Teaching in American K-12 public schools is different from many other professions. Linda Darling Hammond argues that “teaching is not yet a profession”, with one reason being that teachers lack mastery “of a common knowledge base”.
At the heart of the issue are schools of education, according to Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).
Arne Duncan, the Obama administration secretary of education:
… “By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges, and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom,” and “America’s university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change, not evolutionary thinking.”
Much criticism targets specific problems that afflict schools of education.
… lack of selectivity, an imbalance between content and pedagogy, or the lack of value delivered.
Actually, ed schools do not “train” teachers; they “prepare” them to travel “on a lifelong path of learning, distinct from knowing, as actual knowledge is perceived as too fluid”.
Though those two terms—train and prepare—appear to be interchangeable, they are not….
It is because training a teacher is viewed (if the AERA volume is accurate in its summation) as “an oversimplification of teaching and learning, ignoring its dynamic, social and moral aspects.”…
Harking back perhaps to teacher education’s 19th-century ecclesiastical origins, its mission has shifted away from the medical model of training doctors to professional formation. The function of teacher education is to launch the candidate on a lifelong path of learning, distinct from knowing, as actual knowledge is perceived as too fluid to be achievable. In the course of a teacher’s preparation, prejudices and errant assumptions must be confronted and expunged, with particular emphasis on those related to race, class, language, and culture. This improbable feat . . . is accomplished as candidates reveal their feelings and attitudes through abundant in-class dialogue and by keeping a journal. From these activities is born each teacher’s unique philosophy of teaching and learning.
Not many other professions, medicine for example, follow this model. (Thank goodness.)
Social justice activism is often considered more important than academic instruction.
There is also a strong social-justice component to teacher education, with teachers cast as “activists committed to diminishing the inequities of American society.” That vision of a teacher is seen by a considerable fraction of teacher educators (although not all) as more important than preparing a teacher to be an effective instructor. This view of a teacher’s role as transformational is not wrong, as teachers often serve as the means by which children overcome challenges inherent in their backgrounds. But it is one that is often taken to absurd extremes in practice. For example, a textbook used in a math course for elementary school teachers is entitled Social Justice through Mathematics, which explains why the view is so often disparaged.
Best practices? There is minimal agreement on best methods for instruction, and education schools want future teachers to find ‘the “how to” on your own and own your teaching style’. According to AERA, an education methods course in college is not actually meant to teach the best methods.
… “A methods course is seldom defined as a class that transmits information about methods of instruction and ends with a final exam. [They] are seen as complex sites in which instructors work simultaneously with prospective teachers on beliefs, teaching practices and creation of identities—their students’ and their own.”
One of the most harmful examples of this do-your-own-thing approach is in reading instruction, where the NCTQ found the most common recommendation among ed schools is that the teaching ”candidate should develop her own approach to teaching reading, based on exposure to various philosophies and approaches, none more valid than any other”.
One step in addressing the ed school problem: The NCTQ plans to introduce an objective measure of quality and performance.
The NCTQ Teacher Prep Review, slated for initial release in June 2013, is rating teacher-preparation programs across the country. By examining the fundamental requirements of each program—admissions standards, course requirements, coverage of essential content, preparation in the CCSS, how the student teaching program operates, instruction in classroom management and lesson planning, and how teacher candidates are judged ready for the classroom—the Review will capture the information that any consumer of these programs would want to see, including aspiring teachers and school districts looking to hire the best teachers….
Good teachers often have to fight the system I’ve been fortunate to know many excellent teachers, but I suspect many have had to work against barriers imposed by poor training and mediocre curriculum. Perhaps this NCTQ review of education schools will be one step on the way to Duncan’s “revolutionary change”, but I’m not holding my breath that change will happen quickly.