher 19 (2):1825.

Leinhardt, Gaea, and Greeno, James G. 1986. "The Cognitive Skill of Teaching." Journal of Educational Psychology 78:7595.

Putnam, Ralph T., and Borko, Hilda. 2000. "What Do New Views of Knowledge and Thinking Have to Say about Research on Teacher Learning?" Educational Researcher 29 (1):415.

Shulman, Lee S. 1986. "Those Who Understand: Knowledge Growth in Teaching." Educational Researcher 15 (2):414.

Shulman, Lee S. 1987. "Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform." Harvard Educational Review 57 (1):122.

Ralph T. Putnam


The meaning of the phrase learning to teach seems clear and straightforward, but in fact, its definition raises a host of empirical, conceptual, and normative questions. What do teachers need to know, care about, and be able to do in order to teach effectively in different contexts? How do teachers build a strong teaching practice and develop a professional identity over time? What role should teacher education play in learning to teach? How do the conditions of teaching shape the content of teacher learning? How do views of teaching shape theories of learning to teach?

Learning to teach is an emerging priority for policymakers and educational reformers. For example, the report of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, issued in 1996, placed teacher learning at the heart of its comprehensive blueprint for reform. The report asserts that what students learn is directly related to what teachers teach, and what teachers teach depends on the knowledge, skills, and commitments they bring to their teaching.

Myths About Learning to Teach

Conventional wisdom about learning to teach is rooted in social attitudes toward teaching and the experience of being a student. Some of these ideas contain half truths; some have influenced educational policy.

Teachers are born, not made. Some people believe that the ability to teach is a natural endowment like being musical. Some teachers seem to be "naturals" and some theorists posit an innate tendency in human beings to explain things. Even the founders of the common school believed that teaching was "women's true profession" because it tapped their instinct for nurturing the young. Still, the belief that teachers are born, not made rests on a narrow view of the intellectual and personal requirements of teaching. It ignores the growing understanding of teaching as a complex, uncertain practice, and minimizes the role of professional education on the grounds that the practice of teaching cannot be taught.

If you know your subject, you can teach it. Whatever else teachers need to know, they need to know their subjects. There are teachers whose abundant knowledge and love of their subject make them extremely effective even though they have had no special preparation for teaching. Other teachers who possess extensive subject matter knowledge are unable to present this knowledge clearly or help others learn it. Research is beginning to clarify what it means to "know" one's subject for purposes of teaching it, and why conventional measures of subject matter knowledge are problematic.

Historically, a liberal arts education was considered sufficient preparation for teaching secondary school. Policies that require academic majors for both elementary and secondary teaching candidates represent a contemporary variation on this theme. There is mounting evidence of teachers with a major in their subject not being able to explain fundamental concepts in that subject; this situation raises questions about such policies.

Scholars have identified three dimensions of subject matter knowledge for teaching: knowledge of central facts, concepts, theories and procedures; knowledge of explanatory frameworks that organize and connect ideas within a given field; and knowledge of the rules of evidence and proof in a given field. How is a proof in mathematics different from a historic explanation or a literary interpretation? In addition, teachers must be able to look at their subjects through the eyes of students, anticipating what students might find difficult or confusing, framing compelling purposes for studying particular content, and understanding how ideas connect across fields and relate to everyday life. Future teachers are unlikely to acquire this kind of knowledge in academic courses.

Teacher education prepares people to teach. Whereas the previous myths reflect considerable skepticism about teacher education, this myth reflects confidence that pre-service programs prepare people to teach. The typical program consists of a two-year sequence of education courses and field experiences. Common components include educational psychology, general and subject specific methods, and student teaching. What these components consist of varies across institutions.

Some studies show that teacher education is a weak intervention compared with the socializing effects of teachers' own elementary and secondary schooling, and the influence of on-the-job experience. Other studies suggest that intense, coherent teacher education programs do make a difference. Even the best program, however, cannot prepare someone to teach in a particular setting. Some of the most important things teachers need to know are local and can only be learned in context. Pre-service preparation can lay a foundation for this complex, situation-specific work, but the early years of teaching are an intense and formative phase in practice of learning to teach.

Phases in Learning to Teach

It is hard to say when learning to teach begins. From an early age, people are surrounded by teaching on the part of parents and teachers, and these early experiences with authority figures unconsciously shape teachers' pedagogical tendencies. The experience of elementary and secondary schooling has a particularly strong impact. From thousands of hours of teacher watching, prospective teachers form images of teaching, learning, and subject matter that influence their future practice unless professional education intervenes.

Liberal studies affect the way teachers think about knowledge and approach the teaching of academic content, although not always in educative directions. At their best, education courses and field experiences cultivate a professional understanding of and orientation toward teaching. Learning to teach begins in earnest when novices step into their own classroom and take up the responsibilities of full-time teaching.

Efforts to describe the stages teachers go through in learning to teach generally posit an initial stage of survival and discovery, a second stage of experimentation and consolidation, and a third stage of mastery and stabilization. These stages are loosely tied to years of experience, with stabilization occurring around the fifth year of teaching. Self-knowledge is a major outcome of early teaching. Novices craft a professional identity through their struggles with and explorations of students and subject matter. Over time, teachers develop instructional routines and classroom procedures and learn what to expect from their students. Experience generally yields greater self-confidence, flexibility, and a sense of professional autonomy. After five to seven years most teachers feel they know how to teach. Whether we call these teachers "masters" or "experts" depends on what kind of teaching is valued and how mastery and expertise are defined.

Models of teacher development serve as a reminder that the process of learning to teach extends over a number of years; however, the current structure of professional education and the conditions of beginning teaching do not reflect this. Continuity of learning opportunities between pre-service preparation and new teacher induction is rare. The assignment of beginning teachers does not reflect their status as learners. Most beginning teachers have the same responsibilities as their more experienced colleagues, and often get the most difficult classes because they lack seniority.

The rise of formal induction programs signals a recognition on the part of some educators and policymakers that learning to teach occurs during the early years of teaching. About thirty states have support systems for beginning teachers and most urban districts offer some induction support, usually in the form of mentor teachers. Still, few programs rest on a robust understanding of teacher learning or help novices learn the kind of ambitious teaching advocated by reformers. Many programs treat induction as short-term support designed to ease the novice into full-time teaching.

What might a developmental curriculum for learning to teach entail? Which tasks belong to initial preparation and which to the induction phase? Despite gaps in knowledge and a lack of consensus about the best ways to prepare teachers and support their learning over time, it is possible to conceptualize a continuum of learning opportunities for teachers.

