An interview with Dr. Robert Swerdlow

Michael F. Shaughnessy • Eastern New Mexico University, College of Education and Technology • Portales, New Mexico









1) What is currently lacking in teacher education programs?

Many of our doctors and lawyers are now being prepared with the aid of training programs that are performance-based. Most teachers, however, are not. Yet, teacher education students will need to master many skills if they are to be successful in their chosen profession. Those that do will be tomorrow's renaissance people. Praxiology - the knowledge of the practices of teaching, provides us with a clinical or professional body of subject matter, which can help bring this about. Praxiology is the study of human action and conduct. Its root is in the Greek word "praxis" meaning to do, or the practice of an art, science or technical occupation. Praxiology refers to the knowledge of practices, which is recognized as one of the four major domains of knowledge (formal, descriptive, prescriptive; praxiological). Praxiology is perhaps best represented in higher education within certain professional schools and departments including law, engineering, and medicine, Within these disciplines, training is largely designed around a clinical or professional body of subject matter, which serves to bring about what is valued through action. This same approach should now be used to train our teachers.

2) How can colleges and universities better prepare pre- and in-service teachers to deal with the wide variety of problems they will encounter?

Over the years, my research interests have focused on the praxis of the teaching process, especially as it relates to the pre- and in-service preparation of teachers. In this regard, I have developed a model, which provides a simplified representation of the major areas in which teachers must, by the very nature of their job, exhibit a high degree of competency. The praxis approach to teacher training presents us with powerful guidelines for creating unique, performance-based programs that can actually provide for the development of the "complete teaching professional."

3) What are the critical components of a good teacher education program?

Observations made of hundreds of teachers and professors as they engaged in the act of teaching, discussions held with scores of educational supervisors and administrators, and interviews with thousands of students of all ages, have allowed me to identify seven major components that appear to comprise the praxis of teaching. Knowledge is the overriding characteristic associated with two of the seven recognized components --- subject knowledge and professional knowledge. It is with these "knowledge" components (cognitive domain) that most teacher education programs have traditionally been involved. Clearly, teachers must know the subjects that they teach. They also need to become familiar with such important things as child and adolescent development, learning theory, educational philosophy, history of education, etc. But knowledge alone does not make for an outstanding teacher. In reality, very few students will be inspired and motivated by a teacher's mastery of the aforementioned areas of knowledge. Acting, writing, developing, managing and selling represent the five remaining components that have been identified in my research. These are the skill-based components (psychomotor domain) of the teaching process. Teachers who can effectively demonstrate one or more of these skills, whether consciously or unconsciously, appear to be some of our better teachers.

4) How can administrators and school systems deal with the lack of quality teachers?

One way to understand a complicated machine like an automobile or computer is to look at its component parts. Once we understand each part, we can study and improve upon how they all go together. We can use this same approach to look at and improve upon a complex event or process. Teaching is such a process. My work is based upon the hypothesis that it is the degree of mastery, both within and among the seven identified roles, (see response to question 3), that will determine a teacher's effectiveness. It stands to reason then, that in-service training, specifically designed to deliver a missing skill or skills that a teacher will need for success in the classroom, can provide us with a viable means for upgrading the overall quality of our teaching professionals.

5) Are there programs that could be used as in-services that would remediate deficiencies in teachers?

The Complete Teacher is a computer-based system developed for delivering training in the praxis of teaching. Apps are available for use on iPhones, iPods and iPads, as well as versions that run on both Mac and PC computer platforms. The program is designed around a complex clinical training model which views the teacher as an actor, developer, professional, manager, salesperson, subject expert, and writer. In other words, it provides for the development of the "complete teaching professional". The Complete Teacher Program is published by Complete Teacher Academy, 3 Little Falls Ct., Barnegat, New Jersey 08005, USA (phone 973-634-8788)

6) Why are teachers leaving the field and "burning out" so often?

Some say it's because teachers are not respected or supported by students, by parents, by boards of education, by administrators, by supervisors, by teacher training institutions, by politicians and so on. But while all of this is probably true, it's certainly not the complete answer. Let's face it, teaching is not an easy thing to do. It's a hard and demanding job. Teaching can be a draining experience even on the best of days!

7) Some subjects such as math, are simply more difficult to teach than others. What suggestions would you offer?

Sorry, but here I must disagree with your premise. As cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner pointed out in his seminal work, The Process of Education, any subject, no matter how difficult can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any person at any stage of development. Mr. Wizard did it. So did Carl Sagan. Sesame Street is still doing it. And we can too! As Cassius said to Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "The fault dear [Teacher], is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

8) Are good teachers born or made? How can they be made better?

Both! Good teachers are born and good teachers are made. And both types can benefit from the right kind of training.

9) What suggestions would you offer to beginning teachers?

Think about what you want to accomplish in your classroom. Identify the problem or goal and then spend the time and effort needed to ensure success in achieving the goal or solving the problem. And remember this --- "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got!" So keep an open mind. And don't be afraid to be abrasive when, in your best professional judgment, it can help to improve the educational process.

10) Are we really asking our teachers nowadays to do too much?

The true professional knows what he or she can and cannot do. Teachers must learn to say "No!" and to say it firmly. At times, this is the most professional thing to do.

11) In this age of inclusion and mainstreaming, what skills do teachers specifically need, and are they receiving them?

Dealing with diversity can be both a complex and an emotional issue, especially for the new or inexperienced teacher. Like other social changes, diversity can have both positive and negative effects on the educational process. By gaining a better understanding or these issues and having appropriate strategies, a teacher can increase the chances of managing diversity in a more effective manner. Therefore, it is important that he or she develop an awareness of diversity issues in teaching and learning; work to become informed of current best practice; and actively strive to develop his or her competence in the design and implementation of inclusive curricula. The Complete Teacher Program has been designed to help in this regard. What are the personality factors that make up a "good teacher"? Educational researchers have identified a myriad of personality factors in an attempt to describe the complex of characteristics (behavioral and emotional) that distinguishes one teacher from another. Most of these factors seem to fall into one of three general categories or domains of teaching behaviors --- cognitive, psychomotor and affective. Cognitive factors deal with the verbal information and intellectual skills of the teacher. The following behaviors are examples: associating, recalling, memorizing, listing, classifying, categorizing, discriminating, conceptualizing, paraphrasing, applying, solving, verbalizing, defining, summarizing and rationalizing. Psychomotor factors relate to a teacher's physical activities that require specific knowledge. Sample behaviors include, writing, typing, developing, organizing, leading, controlling and demonstrating. Affective domain factors encompass a teacher's feelings, and attitudes --- both positive and negative. Positive behaviors include smiling, embracing, sharing, not being late, coming to school every day, grading work on time, and communicating openly. Examples of negative behaviors are ignoring, avoiding, disrupting, and sub-vocalizing. The praxis model (as described above) incorporates within itself much of what some of our best teachers know (cognitive domain) and can do (psychomotor domain) in each of the seven performance roles that have been identified. Training activities designed to develop the desired cognitive and psychomotor personality factors are an integral part of the Complete Teacher Program. Affective domain components, although extremely important, are not emphasized to the same degree, however, since it is believed that affective values cannot be taught directly, except in very obvious ways.