Teachers Should Be “Poised and Articulate”

At the end of what seems like a long chain of events back in 2007, I asked, and answered yes to, this question about professionalizing teacher practice:

Is there one or more cultural “teaching scripts” that might tend to stymie the practice of collecting and critically analyzing specific best-practice knowledge linked to academic outcomes?

Regardless whether yes is the correct answer to that question or not, I’d like to follow up and suggest one script that I think may be a significant culprit. Of course, in doing so, I will be making a solid leap away from firm ground, because cultural scripts are constructs that one can observe only indirectly, if at all:

[Cultural scripts] are not proposed as rules of behaviour but as rules of interpretation and evaluation. It is open to individuals in concrete situations whether to follow (or appear to follow) culturally endorsed principles, and if so, to what extent; or whether to manipulate them, defy them, subvert them, rebel against them, play creatively with them, etc. Whether or not cultural scripts are being followed in behavioural terms, however, the claim is that they constitute a kind of shared interpretive “background.”

One part of an “interpretive background” that I would suggest we share with regard to the idea of teaching is this: Teaching is “ethotic” and “pathotic” persuasion.

That is, the input of teaching is gauged in terms of the character of teachers (ethos) and their ability to navigate and control the emotional, cognitive-psychological, and interpersonal dynamics of learning (pathos). “Logetic” persuasion (logos)—which involves consideration of the presentation and organization of content in isolation–is really not part of the script for teaching or is, at best, completely overshadowed.

Consider these ethotic/pathotic selection criteria for the National Teacher of the Year award as a bit of indirect evidence for the existence of this script. These are the exact same as they were at least 8 years ago:

  • Inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn.
  • Have the respect and admiration of students, parents, and colleagues.
  • Play an active and useful role in the community as well as in the school.
  • Be poised, articulate, and possess the energy to withstand a taxing schedule.

In short, we tend to view better teaching exclusively as a function of better people (more compassionate or caring or moral or humane, etc.), and almost never as a function of better technical information (“mere technicians”)–a script which makes the compilation and dispensation of best-practice knowledge nearly unimaginable.

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J.D. Fisher

J.D. Fisher

Josh Fisher is an author and designer for K-12 mathematics curricula, currently in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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