Teacher Preparation and Learning to Teach

If teachers are to learn a version of teaching that they have not experienced as pupils, they need to develop new frames of reference for interpreting what goes on in classrooms and making decisions about what and how to teach. Positioned between teachers' past experience as students and their future experience as teachers, university-based teacher education is well situated to encourage this shift in thinking. Unless pre-service teachers reconstruct their early beliefs about teaching, learning, students, and subject matter, continuing experience will solidify these beliefs, making them even less susceptible to change.

A second task of teacher preparation particularly suited to university-based study is helping future teachers develop conceptual and pedagogical knowledge of their teaching subjects. Current educational reforms have prompted renewed interest in teachers' subject matter knowledge because they call for a kind of teaching that engages students not only in acquiring knowledge, but also in building and communicating about knowledge. This task depends on contributions from arts and sciences, and education.

To build bridges between subject matter and students, teachers must understand what children are like at different ages, how they make sense of their world, how their ways of thinking and acting are shaped by their language and culture, how they gain knowledge and skills, and develop confidence as learners. This background knowledge becomes increasingly critical as teachers work with children whose racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds differ from their own.

In order to learn from teaching, teacher candidates must develop the necessary tools and dispositions. This includes skills of observation, interpretation and analysis, the habit of supporting claims about student learning with evidence, the willingness to consider alternative explanations. If teacher candidates work on these skills with others, they may begin to see colleagues as resources in learning to teach.

Although teachers need to know many things, effective teaching depends on the ability to use knowledge appropriately in particular situations. Pre-service teachers can begin developing a repertoire of approaches to curriculum, instruction, and assessment during pre-service preparation. Learning to adapt and use this knowledge in practice is an appropriate task for teacher induction.

Teacher Induction and Learning to Teach

Induction happens with or without a formal program; however, the presence of a strong program can minimize the survival mentality that grips so many beginning teachers and orient their learning in productive directions. Beginning teachers need to learn the goals and standards for students at their grade level, and how these expectations fit into a larger framework of curriculum and assessment. They must get to know their students and community, and figure out how to use this knowledge in developing a responsive curriculum.

If teacher preparation has been successful, beginning teachers will have a vision of good teaching and a beginning repertoire consistent with that vision. A major task for beginning teachers is acquiring the local understandings and developing the flexibility of response to enact this repertoire. The challenges of teaching alone for the first time can discourage new teachers from trying ambitious pedagogies. Induction support can keep them from abandoning such approaches in favor of what they perceive as safer, less complex activities. It can also help novices focus on the purposes and not just the management of learning activities and their meaning for students.

To teach in ways that respond to students and move learning forward, teachers must be able to elicit and interpret students' ideas and generate appropriate teaching moves as the lesson unfolds. Listening to what students say and constructing responses on a moment-to-moment basis; and attending to the needs of the group while attending to individuals requires considerable skill and practice: It represents a demanding learning task for beginning teachers. Beginning teachers must create and maintain a classroom learning community that is safe, respectful, and productive of student learning. Issues of power and control lie at the heart of this task that is tied up with novices' evolving professional identity. Often beginning teachers struggle to reconcile competing images of their role as they evolve a coherent professional stance.

If teachers are asked how they learned to teach, they will say they learned to teach by teaching. Although experience plays an important role in learning to teach, there is a big difference between "having" experience and learning desirable lessons from that experience. To learn from the experience of teaching, teachers must be able to use their practice as a site for inquiry. This means turning confusions into questions, experimenting with new approaches and studying the effects, and framing new questions to extend their understanding.

The ongoing study and improvement of teaching is difficult to accomplish alone. Teachers need opportunities to talk with others about teaching, to analyze samples of student work, to compare curricular materials, to discuss problems and consider different explanations and actions. Many reformers believe that this kind of intellectual work can best be accomplished by groups of teachers working together over time.

See also: Language Arts, Teaching of; Mathematics Education, subentry on Preparation of Teachers; Motivation, subentry on Instruction; Reading, subentry on Teaching of; Science Education, subentry on Preparation of Teachers; Social Studies Education, subentry on Preparation of Teachers; Teacher Education; Teacher Learning Communities; Writing, Teaching of.


Ball, Deborah, and Cohen, David. 1999. "Developing Practice, Developing Practitioners: Toward a Practice-Based Theory of Professional Education." In Teaching as the Learning Profession: Handbook of Policy and Practice, ed. Linda Darling-Hammond and G. Sykes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ball, Deborah, and McDiarmid, William. 1990. "The Subject Matter Preparation of Teachers. In Handbook of Research on Teacher Education, ed. W. Robert Houston. New York: Macmillan.

Borko, Hilda, and Putnam, Ralph. 1996. "Learning to Teach." In Handbook of Educational Psychology, ed. David C. Berliner and Robert C. Calfee. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Feiman-Nemser, Sharon, and Remillard, Janine. 1996. "Perspectives on Learning to Teach." In The Teacher Educator's Handbook: Building a Knowledge Base for the Preparation of Teachers, ed. Frank B. Murray. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fideler, Elizabeth, and Haselkorn, David. 1999. Learning the Ropes: Urban Teacher Induction Practices in the United States. Belmont, MA: Recruiting New Teachers.

Grossman, Pamela. 1990. The Making of a Teacher. New York: Teachers College Press.

Lortie, Dan. 1975. Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. 1996. What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. New York: National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

Reynolds, Maynard, ed. 1989. Knowledge Base for the Beginning Teacher. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Ryan, Kevin. 1970. Don't Smile until Christmas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schon, Donald. 1987. Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shulman, Lee. 1986. "Those Who Understand: Knowledge Growth in Teaching." Educational Researcher 15 (2):414.

Sharon Feiman-Nemser


Teaching has been the subject of systematic inquiry for several decades. The first American Educational Research Association Handbook of Research on Teaching, edited by Nathaniel L. Gage, appeared in 1963 and later editions have appeared at approximately ten-year intervals. Since the 1960s there have also been a number of significant reviews of this research, such as Arnold Morrison and Donald McIntyre's 1969 and 1973 editions of Teachers and Teaching and Penelope L. Peterson and Herbert J. Walberg's Research on Teaching (1979). Such reviews have highlighted both the complexity of teaching and the fact that it is amenable to study from a number of perspectives, using a variety of methods.

Inquiry into teaching has been pursued for essentially three different purposes. First, researchers and practitioners aim to understand better the processes involved, to develop the knowledge base of teaching, and to contribute to theoretical frameworks, which help to conceptualize teaching. Second, inquiry into teaching has also been pursued for the purposes of improving practice. This is particularly the case, for instance, in action research studies that generally follow a cycle, beginning with the identification of a practical problem or area of concern, followed by the gathering of evidence using various research methods, decisions about how to change practice, and then the gathering of further evidence to monitor the effects of the change. Such cycles are frequently repeated and provide a means of constantly monitoring and improving practice as well as developing an enhanced self-critical awareness. Third, inquiry is intrinsic to professional preparation, and research methods may be employed by student teachers, for example, in helping to make sense of their observations of teaching and in developing their own practice. Classroom interaction schedules, for example, have frequently been used to help student teachers to structure their observations and to note the ways in which teachers ask questions, or move from one task to another within the classroom, or deal with student behavior problems. Any one research project, however, may be being pursued for any or all of these purposes and could draw upon a variety of different research methods in order to achieve its aims.

