Welcome to the MasterTeacherWSCA wiki.
The intent of the page is not to further celebrate Mark or Charles as awardees but to grapple with the concepts of teacher v. master teacher as concepts. Understanding the meaning of these terms will help us make decisions about how we wish to position ourselves professionally. Below, I make a case for treating "teaching" as a natural social phenomenon and "master teacher" as social construction. While the conversation about instructional communication may start with these terms, I hope the discussion broadens to any number of words we use when talking about instructional communication.

The concept “social construction of X” is used quite widely in the academic literature from the social construction of bribes (Chiu, Y., 2007), to the social construction of whiteness (Guess, 2006) and just about anything else you can think of.

Scholars in communication studies make use of the term regularly. (I found 160 invocations of the term in a simple search of the Communication and Mass Media Complete database.) Sometimes we talk, at least informally, as though everything is socially constructed, but we should know better. I am not socially constructed, nor are you. We exist as physical beings. While we may argue the degree to which our “sense of self” or “personality” are affected by social symbolic interactions, our physical selves which maintain those other things are natural phenomena (Searle 1995). This raises the question which, I think, we are all working on, more or less: what is the role of communication in mediating the many dimensions our lives?

The concept of social construction has been in use for some time. Starting with the seminal work of Mead (1913) and Cooley (1922), through the work of Berger and Luckmann (1966), John Searle (1995) and Ian Hacking (1999), we have come to understand the pervasive effect of communication in shaping what we know and how we experience the world around us. (The subtitle of Berger and Luckmann’s book is, “A treatise in the sociology of knowledge.) I fear sometimes that we may have gotten too comfortable with the idea of social construction by uncritically allowing it to operate in the background of our thinking. So, I wish to make it, for just a moment, “problematic.”

The purpose of social construction, according to Hacking (1999), is to raise consciousness. It is critical of the status quo, he argues, such that for things socially constructed “the character of x is not determined by the nature of things. X is not inevitable” (pp. 6-7 emphasis added). I like Hacking’s analysis because it provides a useful starting point from which to launch a critical analysis of our discourse. So, let’s start by invoking Hacking’s principle that things socially constructed are not determined by the nature of things.

Now, I think that the notion of “teacher” is inevitable in human relations. For example, parents necessarily are teachers of their children, for better or worse. As people move through their lives, roles change, and new information, skills, concepts, values, etc. must be learned. Consequently, people must teach other people. While “teacher” is inevitable, I argue that the notion of “master teacher” is not. Teaching is determined by the nature of things—we can’t live and work together without teachers, teaching and being taught. However, “master teacher” is an idea, a socially constructed notion that is not inevitable and serves to raise our conscious about teaching itself.

Hacking (1999) writes:

Ways of classifying human beings interact with the human beings who are classified . . . . People think of themselves as of a kind, perhaps, or reject the classification. All our acts are under descriptions, and the acts that are open to us depend . . . on the descriptors available to us. (31)

I am guessing that if I asked you to describe teacher and if I asked you to describe master teacher, the lists would be indistinguishable. That being the case, if “master teacher” is to be meaningful, we must find ways of classifying “master teacher” so that we can think of certain persons “of a kind” in ways that affect action.

If I am right that “master teacher” is not inevitable, then the notion is a social construction. We create it and we imbue it with meaning. Taking a second cue from Hacking, the meaning and behavioral effect of the term is dependent “on the descriptors available to us.” Here are some descriptors to seed our thinking about "teacher" and "master teacher":

Themes drawn from "master teacher' award nomination letters:
a reflective teacher
probes other’s thinking through questions and paraphrasing
well-versed in theory
believes that teachers can be each other’s best resource
has a deep appreciation for what goes on in the learner’s head
wants to learn what is being learned
controls the learning while making it free flowing and organic
engaged and curious
can explain the decision-making that structured the lesson
brings water to the thirsty
allows independence and decision-making by the students
models communication skills being taught
facilitates reflection and higher order thinking
willing to take risks
challenges students to delve beyond the surface of subjects
allows students to explore and develop their own understanding of a topic in new ways
combines planning and flexibility
provides stimulating material to engage students in learning
gives clear, objective feedback

Themes from “Effective Teacher Behaviors” (Nussbaum 1992):
positive expectations of selves and students
designs effective academic tasks
teaches enthusiastically
provides sufficient time for students to think and respond
is immediate (i.e. makes eye contact, uses appropriate touch, has open
body positions , is vocally expressive, smiles, arranges room for interaction
self-discloses appropriately)
uses narratives to explain and illustrate
speaks clearly and explicitly

So, what distinguishes the inevitable role of teacher from the socially constructed idea of "master teacher"?

Berger, P. & Luckmann, T. (1966). The Social Construction of Reality. New York:

Chiu, Y. (2007). Gifts, bribes and solicitations: Print media and the social construction
of payments to doctors in Taiwan. Social Science & Medicine, 64, 521-530.

Cooley, C. H. (1922). Human Nature and the Social Order (Rev. ed.). New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons.

Guess, T. J. (2006). The social construction of whiteness: Racism by intent, racism by
consequence. Critical Sociology, 32, 649-673.

Hacking, I. (1999). The social construction of what? Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.

Mead, G. H. (1913). The social self. Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific
Methods 10, 374- 380.

Searle, J. R. (1995). The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press.