Is Teaching a Team Sport?

Team SportJohn Merrow recently blogged about a comment made by the Center for Teaching Quality’s Barnett Berry:  “Teaching is a team sport,” he told Merrow.  Merrow was left wondering—is this true?  Baseball is a team sport, with everyone needing to work together for success, while at the same time allowing for individual statistics and honors.  But does teaching fit that definition?  He finds six elements that prevent a “yes” to that question.

First, “the ‘egg crate’ architecture” of schools keeps each classroom separated from others.  Also, school schedules do not support team play—most teachers spend their entire day inside their own classroom and have little opportunity to work together.  Third, the very language used in schools, such as “team teaching,” imply that only teachers who share a classroom are a team—everyone else is autonomous.  Teacher evaluations are also done on an individual basis, with few points given for if/how the teacher contributes to overall school culture or success.

School governance is another area where there is no sense of team.  “Often it’s ‘labor versus management,’ with teachers punching a time clock twice a day.”  Teachers are not asked their opinions on school or colleague performance, they are not given discretion to make decisions that might affect others outside of their classroom—in short, they are not treated as trustworthy partners in the school mission.  Finally, Merrow argues that the “emerging pay structure flies in the face of the idea that teaching is a team sport.”

Merrow believes that most teachers want teaching to be a team sport, but that the current system doesn’t allow for it.  He proposes that teaching should be recognized as a team sport, “and education as a team activity.  The ‘team’ is the school, and everyone in the school is on the team, including secretarial staff and custodians.”  Furthermore, education can’t have a simple win/loss record due to its complexity: it should include academic measures, attendance and turnover rates of students and teachers, community involvement, and more.  Merit pay could then be divided up when the team achieves the agreed-upon goals.

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