Research Methods

Various methods have been used to gather information about teaching. The most common fall into the following categories: systematic observation, case study and ethnography, survey techniques, simulations, commentaries, concept mapping, and narratives. Each yields its own distinctive type of data about teaching, and may be more or less appropriate for different purposes as discussed below.

Systematic observation. Ned Flanders in 1970 was the first to popularize the use of observation schedules in the study of teaching. His Flanders Interaction Analysis Categories (FIAC) identified ten categories of behavior that characterised teacher-student interaction within the classroom. Observers, once trained in identifying and categorizing these behaviors, could then code their observations, which would later be studied for interaction patterns. Flanders's work has since been elaborated with numerous schedules designed for specific purposes. Observation schedules essentially provide a checklist of behaviors that the researcher is interested in, and enable a sample of teachers' interactions to be described in quantitative terms. Sometimes the schedule is more oriented towards studying a sequence of teaching behavior rather than the quantity of different types of behavior and may be used to identify the ways in which behaviors change over time or as a result of an experimental intervention.

The major advantage of systematic observation is that it provides a relatively objective account of classroom behavior. For instance it might describe the proportion of questions that a teacher asks that are open-ended, or the proportion of teacher commands that have a disciplinary focus, or the relative number of times that teachers or students initiate interaction. The method, however, is rarely able to offer much information about the context of particular interactions, and is unable to illuminate the interpretations that teachers and students place upon their own and others' behavior. A question directed toward a student, for instance, may be a matter of simple recall for one, an intellectually challenging task for another, a largely social exchange in one context or an implied reprimand in a different context, and the observer may be unable to distinguish sufficient cues to appreciate fully its significance. Systematic observation may be useful, therefore, in considering the general impact of new curriculum materials on instructional behavior, for example, but may have limited value on its own in identifying the full complexities of teachers' work, why teachers behave as they do, and the reasoning that guides their actions.

Case study and ethnography. Some have argued that case study and ethnography refer more to approaches to research than methods in themselves. Frequently they draw upon interviews and semi-structured observations, though occasionally on other evidence as well, in order to come to an understanding of a particular teacher's practice. One of their distinguishing features is that they involve indepth study. Over a lengthy period of time, the researcher is able to appreciate the context in which a teacher works, and through interaction with the teacher about their practice is able to develop insights into how they view their work. These insights can then be tested against future observations or other data. Gaea Leinhardt (1988), for example, observed several mathematics lessons taught by one teacher and interviewed her at length both about her teaching and about her past experiences of mathematics. As a result, she was able to piece together an understanding of the ways in which the teacher's own learning of mathematics as a student and her experiences of professional training had come to influence her approach to teaching the subject. Case studies have frequently highlighted the ways in which teachers cope with the complex competing demands that they face in their work or the ways in which beginning teachers encounter and overcome the initial difficulties of learning to teach.

Case studies and ethnographies frequently involve the analysis of very large amounts of qualitative data, and some writers have drawn attention to the possibility that researchers can extract from these their own particular interpretations. The potential of ethnographic research to yield generalizations about teaching has also been debated, with some researchers arguing that the merit of the approach lies in the insights about particular aspects of teaching that such studies can provide.

Survey techniques. Surveys on teachers and teaching have relied on the use of questionnaires, structured interviews, checklists, tests, or attitude scales. Surveys have been used to describe the characteristics of teachers as a professional group, such as their attitudes towards children, their opinions about a particular innovation, or their own aspirations and feelings of job satisfaction. They have also been used to collect teachers' own descriptions of their practices or the professional concerns they have at different stages of their careers.

Surveys allow data to be collected about large numbers of teachers, and if appropriate sampling techniques are used and a sufficiently high return rate is obtained, it is possible to make generalizations about teachers as a whole or about particular groups of teachers, such as elementary school teachers, or teachers in a particular subject area or geographical region. Surveys, however, can only collect information that teachers can easily report, and other methods are required if the researcher wishes to penetrate more deeply into the complex interactions of teachers' thinking and behavior and the contexts in which they work.

Simulations. A variety of simulation techniques have been developed that involve presenting teachers with a task or situation similar to one that would be encountered in their normal work and observing how systematic variations in the nature of different tasks or situations affects the ways teachers aim to deal with them. Such techniques have been used to investigate how teachers plan lessons, how they are influenced in their decision-making by external constraints, or how they are influenced in their interactions with students by different student attributes. Mary M. Rohrkemper and Jere E. Brophy (1983), for example, provided teachers with descriptions or vignettes of children in a variety of classroom situations, each presenting a particular challenge to the teacher. By examining the relationship between the teachers' judgements or decisions and the factors varying within the vignettes, it was possible to identify those features of children that are influential in teachers' thinking about problem situations. Simulations can be used to elicit the knowledge that teachers have and use in their everyday practice and that might be difficult to access through other methods.

Commentaries. Understanding the processes of teaching involves understanding the meaning teachers attribute to their actions and the rationales they have for behaving as they do. Attempts to access the ongoing thinking and decision-making of teachers have necessitated the use of methods particularly geared toward eliciting teachers' knowledge and thought processes. This has included think-aloud protocols where teachers, while engaged in a planning or assessment task, for example, have attempted to verbalize their thoughts at the same time. The thinking and decision-making of teachers during active teaching have been elicited using stimulated recall techniques in which a lesson is videotaped and later played back to the teachers who attempt to recall their thinking at the time. Some researchers have also used the notes taken from observation of lessons to structure interviews with teachers afterwards in order to construct a commentary on what the teacher was doing and the reasons for their actions.

Research in this area has raised several issues about the status of teachers' verbal reports on their practice: Do they genuinely reflect teachers' real thinking at the time, or are they after-the-event justifications? And can the thought that accompanies practical action be adequately represented in terms of words alone, or is "real" thought as much tied up with images, metaphors, and feelings? There are several conceptual issues concerning this type of research method, and clearly care must be taken to consider potential sources of distortion in self-report data. Nevertheless, steps can be taken to minimize such influences, and these methods have been used effectively to explore some of the cognitive aspects of teachers' work.

