The Praxiology of Teaching

Dr. Robert Swerdlow • professor emeritus • New York University


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"Critics have said subpar teaching programs too often hamper school-systems, churning out graduates familiar with theory but lacking in practical classroom skills." — New York Times —

"The focus of teacher education is on knowledge and desire; while teacher training emphasizes application! A teacher's professional development requires both — education for building the mind and training for providing the skills." — Professor Robert Swerdlow, NYU —

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; and 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 — or what ought to be — through action. Many of our doctors and engineers 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 and recent graduates will need to master many skills if they are to be successful in their chosen profession.
Over the years, this author's 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 summary, a model was developed to provide a simplified representation of the major role areas in which teachers must, by the very nature of their job, have considerable knowledge and skills. The model then served in the identification of desired teaching competencies; the selection of all training content and components; and the development of a criterion-referenced delivery system. While today's teachers wear many hats only six of these were selected for inclusion in the model.
By far the most often cited of the desired teacher attributes, both in terms of importance and numbers fall into two general categories — subject expertise (cognitive domain) and teacher backgrounds & motivations (affective domain). Of course teachers need to be subject experts. They select content, organize content, update content, and then deliver content in their disciplines. Clearly, they must know their subjects. And teachers must also be knowledgeable about such important things as child and adolescent development, learning theory, educational philosophy, history of education, and the like. Plus they should want to teach others. But knowledge and desire, alone, do not make for a complete teacher. In reality, very few students will be inspired and motivated solely by a teacher's personal attributes and subject knowledge. Skills are also required!
This current work is designed to provide in-depth coverage of the four remaining teaching roles that have been identified as important to the teaching/learning process — acting, managing, developing and selling. All are skills (psychomotor domain). And all can be taught.
ACTING: Great teachers are good actors! Teachers who can effectively demonstrate acting skills, whether consciously or unconsciously, appear to be some our better teachers. Use this book to hone skills relating to vocal expression, bodily actions, role-playing, and the use of space and props. Techniques for generating surprise, creating suspense, and using humor in the classroom are other acting skills to master.
MANAGING: Top-notch teachers are also good managers! Techniques for planning, coordinating, commanding, controlling, organizing, guiding, coaching and facilitating are required. Skills needed to be an effective classroom manager are delivered here.
DEVELOPING: Successful teachers are accomplished developers! They must create and adapt a wide variety of audio and visual teaching materials for instructional use. Acquire the skills needed to creatively use both traditional tools and the computer to enhance professional productivity. Learn by doing! Then use the multimedia materials you develop to improve instruction in your own classroom situation.
SELLING: The best teachers are also accomplished sellers! They need to be able to sell their subjects to students. Like good sales people the best teachers will know their audience, plan the campaign accordingly, and then motivate their students to buy into their product, which is education! Develop the selling skills needed to help 'close the sale' here.
Based upon the hypothesis that it is the degree of mastery, both within and among the identified teaching roles, that will determine a teacher's effectiveness. It stands to reason then, that pre and 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 more viable means for upgrading the overall quality of our teaching professionals. So learn and enjoy!