On a field trip to the salt water marsh, 5ths graders learn about the ecology, geology and human history of this very valuable local resource. An educator needs to know more than just textbook facts to present her subject in a way that connects with the world her students inhabit.
Sung from many high and middle school stages, Gilbert and Sullivan's Modern Major General, performed here by London's D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, was patterned on the real-life soldier, Major General Sir Garnet Wolseley. Sir Garnet and his operatic counterpart may serve as models of erudition for today's teachers.

Teachers Know the Subjects They Teach and How to Teach Those Subjects to Students

* Teachers have mastery over the subject(s) they teach. They have a deep understanding of the history, structure and real-world applications of the subject.
* They have skill and experience in teaching it, and they are very familiar with the skills gaps and preconceptions students may bring to the subject.
* They are able to use diverse instructional strategies to teach for understanding.
Artifact #1: Local Fauna and Habitats - A Lesson Plan
Rationale Reflection
The subject matter of this lesson and even several of the activities could easily be adapted for several grade levels. The lesson plan is a PDF file and can be downloaded HERE. I chose this lesson plan, developed for the master's course, EDU 742Study Skills and Content Literacy, because it involves science and nature, my own area of expertise. It is important for a teacher to have a good grasp of the subject matter he teaches.

I found during the lesson, my own extensive knowledge of local ecologies helped the students greatly. Since research was part of the exercise, I would not always answer their questions directly, but I was able to show which of the many reference books they could go to and expand on the information that was there. With the less able readers, we would look up the information together.

The children had a blast with this lesson, which extended over several class periods. The number of activities and the variety of tasks, including research, drawing, coloring, modeling and presentation kept the students motivated and interested. There were some very interesting choices of creatures besides the expected one of squirrels, deer, etc. Some of the more interesting choices were cardinal, brown trout, little brown bat and spotted salamander. In order to keep the excitement level up, I implemented a contest. I had made 3 sample dioramas to show different ways to present the children could information. At the end of the project, these were given as prizes by lot. Anyone who finished their project would have a chance. Everyone finished in good time!

Although I was the assistant in the classroom, I often took the leadership this lesson, because of my background in science. The teacher was not, as she said herself, as well-versed in biology and she gave me the opportunity. It is often difficult for elementary teachers, who are supposed to teach a wide range of subjects, to be deeply cognizant of all the subject areas thay are required to present. Even at the middle school level, where the teachers are supposedly working in their own areas, I have seen teachers presenting inaccurate data or refusing to alloe answers that may contradict the current textbook. Teachers must stay current in many areas, even those outside their own subject, to be able both to relate to and guide students towards a wider world of learning.

Artifact #2: Teaching Kayaking - You had better know what you're doing!
I wrote this little essay, a PDF file which may be downloaded HERE, as part of a guide for my instructors on a white water kayak training trip that I was leading. The yearly trip, which I led several times in the 1980s, was part of the process by which the Boston chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club certified kayakers and closed canoeists to participate in their white water trips. I have included the portions here which I find relevant to this proposition, regarding the need for mastery over one's subject.

Mastery of a subject is a state that never truly exists, for to claim total mastery is to deny the possibility of further growth, and there are always new levels of skill and avenues of knowledge that can be explored. But mastery is certainly something that can be aspired to. Indeed, without the desire to master a subject, the seeker of knowledge will never gain more than a superficial and partial acquaintance with the subject. A teacher, as much as a plumber, a physicist, or a kayaker, must strive for excellence and expertise in what she teaches, so that her knowledge and skill will inspire confidence and trust in her students. She knows, however, that true mastery includes an awareness of how much she still has to learn. This humility should also be made clear, so that she shares in the learning and growth process with her students, serving as a guide and a mentor rather than as a mere dispenser of content. By acknowledging the limits of her own knowledge, the teacher will be made more sensitive to the needs of her students, to the gaps in their knowledge and to the differences in their style of learning.