Concept mapping. Several techniques, loosely labelled as concept mapping, have been used to represent teachers' understanding of various aspects of their work. They generally follow a three-stage process, beginning with brainstorming on a particular topic to identify concepts, followed by a process of indicating how these concepts are interrelated, and finally naming the relationships between the concepts. The end product is a visual representation of teachers' understanding as it relates to a particular topic. Greta Morine-Dershimer (1991), for example, used the technique to identify the ways in which different student teachers think about classroom management: some student teachers, for example, would link classroom management to concepts of personal relationships, classroom climate, and an ethos of mutual respect, whereas others would link it to concepts of rules, sanctions, rewards, and praise. Such techniques can help to illuminate the different understandings that student teachers hold of key concepts or may be used to identify the changes that occur in teachers' understandings over time or as a result of inservice training or curriculum development.

Narratives. Narrative studies aim to provide an account of teaching in teachers' own words. They support an experiential approach to describing teachers' work, taking particular note of the teachers' "voice" and placing teachers' experience within the context of other life events. Narrative researchers have frequently argued against more mechanistic approaches to describing teaching and have argued for a storytelling approach in which the researcher acts as a facilitator helping teachers to recount their experience with due recognition of the personal and contextual factors within which it is framed. D. Jean Clandinin (1986), for example, develops narrative accounts of three primary teachers. Each narrative highlights a key image or guiding metaphor that is influential in shaping how the teacher thinks about teaching and learning. One teacher, for instance, held an image of "language as the key" and language was perceived as the basis of all classroom activity. Another held the image of "classroom as home" and this image manifested itself in her relationships with children and in her organization of the classroom. In 1994 J. Gary Knowles, Ardra L. Cole, and Colleen S. Presswood charted the difficulties of student teachers on field experience through the construction of narratives, drawing largely on the students' own autobiographies, diaries, and discussions. This approach to research has grown rapidly in recent years and has stimulated several debates about the status and veracity of narratives.


Research on teaching has involved a wide range of different methods. Each has its own advantages as well as its drawbacks. Each has the potential to illuminate particular aspects of the teaching process. Different methods are appropriate for different questions. Moreover, certain orientations towards researchsuch as cognitive or experientialpredispose researchers to certain types of inquiry and therefore particular methods. Teaching, however, is a complex process and the rich and diverse modes of inquiry currently available enable researchers to pursue those complexities and to contribute to their understanding more fully.

See also: Research Methods; Teacher Education; Teacher Evaluation.


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James Calderhead


views updated May 21 2018



A conventional view of teaching holds that it requires no more than Mark Hopkins, a boy, and a log. Common sense tells us we may dispense with the log but that two people, not necessarily man and boy, are essential. Further, there must be an understanding between the two that one knows more about something than the other and should impart it. According to this view, the act of teaching is a simple process: it is to give or impart knowledge.

The conventional view provides us with a plausible model. It suggests popular notions of what may go wrong: poor teaching occurs when teachers have too little knowledge or too little skill to impart the knowledge they have. Yet the model is not satisfying. In referring only to the teacher, it neglects the interaction of teacher and pupil, and it fails to explain the universal, if intermittent, resistance of pupils, the hostility, sometimes alternating with admiration and love, so often directed at teachers.

For there is conflict in teaching; it is a tension-filled, chancy process. Resistance to teaching occurs among pupils who are able and anxious to learn; it occurs when teachers teach well. It is not confined to schools but frequently occurs in the informal teaching situations of everyday life, as everyone knows who has tried to teach a friend to drive a car.

We can approach understanding of one source of the conflict between teacher and pupil if we think of teaching as an attempt to change the pupil by introducing him to new ideas. In this model, teaching is an assault on the self, and resistance to it can be explained as unwillingness to upset one’s inner status quo. Plausible as it may seem, the model is nevertheless limited in application. It illuminates the rare case: the pupil sufficiently aware of the power of ideas to fear and combat them, the pupil with an eager and persuasive teacher of a subject full of ideas of the kind that open new worlds of understanding of self. It does not explain the much more common case of the forgetful, indifferent pupil who has a dull teacher of a dry subject. But it is probable that there is as much, if not more, conflict between teacher and pupil in the latter case than in the former. We need a model of teaching that fits all types of pupils, teachers, and subjects.

A conflict model of teaching . In every teaching situation, the teacher is, at least temporarily, the superior and his pupil the subordinate, a relationship we may express in prepositional form as follows: A (the superior) originates interaction for B (the subordinate), and B responds according to A’s wishes; more simply, A gives orders that B obeys (Homans 1950, p. 244). From the superior’s standpoint, this statement describes a situation in which his ability to control B’s response is unquestioned— an ideal not always attained. When control is uncertain, the ideal takes on the force of obligation: if A does not control B’s response, he should; as superior, it is his responsibility.

We can apply this conditional form of Homans’ proposition to teaching. As teacher, A originates interaction for B by imparting knowledge or directing him to it. At the same time, A accepts the obligation to see to it that B responds as he (A) wishes. In fulfilling his responsibility, A evaluates the correctness of B’s response and controls B’s behavior during the interaction sufficiently to make correct response possible. Essentially, A’s role is that of command and B’s of submission.

While not inevitable, conflict between teacher and pupil is predictable in this model (Waller [1932] 1961, p. 195). The absence, rather than the presence, of resistance requires explanation when one person seeks so much control over another. Teaching, in this model, is making the pupil learn; and a teacher’s task is one of so managing the conflict his efforts may provoke that submission is temporary and the pupil’s spirit unbroken.

Reduction of conflict. Our difficulties with teaching in everyday life suggest that subordination is indeed central to teaching. We feel most at ease when A’s status outside the teaching dyad is superior to B’s. If not always gladly, young people accept teaching from their elders, and neophytes take it from old hands. Subordination becomes an issue, however, when A is equal or inferior in status to B. In these circumstances, we use a variety of devices to mitigate conflict. Between friends, what is essentially a nonreciprocal relationship can be phrased, “I’ll teach you to swim, if you teach me to. . . .” Each takes responsibility for the other in this interaction, but not simultaneously. We depend on the promised reversal of role to sweeten subordination.

In more structured relationships, reciprocity may be impossible. Situations arise in which one of two persons equal in rank knows something the other must know to carry on his work. When this happens, the latter may be induced to ask for help, so that the teacher seems less like a teacher because he does not originate the interaction. The word “teaching” is not used. Instead, one colleague “helps out” another or “lends a hand.” The helper may go out of his way to make clear that he considers himself superior in knowledge to his colleague solely on the matter at hand.

Teaching is inappropriate when B has very high status. Captains of ships are not teachable during command, or company presidents on matters of business. In fact, it is folk wisdom not to try to teach anyone his business, whatever his rank. When instruction is needed, high-ranking people employ a consultant on specific problems for which he is asked to furnish solutions to be tried out only after he has gone. Deprived of control over his pupil’s learning and of opportunity to evaluate it, the consultant is less threatening to the man who hires him, but he leaves the scene with an uncomfortable sense of unfulfilled responsibility.

