Saturday, March 12, 2011

Changing the Way We Train Teachers

One of my absolute favorite education writers is teacher Bill Ferrirter and he puts the spotlight on a facet of teacher education that I had long suspected but for which I never had any empirical or even anecdotal proof: teacher education does actually prepare a person to be a teacher.  In Redefining Teacher Education, Ferriter writes: 

The thing is that despite being protective of my profession—teaching really does require unique knowledge and skill that few people outside of education actually understand—I’m ready for people to start questioning teacher preparation programs delivered by colleges of education.

Here’s why: I didn’t learn a darn thing in five years of higher education—including the graduate work that earns me a 10% annual salary stipend here in NC—that actually prepared me to be a classroom teacher.

In fact, I think I'd go as far as to say that outside of a course on Constructivism and an adolescent psychology class taught by a professor that I still quote to this day, my degrees were essentially exercises in professional hoop-jumping—an expensive prerequisite for employment that did little to help me once I was actually employed.
I am 99% sure that most teachers feel the same way, but very few of them will ever admit it.  For that reason alone, I admire Ferriter's honesty. 

As an attorney, I can attest to the fact that law school has very little to do with the actual practice of law, that is the day in, day out practice of law.  However, perhaps unlike teacher education, a legal education does provide the basic skills necessary to be a successful lawyer, but it takes a few years of apprenticeship with an experience attorney to actual become a good lawyer. Sure there are some people who can exit law school, pass the bar and be a successful solo practitioner without working at a law firm under experienced lawyers.  Similarly, there are teachers who can exit college and be effective teachers from day one.  But I know such lawyers are very rate and I suspect that such teachers are very rare as well.

Ferriter's solution:
Easy: Start by requiring longer apprenticeships for pre-service educators. And---as Louise mentions in a particularly insightful comment below---require that at least a part of that apprenticeship be spent working in the field that a teacher is going to be certified in.
Do you know how much actual full-time teaching I did before becoming certified as a teacher?
About 8 weeks.

Sure—I went on a school visit here or there. I also spent another 6-8 weeks observing my cooperating teachers in the senior year of my education program.
But I only had about 8 weeks of full-time experience with students before I was licensed for life. The rest of my 5 YEARS of college preparation was spent strapped into seats in lecture halls listening to professors drone on about collaborative learning for hours on end.

And do you know how much time I spent working with other geographers, journalists or scientists---the fields that I'm supposedly qualified to prepare my students to enter?
Not one day.
Can it really be that simple?  Given my belief that Ferriter has spent some significant time thinking about this problem, I dare say--yes.  To be it seems imminently logical.  It is a two step process--learn the subject matter that you will teach and learn how to teach in a real environment with real students under the guidance of an experienced, effective and knowledgeable teacher. 

So why isn't that done more?  I dare say that too stringent and too lengthy a process affects the ability of the teaching profession to attract practitioners to replace the turnover that happens in teaching.  But I think that the teachers unions should embrace a more stringent licensure and apprenticeship process--it increases the value of the teaching license.

Let's face it, unless you are a convicted felon or a sex offender, most college educated individuals can pass the testing requirements to get a teaching license.  Now before teachers jump down my throat, I didn't say that the person would be a good teacher, I just mean to say that the academic and testing standards for a teaching license are not particularly high compared to other licenses professionals, such as engineers or doctors.  I firmly believe the standards should be much stronger and it should be more difficult to get a teaching license, but that has been the subject of other posts

So while the testing and academic standards could be higher, what Ferriter and I are arguing is that before a lifetime license is granted to a teacher, they should be spending a lot more time in front of students.  I would suspect that prospective teachers spend their final two years of teacher education in a classroom, everyday, with constant evaluation, before even being eligible for a teaching license. 

If policy makers don't want to listen to me, they should listen to guys like Bill Ferriter. 

Check out my soccer blog at Nutmegs and Stepovers

No comments: