Monday, September 18, 2006

The Paper It's Printed On

Many of the problems with teacher education and training are long-standing, but they have only been complicated and worsened by NCLB. Now I'm not a knee-jerk Nickle-B is bad, bad, baaaddd kinda guy, but the timelines for meeting so-called "highly qualified" status are such that more and more universities transformed into certification factories, churning out highly qualified teachers the way a South East Asian factory produces plastic toys.

I should know: I got my credential from one such place.

Such a deterioration of the university is undoubtedly sad, but at the same time, these institutions were merely responding to a massive increase in external demand, and in responding to market forces they were automatically doing the correct thing, right? Right?

Teacher training sucks though, for all the reasons Arthur Levine listed in his report Educating School Teachers, but also because it operates on the principle that most teaching is mostly like any other. This is demonstrably false, and truly sad because the greatest discrepancy between university preparation and classroom reality is found in the way we train teachers to impact student achievement in low-SES communities. In other words, for those environments in which teacher quality matters most, in which most every so-called "predictor" of student success pulls downward, existing methodology of preparation is the least effective. The kids who need the best-prepared teachers get the least.

This is, of course, ignoring that white elephant over there: No one really seems to know how to bring about better results in those schools. Still though, we look to academia as the repository of all worthwhile knowledge, while it in turn shoots out another generation of teachers extraordinarily well-versed in the read-aloud, but pitifully under-prepared to dissect a standard, create a series of measurable benchmarks, and still smaller lesson objectives leading toward those benchmarks. This is the difference between being able to recite Maslov's hierarchy of needs, and knowing what to do with 33 kids who aren't filling up level one of their need-pyramids. The difference between being well-versed in the value of a progressive classroom management system, and understanding the importance of being the show in the classroom, bringing out your inner silverback guerilla, the necessity of owning student behavior as a fundamental professional obligation.

So we go forward willing to recognize the inherent differences between teaching English Only and teaching non-English-fluent kids in an immersion setting, so much so we require a specific credential to do so (although for the life of me I cannot remember one strategy I learned designed to help me teach ELLs), yet we refuse to recognize the inherent educational differences that exist between educating the affluent and the not. We refuse to require anything greater from those entering environments that will demand so much more. This must change.

In so doing, we need to rethink the ultra-linear approach we've taken to preparing educators. Part of this recognizes that much of learning to teach effectively is derived from, you know, actually doing it. That's why simulated "apprenticeship" approaches will always fall short. Until it's on you, it's all pretend, all make-believe. In supporting teachers learning to teach through teaching, I want to be very clear that the answer is not a BTSA-style support provider who steals a prep period every month with a series of inane reflection questions. I'm thinking something like a two-tier preparation program, with tier one breaking out all the old hits (mmmm... 5-step lesson plan, mmmm...) followed by a year of teaching, followed by a subsequent year out of the classroom, a sort of self-directed degree program that becomes somewhat content-specific in its approach, followed by a return to the classroom.

In the end though, the most valuable knowledge ed schools and certification programs could instill is the fact that as a teacher it is your responsibility to promote student achievement, and any failure to do so is your failure. It's not the fault of parents, young people, society, Grand Theft Auto: San Andres, neo-conservative economic policies, peer pressure, the events that occurred last week at the corner liquor store, or myspace. As a teacher you are more powerful than any of those things, and it's high time to start acting like it.


Blogger Pass The Torch said...

Wow. What a post. Well said. I was educated as a school guidance counselor, and I thought the same things. It was the "in the trenches" experience that taught me what I needed to know. The rest? Garboldygook.

Kelly, Pass the Torch

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Barnett Berry said...

I have been reading and admiring TMAO’s intellect and passion. His response to Arthur Levine’s knuckle-cracking report on teacher education nails it pretty damn well. His ideas, in some ways, flesh out additional details regarding the kind of preparation I described in Edutopia’s “Learn from the Masters.” The big question: “Who will pay for such an teacher training enterprise?” There are those who do not demand this kind of TMAO-type teacher education because of the cost. If you expect teachers to know more and be trained more before they take over a classroom of their own, then they must be paid more.....hmmmm.

- Barnett Berry

1:46 AM  
Blogger Mindy, Two Spotted Dogs said...

Wow! You are absolutely right!!! But who is going to pay enough to attract teachers who have 5+ years of training and can get more glamorous jobs elsewhere?

I would have to admit that I did the traditional 4 year teaching program, followed by 2 years of full time teaching, a return for a masters in chemistry, and now I am back on the job as a teacher. Honestly, with all of the school shootings, NCLB, flack from students and parents, and low pay, I'm not sure what I'll be doing in a few years...

6:33 PM  

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