Not using the word “teaching” when teaching is being done, inducing the pupil to ask for it, reciprocity of role, and strict limitation of the area of expertise are devices commonly used to avoid the conflict inherent in teaching. Yet uneasiness, if not hostility, remains. Friend, consultant, and helper still feel responsible for their pupil’s response and may try to control it. Learners must hide from themselves the knowledge that even in such a truncated relationship they may have revealed themselves incapable of correct response. One can send away the teacher but not before he has taken one’s measure.

School and classroom

The devices that mitigate conflict between teacher and pupil in everyday life are seldom used (although they may be play-acted) in the schoolroom. The teacher’s status as an adult makes reciprocity of role unthinkable, since he cannot be put in the position of child-pupil. In so-called democratic teaching methods, interaction may seem to originate with the pupil, but all except the youngest sense the teacher’s guiding hand and frequently resent the pretense (Seeley et al. 1956, p. 271).

A pupil may take the initiative by asking for help with a problem, so that the teacher becomes a tutor-consultant who acts as if both he and the pupil had to satisfy outside examiners. But this form of interaction is necessarily infrequent; no matter what efforts school and teachers make to teach individuals, much of the day continues in the lockstep the school’s economy of time and space requires. The teacher talks to all his pupils as a unit; he assigns lessons and gives examinations to the group. If there are outside examiners, he does his own testing and grading first. It is only at the end of a schooling sequence, when pupils move on to another system, that teacher and class join efforts to pass examinations.

Authority of the teacher . In everyday teaching situations, we minimize potential conflict by limiting the teacher’s power or pretending it does not exist. Schools do the opposite. They support and legitimate his authority in a number of ways. The teacher has the advantage of his own ground—the self-contained unit of the classroom and the enclosing walls of the school building, which cut the pupil off from the rest of his world. The teacher has dependable allies in other teachers, the school administration, and the state. His methods of control and evaluation (discipline and grading) receive institutional support in the record keeping of the administration. While there may be misunderstandings among these allies of the teacher and vulnerability to outside pressures, they have the advantage of being adults dealing with children. They maintain a continuing order in which the pupil is always subject to the authority of a teacher, in a school the law requires him to attend.

The school also bolsters the teacher’s authority by legitimating his claims to knowledge. It assures the community that its teachers have academic degrees and experience. Furthermore, the schoolteacher deals with knowledge systems that have an objective character intrinsically separate from the person of both the teacher and the pupil (Simmel 1950, p. 132). Teacher and pupil do not simply agree, as in informal teaching, that the teacher has superior knowledge; it is a matter of public consensus that he does.

With so many allies and so much support of his authority, the teacher’s position seems unassailable. If there is to be some form of conflict between him and his pupils, he must surely win. Pupils are not defenseless, however. Their parents may intercede, and the law usually forbids corporal punishment. In the classroom they have the great advantage of being many to the teacher’s one. Like any group, pupils can better their condition by acting together to solve common problems, and a united class provides a teacher with a formidable opponent.

In strictly run schools, however, where grades are of primary importance, the teacher often avoids conflict between himself and his pupils by encouraging conflict among the pupils themselves. He prevents pupils from joining in collective action against him by inducing them to compete with each other in classwork. He has each pupil recite to him rather than to the class and upholds the fiction that learning takes place legitimately only within the dyad of teacher and pupil. When a teacher structures interaction in the classroom in this way, pupils are very aware that they offer the same product to a teacher whose chief role is that of evaluator of products. But, as Marshall ([1963] 1965, pp. 181-183) notes, similarity need not divide; competitors often become partners. When they do, a new form of conflict develops, in which pupils unite to bargain with the teacher about the terms of their cooperation with him. In modern egalitarian societies, where teachers often feel uncomfortable in an authoritarian role and deplore competition for grades, bargaining is probably the most frequent form of conflict between teacher and pupils.

Bargaining between teacher and pupils . The fact that the school’s economy requires the teacher to treat his class as a unit in many, if not all, respects undoubtedly facilitates the development of consensus and collective action on the part of pupils or, as it has elsewhere been called, “student culture” (Becker et al. 1961, pp. 435-437). The term designates a subtle use of the businessman’s device of limiting the area of the teacher’s expertise. This student action is a drive for a modicum of autonomy expressed in bargaining with the teacher about matters he does not conventionally define as teaching but for which he nevertheless feels responsible: control of the pupil’s behavior during learning.

By listening carefully to what a teacher says he wants in class and comparing among themselves what grades or comments he gives for what kinds of work, and by “trying things on” (mass shoelace tying, for instance) in the early days of a school term, a class may reach a consensus about its teacher’s standards, both academic and disciplinary. It then transforms what the teacher says and does into rules for him to follow. He must not change these rules the class makes for him, and he must apply them to all pupils.

It does not matter much how high a teacher sets standards of quiet, neatness of work, or promptness, although there will be protests if his standards are out of line with those of other teachers. What does matter is consistency of application. In the eyes of his pupils, this is the teacher’s part of the bargain. If it is not kept, he can expect trouble. Teachers who fail to understand the basic premise —“We will behave properly, if you behave properly”—find themselves continually engaged in disciplining pupils rather than imparting knowledge.

Some of the rules of the bargain pupils make with a teacher are in that gray area continually subject to negotiation—degrees of neatness or quietness, for example. Other rules are clear-cut: a teacher may not give a test on things not in the text or on matters not covered in class. Rules vary from classroom to classroom and from one school to another, of course, and with the age and sophistication of pupils. But everywhere the largely unspoken bargain his pupils make with him constrains the teacher’s behavior whether he knows it or not.

Pupils have effective sanctions which they use to reward and punish teachers who fail to live up to the bargain, sanctions few teachers can withstand. On one day, when a visitor comes, they delight the teacher with exemplary behavior; on the next, they generate an uproar in the classroom that is loud enough to echo in the ears of the principal, the parents, and the entire community. Dependent on his pupils’ good will and cooperation, the teacher soon accedes to the bargaining practices of the class, often entering the game on his own behalf. He says, in effect, “If you will be quiet, you may have more time for the test”; by this action he not only recognizes and thus strengthens the collectivity but also tolerates illicit academic practice in order to secure discipline (Blau [1955] 1963, pp. 215-217).

The bargain also defines the teacher’s jurisdiction. Pupils agree that in his classroom the teacher may legitimately control the academic (lessons and tests), attempt to control the quasi-academic (note passing and pencil sharpening), and justly refer the nonacademic (dress and morals) to the more encompassing authority of the principal. In pupils’ eyes, however, it is always the academic that legitimizes a teacher’s control. Hallways, washrooms, and yards are spatially removed from books and study; the teacher controls them as he can.

