Sunday, March 16, 2008

Teachers in Martinique

On Friday I attended a conference for graduate students at Harvard. The conference was run quite well -- if any grad students are reading I'd encourage you to go and present next year -- and the amenities were quite remarkable given the unbeatable $0 registration fee. I saw a number of interesting presentations, but have been quite busy (I'm now in NYC for another conference) so I'm just going to mention one that I found even more interesting than others.

During the last session of the day Nick Gozik, a student from NYU, spoke about his research (I'm quite sure it's his dissertation) that he conducted in Martinique. Martinique is an island in the Caribbean (somewhat near Venezuela) that was a French colony and their education system is still under the control of France. He spent most of a year on the island and says he spoke with half of the high-school teachers in the system, so you can imagine how much information he collected.

Given that this will take him hundreds of pages to explain, I'm just going to briefly summarize two points I found interesting.

1.) He said that teachers repeatedly emphasized that they followed the curriculum because they were professionals (history teachers identified themselves as "historians," etc.) rather than due to any external forces. The current trend here right now is to essentially punish those who don't follow the curriculum by "holding them accountable." Teachers are different in the two different countries, but I found this contrast fascinating.

2.) Even more interesting is that principals were not responsible for evaluating teachers in their schools because they were not experts in most of the fields (e.g. when a math teacher becomes a principal they do not feel prepared to evaluate a history teacher). Instead, inspectors came to the schools occasionally and both trained and evaluated teachers. I do wonder if this model might actually be better than our current model in the U.S. where principals are essentially expected to both know how and actually do everything. We read an article in a class last week about educational administrators lacking deep knowledge of many subject areas and ways to address this. Our class was divided over whether attempts should be made to intensely train principals in all subjects or if instructional leadership should be ceded to an expert in each field (we were thinking perhaps a revision of the dept. head role, but an outside inspector is another interesting idea).

1 comment:

Attorney DC said...

I think the Martinique approach of having outside subject experts evaluate teachers is great. That approach definitely treats teachers more like professionals and experts in their chosen field, rather than so many interchangeable pegs.

Plus, it takes some of the complete autocratic control that principals may have over their teachers (especially in the absence of effective teacher unions) away, and substitutes a more balanced approach. Great idea!