Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jenny D.: Thought Experiment

For quite some time, Jenny D has posted a number of questions and comments regarding what should be done with Ed Schools and the future of the teaching profession. In yet another post on the subject, Jenny poses the following:
There have been some comments suggesting Ed Schools are pointless. Okay. Suppose you eliminate them today. How would that improve schools?
I have argued that teachers and the teachers's unions could do a number of things to improve the profession, such as a type of self-policing and treating Ed Schools more like professional schools in law and medicine because of the trust given to teachers over the formative years of our children, a theme picked up by some of the commenters to Jenny's post.

However, as the Ed Wonks point out, making the change to a post-baccalaureate Ed School would present the challenge of how to replace the teachers currently lost in the high turnover rate. I admit the interim period between the current method and the implementation of a grad level course of study would present a hiring challenge, but would eventually be overcome for several reasons, including better pay for professional teachers with the post-grad study (almost a must given that post grad study is usually brutally expensive).

Getting back to Jenny's original question, what would I do to improve schools in the absence of Ed Schools? Mandatory apprenticeship--paid of course, for anyone who wants to teach. I know the Ed Wonks have advocated this as well as others, but let me lay out my vision and my experiences and analogies.

First, let me dispense with actual professional level analogies and look at things from a different perspective. If you look at someone such as a carpenter, we don't expect a first year carpenter to be able to build a masterpiece, carved table. A simple table, sure, but not one that could be considered a work of art. Carpenters spend years developing skills that can turn wooden furniture from the strictly utilitarian into works of art. A carpetner can learn those skills on their own, but only after much trial and error, often at great expense. However, an apprenticeship with a master furniture maker could develop those skills much faster, cheaper and with fewer negative outcomes in the learning process.

Similarly, we cannot expect first year teachers to become master teachers overnight or even in one or two years. But an apprenticeship, under the tutelage of a master teacher, would develop those skills of the young teacher faster and without all the heartache and headaches that currently accompany the learning curve.

I want to be clear, I am not talking about a mentorship as it is currently structured. A first year teacher should not be in a classroom by themselves, at all. It is not that they lack teh knowledge or the passion to teach, they simply lack the skills developed with time. A much more direct, day-to-day supervision is necessary.

Thus, before a teacher can become licensed (and I still believe a strict licensure requirement, with a really demanding, gate-keeper test, is necessary), they would need to server a number of years as a "teaching apprentice" with ever growing responsibilities leading up to taking the teaching license test. Likewise, a master teacher needs to be licensed as a master teacher as well, it cannot simply be a matter of time served.

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