The teacher is not likely to see the logic of these distinctions. He knows that if he is to control one pupil’s academic response in the classroom, control of the whole class is a prerequisite, and that control of the class depends upon the discipline of adjacent rooms and hallways. The school administration, pursuing its bureaucratic course, also finds behavior unrelated to the academic threatening to the smooth functioning of the school and to its reputation. As a consequence, the dress, manners, and morals (sometimes the families of pupils in the case of less privileged groups) become areas of expertise and attempted control. In some schools, teachers and administration rationalize the extension by asserting responsibility, difficult to realize, over the “whole child.” It often is in such apparently unimportant matters as proper dress that bargaining between teacher and pupils breaks down, opening the way to various forms of a third form of conflict—revolt.

Whatever its form—competition among pupils that the teacher must carefully perpetuate, bargaining in which he must share, or revolts he must put down—conflict is difficult for the teacher who clings to the conventional idea that his sole function is one of imparting knowledge. If he thinks of himself as a superior controlling the behavior of many unruly subordinates, he may eventually come to enjoy the battle.

Training institutions for teachers

Teachers’ colleges and university schools of education supply the school system with employees and share with it the long-range goal of educating the young. In view of this close relationship, we might expect training institutions to prepare teachers for conflict with pupils, but they do not. Instead, they follow the conventional model with which we began: to teach is to impart or offer knowledge. Would-be teachers learn subject matter and techniques of teaching. They take courses in test construction and interpretation, but testing is not recognized as a device for controlling pupils, and discipline (control of a collectivity) is seldom considered a proper subject of instruction. Offhand, such disjunction between the everyday work of an occupation and the training one receives for it seems extraordinary. Yet wherever training is separated from practice (which is to say, wherever there are schools), we find a similar situation. Most schools teach much that is never used and fail to teach what is.

We may explain the disjunction by referring to the situational perspectives (sets of beliefs and actions) of the various groups in the training institution that together make up its culture. People in both the schools and the training institutions for teachers develop ways of acting, goals, and interests in response to the particular problems posed by their situation (Becker et al. 1961, pp. 34-37). Schools and teachers’ colleges are both part of the larger hierarchy of educational institutions devoted to a common goal, but their immediate situations differ.

While school people must deal with local politics, neighborhoods (good and bad), parents, and other interest groups, teachers’ colleges exist in an academic setting different in situational imperatives and constraints. Theirs is the world of colleges and universities so apt to grant prestige, with all its privileges, largely to the scholarly disciplines. Since the conventional model of teaching emphasizes knowledge, it fits the academic world better than the conflict model with its insistence on social skills. Faculties of education may be “school-bred” —many institutions require professors to have taught in the public schools (Hughes 1963a, p. 152)—but the trend in such faculties over the years is toward a looser tie with the schools. Set apart on his campus with his higher pay and status, the teacher of teachers loses touch with teachers of children. His institution may formally reflect the organization of the school system by its division into special, elementary, and high school programs, and state licensing regulations may set the sequence of students’ courses; but these articulating devices tend more to restrict innovation by both training school and student than to bring future teachers closer to the conflict central to teaching.

Recruiting . The disjunction of training and work, which prevents the transmission of usefully exact knowledge of what to expect in an actual teaching situation, undoubtedly helps the school system to recruit young teachers. It is possible to fill teaching jobs even under conditions of shortage, but the schools want to do more than fill them. Like other service institutions and businesses, they want recruits of high ability committed to a lifetime career. In a word, they want professionals.

Unfortunately, students of the highest ability seldom enter training institutions for teachers (Vertein 1961), and not all graduates teach (Osborn & Maul 1961). There are excellent reasons for this. Of the proud old callings, teaching requires the least formal education and consequently the least investment of time, money, and energy. The school of education provides a relatively un-specific college program that can do no harm. To enter training is in no sense a commitment to a career. For would-be athletes, musicians, and artists uncertain of success as performers and for women whose first choice of career is marriage, a degree in education is a form of occupational insurance.

Although teaching is highly visible to children early in their lives, the exposure is not likely to attract them to the occupation. The teacher is too much of a daily antagonist to generate, for example, the charisma of the physician who comes to help the family in time of trouble. For children of manual workers, teaching may carry prestige; but for those of higher social origins, it is more likely to seem a hard life for the reward. As a woman’s occupation, it also bears the stigma (for both sexes) of woman’s low status in comparison with men; yet it is not feminine enough, except at the nursery level, to attract women strongly.

People who do enter teaching discover that in comparison with other occupations it is startlingly lacking in the auxiliary rewards that facilitate commitment (Becker 1960). Industry and business offer promotion to more responsible positions, while school teaching offers only increases in pay and trivial seniority privileges. Teachers leave the classroom, of course, to become specialists or administrators; but as long they continue to teach, there is little opportunity for the more-than-local influence possible in other professions through publication, lecturing, and consultation.

Although teachers deal with people rather than with things (an ancient status distinction), the people they deal with are minors. They miss the rewards, psychological and political, of serving people of high status and power. Their daily work is often programmed by state departments of educacation; nonteachers supervise and direct them in ways which make the autonomy prized by traditional professionals and entrepreneurs impossible. Under such conditions, we should not be surprised that the recruiting of committed professionals is difficult.

Career and profession

Once started on a teaching career, the disjunction between their preparation and actuality in the schools often hits teachers hard. Faced as they are each day with hostile children interminably bargaining for greater autonomy, we may wonder why any of them continue. In the absence of research, we can only speculate, but it is probable that many people find themselves committed to teaching because a first-choice career fails them. The desired marriage or acceptance in some world of athletics, literature, or art never materializes. Teachers may also commit themselves unwittingly because the occupation permits other involvements. For a married man, low pay may necessitate moonlighting, and this second job, fitted to a teaching schedule, may become so rewarding that he continues to teach. Married women who find that teaching fits well with household and child-rearing duties may also continue in teaching.

There is, in addition, the security of tenure and, frequently, happiness in inertia. School tasks repeat and repeat; year after year the round is the same. One may become so marked by immersion in the world of a slum school that one feels unfitted for any other (Becker 1952, p. 474). Responsibility to individuals is lessened by the constant turnover of pupils who sit in one’s class for a year and are gone. In time, bargaining for control of a class may become enjoyable. Some of the very things about teaching that discourage neophytes may keep veterans at it (Geer 1966).

Teachers as professionals . More positively, people may commit themselves to teaching because it is, in many respects, a profession. Teachers cannot claim the separate identity given by control of an esoteric body of knowledge (Hughes 1963b, p. 657), but they do have the esoteric skills of the classroom. They do not have professional societies strong enough to protect them from the incursions of the community, parents, and experts on education outside the school system, but it is usually in the interest of the principal to protect them (Becker 1953, pp. 133-139). They are supervised, but there is still something left of the lonely eminence of the classroom. Visibility of performance is low; and few people believe we have learned as yet how to measure teaching ability (Brim 1958).

