What rabbis can teach about teaching

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Since we're largely in the dark about the value of most current modes of teacher preparation, our fingers get to itching when there may be some new research on the topic, as Stanford University's Pamela Grossman and fellow authors provide in a newly released study. They take on a potentially meaty and important challenge, looking at the similarities and differences in the professional education of clergy, teachers and clinical psychologists.

We generally figure we're in for a disappointment when it becomes clear that the goal of a study is primarily to lay the groundwork for further studies. Grossman's team isn't able to produce a whole lot of new insight on how these professions vary, concentrating instead on developing a new lexicon for future researchers. With better terminology, such as "representations," "decomposition," and "approximations of practice," researchers will be better able to describe the different aspects of methods courses that train future clergy, clinical psychologists and teachers in the nuts-and-bolts of what they'll be doing.

The study does contain a smattering of the kind of stuff our pragmatic selves are more apt to find interesting. In contrast to prospective clinical psychologists, prospective teachers appear to have fewer opportunities in the course of their training to engage in interactive practice, such as orchestrating a good class discussion. Instead they're more likely to do a lot of planning--planning lessons, planning units, planning classroom management.

Singularly insightful was a rabbi quoted in the study as he counseled his students on the importance of a good eulogy, paraphrased here. "If you do a good job at a funeral, that family will be bonded to you for generations. If you screw it up, you will be a son of a bitch for generations." We wonder if teacher educators deliver similarly blunt and true advice to teacher candidates on why good teaching is essential.