In the community, teaching seems to retain some of the more unpleasant aspects of a profession. There are remnants of the expectation that teachers should be models of propriety for the young; even adults are sometimes embarrassed in their exacting presence. The public objects to demands for higher pay because teachers live on taxpayers’ money. They ought to serve the community gladly.

Teachers themselves display ambiguity about their status by having unions as well as professional societies. The latter have little control (although they increasingly attempt it) over ethics, recruiting, training, or legislation affecting teachers. They have not yet decided whether school administrators and specialists should be included in their associations as “teachers” or kept out as bosses and rivals. Unions help teachers to fight for higher pay and against the encroachments of duties in schoolyards, lunchrooms, and toilets. But they are more apt to lower that prestige so important to a marginal profession than to heighten it.

Teachers feel they have a poor public image and inadequate public appreciation, but for many teaching is a step up in social class and therefore in respect. Large city systems help teachers to get the additional education required for specialization and raises in pay. Opportunity to transfer to the pleas-anter working conditions in middle-class schools comes with seniority (Becker 1953). For men, schoolteaching may be a stopgap, if no longer a stepping-stone on the way to more prestigious careers. For women, it can be a satisfying and even creative occupation that intrudes less than others upon a husband and children.

Teachers are not professionals in the usual sense. They do not have clients who choose them, terminate the relationship, or bring to it the immediate need of help that tempers the client’s subordination to the physician or lawyer. In a broader sense, they are professionals with the society for client. We cannot do without their transmission, however imperfect, of its heritage. It is even probable that society would be quite different had children no opportunity to engage in conflict with their superior, the teacher, and hence no opportunity to learn early something of the strength that collective action brings to subordinates.

Blanche Geer

[See alsoAdult Education; Education; EducationalPsychology; Universities.]


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Becker, Howard S. 1952 The Career of the Chicago Public Schoolteacher. American Journal of Sociology 57:470-477.

Becker, Howard S. 1953 The Teacher in the Authority System of the Public School. Journal of Educational Sociology 27:128-141.

Becker, Howard S. 1960 Notes on the Concept of Commitment. American Journal of Sociology 66:32-40.

Becker, Howard S. 1962 The Nature of a Profession. Volume 62, pages 27-46 in National Society for the Study of Education, Yearbook. Part 1: Education for the Professions. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Becker, Howard S. et al. 1961 Boys in White: Student Culture in Medical School. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Blau, Peter (1955) 1963 The Dynamics of Bureaucracy: A Study of Interpersonal Relations in Two Government Agencies. Rev. ed. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Brim, Orville G. 1958 Sociology and the Field of Education. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Floud, Jean; and Scott, W. 1961 Recruitment to Teaching in England and Wales. Pages 527-544 in A. H. Halsey, Jean Floud, and C. Arnold Anderson (editors), Education, Economy, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Education. New York: Free Press.

Friedenberg, Edgar Z. 1965 Coming of Age in America. New York: Random House.

Geer, Blanche 1966 Notes on Occupational Commitment. School Review 74, no. 1:31-47.

Homans, George C. 1950 The Human Group. New York: Harcourt.

Hughes, Everett C. 1963a Is Education a Discipline? Pages 147-158 in John Walton and James L. Kuethe (editors), The Discipline of Education. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

Hughes, Everett C. 1963b Professions. Daedalus 92: 655-668.

Kob, Janpeter (1958)1961 Definition of the Teacher’s Role. Pages 558-576 in A. H. Halsey, Jean Floud, and C. Arnold Anderson (editors), Education, Economy, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Education. New York: Free Press. → This article is abridged and translated from Janpeter Kob’s Das soziale Berufsbewusstsein des Lehrers der hoheren Schule.

Marshall, Thomas H. (1963)1964 Ciass, Citizenship, and Social Development: Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. → Essays first published in book form as Sociology at the Crossroads and Other Essays. A paperback edition was published in 1965.

Mason, Ward S. 1961 The Beginning Teacher; Status and Career Orientations: Final Report on the Survey of New Teachers in the Public Schools 1956-57. U.S. Office of Education, Circular No. 664. Washington: U.S. Office of Education.

Osborn, W. W.; and Maul, R. C. 1961 New Emphasis Needed in Teacher Recruitment. Midland Schools 75: 20-21.

Parsons, Talcott (1959) 1961 The School Class as a Social System: Some of Its Functions in American Society. Pages 434-455 in A. H. Halsey, Jean Floud, and C. Arnold Anderson (editors), Education Economy and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Education. New York: Free Press. → First published in the Harvard Educational Review.

Seeley, John R. et al. 1956 Crestwood Heights: A Study of the Culture of Suburban Life. New York: Basic Books.

Simmel, GeorgThe Sociology of Georg Simmel. Edited and translated by Kurt H. Wolff. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press, 1950. → See especially pages 118-144 on “The Isolated Individual .and the Dyad.”

Snider, G. R.; and Long, D. 1961 Are Teacher Education Programs Attracting Academically Able Students? Journal of Teacher Education 12:407-411.

Stinchcombe, Arthur L. 1965 Rebellion in a High School. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.

Vertein, Lester D. 1961 A Study of the Personal-Social and Intellectual Characteristics of a Group of State College Students Preparing to Teach. Journal of Experimental Education 30:159-192.

Waller, Willard W. (1932) 1961 The Sociology of Teaching. New York: Russell.


views updated Jun 11 2018



At the present time, more is known about how people learn than ever before in human history, and breakthroughs in research are occurring with increasing frequency. The social sciences have contributed enormously to this body of theoretical knowledge, but the diffusion of pedagogical innovations remains problematic. New theories and practices usually do not completely displace existing pedagogies but are simply added to teachers instructional repertoire. Moreover, the translation of theory into classroom practice depends heavily on how well individual teachers understand the theories they were taught and how they put them into practice.

During the twentieth century psychologists and educational theorists developed a wide variety of models to explain how humans learn, and it is clear that ongoing basic research has begun to have an impact on pedagogical practice at all levels of the educational system. Recent research in neuroscience has also added a biological dimension to our understanding of the learning process, although the pedagogical implications of this research are still not clear.

Several important themes have emerged from this body of research. For example, there is substantial agreement that in order for deep learning to occur, learners must construct new knowledge themselves, through experience, reflection, and integration. Learners also must build on what they already know and believe, so they must reconcile existing knowledge with new knowledge and correct mistaken beliefs. Metacognitive skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, are primary goals of learning, but mastery of factual knowledge is also essential to critical thinking. Factual knowledge is best learned within conceptual frameworks that organize it in meaningful ways, and since subject disciplines use different frameworks, students need to learn a variety of approaches for organizing their knowledge.

These theories suggest that students must engage in learning tasks that require inquiry, experimentation, and active engagement in real-world problem solving. Group-based activities and projects are commonly used teaching methods in this paradigm, since cooperation and collaboration seem to facilitate the desired outcomes. The teachers content expertise is still important, but it is used in novel ways. Questioning and dialogue largely replace lecturing, and the teacher becomes an instructional coach who designs learning activities, facilitates discussion, and guides students through the process of learning.

With various adaptations, these principles can be applied at all levels of instruction, from early childhood to adult education. For example, in an elementary school, students use models of the sun, the earth, and the moon, and a bright lamp to conduct an experiment to explain the phases of the moon. At the end of the exercise, they write up their conclusions and take a test on the essential astronomical concepts. In a college biology course, student groups are presented with a case study on stream pollution. They work collaboratively to pool their biological knowledge, pose researchable questions, develop a learning plan that includes readings for the group, conduct an investigation of the questions, and finally produce scientifically defensible solutions. The product of their work is evaluated on the accuracy of their knowledge, the thoroughness of their research, and the quality of their scientific reasoning.

Although empirical research clearly supports the effectiveness of these pedagogical approaches, only the most progressive educational institutions promote and support them as the primary mode of instruction. Typically, selected activities and projects occur only sporadically within the context of traditional didactic instruction. The reasons these theories have not been more pervasive in education are related to some of the fundamental problems of translating theory into practice.

Beyond the difficulties of mastering new instructional methods and techniques, teachers often find it hard to abandon the role of expert didact and the instructional paradigm of drill and practice under which they were taught. Indeed, educational researchers have found that the intuitive beliefs of teachers about learning have a greater impact on their instructional practices than theoretical models derived from research. Outside the academy, parents and school boards often do not understand these new approaches and may resist their incorporation into their schools. In some cases, state education standards and curriculum guides may contradict new pedagogical models suggested by research. Finally, governments and school systems increasingly require standardized end-of-grade tests as part of school accountability, and teachers can find that teaching to the test is more important to their career success than considerations of effective pedagogy.

It is not sufficient for social scientists to demonstrate the effectiveness of new teaching methods and techniques, since pedagogical change requires attention to the gamut of social, cultural, and political forces that mitigate the translation of theory into practice.

SEE ALSO Curriculum; Education, Unequal; Freire, Paulo; Hegemony; Neuroscience; Schooling; Teacher Expectations; Teacher-Child Relationships; Teachers


Bransford, John D., Ann L. Brown, and Rodney R. Cocking, eds. 2000. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, expanded ed. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Edward M. Neal


views updated Jun 27 2018

632. Teaching (See also Education.)

  1. Aristotle (384322 B.C.) Greek philosopher who tutored Alexander the Great. [Gk. Hist.: NCE, 147]
  2. Arnold, Dr . wise headmaster of Rugby shows his understanding of youth. [Br. Lit.: Tom Browns School Days ; Magill II, 1039]
  3. Auburn schoolmaster learned and severe yet kind master of the village school. [Br. Poetry: Goldsmith The Deserted Village in Norton Literature ]
  4. Bhaer, Professor teaches writing to Jo; eventually marries her. [Am. Lit.: Little Women ]
  5. Brooks, Miss (Connie) popular TV show features a harried Miss Brooks as high school teacher. [TV: Our Miss Brooks in Terrace, II, 174]
  6. Chips, Mr . lovable and didactic schoolteacher. [Br. Lit.: Good-bye, Mr. Chips ]
  7. Chiron knowledgeable Centaur; instructed Achilles, Jason, and Asclepius. [Gk. Myth.: Parrinder, 62]
  8. Grundy, Miss Archies grumpy high school teacher. [Am. Comics: Archie in Horn, 87]
  9. Hartsook, Ralph backwoods schoolteacher has severe problems with boisterous older pupils. [Am. Lit.: The Hoosier School-master ; Magill I, 373]
  10. Hicks, Miss history teacher, antiquated but wise, impassioned, and just to her pupils. [Am. Lit.: Saroyan The Human Comedy in Magill I, 392]
  11. Kotter, Gabe teacher of Special Guidance Remedial Academics. [TV: Welcome Back, Kotter in Terrace, II, 423]
  12. Leonowens, Mrs. Anna young Welsh widow, tutors children and women of King of Siam. [Br. Lit.: Landon Anna and the King of Siam ; Am. Musical: Rodgers and Hammerstein The King and I in On Stage, 333]
  13. Moffat, Miss teacher in Welsh mining town. [Br. Lit.: The Corn Is Green; NCE, 2982]
  14. Pangloss character who taught Candide metaphysico-theologocosmolonigology. [Fr. Lit.: Candide ]
  15. Phillotson, Mr . Judes former schoolmaster. [Br. Lit.: Thomas Hardy Jude The Obscure ]
  16. Porpora famous music master of Consuelo and Haydn. [Fr. Lit.: Consuelo, Magill I, 156158]
  17. Silenus knowledgeable tutor of Bacchus. [Rom. Myth.: Daniel, 213]
  18. Socrates (469399 B.C.) Greek philosopher; tutor of Plato. [Gk. Hist.: NCE, 2553]
  19. Squeers, Wackford dismally ignorant schoolmaster, cruel to his charges. [Br. Lit.: Dickens Nicholas Nickleby ]
  20. Swift, Kate stern schoolteacher, takes pains to encourage any signs of genius. [Am. Lit.: Anderson Winesburg, Ohio in Benét, 1095]
  21. village schoolmaster stern yet kind; the rustics wondered that one small head could carry all he knew. [Br. Poetry: Gold-smith The Deserted Village in Magill IV, 823]


views updated May 29 2018

ped·a·go·gy / ˈpedəˌgäjē; -ˌgōjē/ • n. (pl. -gies) the method and practice of teaching, esp. as an academic subject or theoretical concept: the relationship between applied linguistics and language pedagogy | subject-based pedagogies. DERIVATIVES: ped·a·gog·ics / ˌpedəˈgäjiks/ n.


views updated May 18 2018

teach·ing / ˈtēching/ • n. 1. the occupation, profession, or work of a teacher.2. (teachings) ideas or principles taught by an authority: the teachings of the Koran.


views updated May 21 2018

pedagogy The science or art of teaching. Some sociologists of education use the term ‘pedagogical practices’ with reference to the methods and principles that inform educational techniques, and make a distinction between the expressed pedagogy (which the teacher purports to use), and his or her observed pedagogy in practice. The former may be liberal (or ‘progressive’), emphasizing the needs and autonomy of the individual child, whereas the latter may be conservative (aimed at preserving the authority and expertise of the teacher as a professional). This distinction is therefore analogous to that between the formal and hidden curriculum.

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