This article, the first in a two-part series, focuses on the problems and the challenges of teacher preparation.
Ask people about the state of teacher preparation in the United States and many would respond that it borders the state of "Dismay." Others in the know would point to one or more of the outstanding university programs that are training competent, abundantly qualified teachers for today's schools.
The truth about the current state of teacher preparation probably lies somewhere in between.
The bottom line is that all institutions of teacher preparation should be following the lead(ers). They should be following the lead of model programs that are turning out teachers who know their subject and have the skills to teach it. Instead, many schools of education are virtual (not in the high-tech sense) diploma mills, cranking out teachers in much the same way they did twenty years ago. And twenty years before that.
WHAT MATTERS MOST!
Teacher preparation has been the subject of a few recent and well-publicized studies. A study by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future has drawn the most attention. The study, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, calls for "a caring, competent, and qualified teacher for every child" by the year 2006. That, the report states, is the single most-important ingredient of school reform. Students are entitled to that!
But many obstacles stand in the way of achieving that goal.
"American students," the report states, "are entitled to teachers who know their subjects, understand their students and what they need, and have developed the skills required to make learning come alive." But among the barriers to that stand:
To address those concerns, the Commission offers five major recommendations (which are detailed in the report). Those recommendations are:
"This is not an insiders' report," Linda Darling-Hammond, the Commission's executive director and an authority on teacher preparation at Teachers College, Columbia University, told Education Week (see Teaching Focus Called the Key to Reform Push, 9/18/96). "It doesn't pat everyone on the back and say 'We're all doing fine and what we need is more money and respect.' It says we have to get serious about the tough stuff."
The challenge to teacher education institutions comes at an opportune time, the report says. Enrollment growth and retirements in U.S. schools will create the need for more than 2 million new teachers in the next ten years.
STATISTICS SUPPORT THE NEED FOR TEACHER PREPARATION REFORM
Take a look at a handful of the Statistics on Teaching in America that were included in the report, and the need for teacher reform becomes painfully clear:
WHERE'S THE MONEY TO COME FROM?
In its report, the Commission offered three suggestions for investment in improved teaching. Those recommendations are:
WHERE DOES THE CHANGE BEGIN?
Schools of education must give a firm commitment to strengthening teacher education, John Goodland, co-director of the Center for Educational Renewal at the University of Washington, told participants at a symposium to address issues of teacher preparation held last fall at the Teachers College, Columbia University. (See Symposium Puts Focus on Improving Teaching, Education Week, 11/6/96, for a complete report.)
"We need to approach it from two ends," said Wendy Koop, the director of Teach for America, at the forum sponsored by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Teachers College. "We need to improve schools of education, and we also need to improve ways school districts recruit, support, and develop teachers."
Teachers who participated in the conference see the need too. Melissa Martinez, a teacher at W. Haywood Burns School in Manhattan, said she would have benefited from a stronger apprenticeship program. As it was, she was forced to learn by "trial-and-error."
To have the opportunity to learn the "art" of teaching slowly, over a longer period of time, was the sentiment expressed by a number of teachers present at the forum.
WHAT DO TEACHERS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT CHANGING TEACHER EDUCATION?
The Council for Basic Education surveyed about 600 teachers across the grades and the consensus was that schools of education should commit to preparing teachers for the "practice" of teaching. Most agree that "theory" rather than practice dominates teacher ed and that that approach is ineffective. The focus of teacher education should be practice and school-based experiences. Future teachers must be in schools early -- and often.
From the responses of teachers, three major changes needed in the preparation of teachers are clear. Teacher preparation programs must:
Some survey respondents are impressed with some of the changes they see in teacher education today. Some teacher preparation programs are sending students out into the field much earlier than in previous years.
[For a more complete report on this study, see How Teachers Would Change Teacher Education, Education Week, 12/11/96.]
TEACHERS AS EAGER LEARNERS
Teachers should be eager and involved learners themselves, says an advisory panel on teacher preparation in California. The group felt that the most crucial ingredient in a future teacher would be that teacher's excitement about knowledge. They recalled Albert Shanker's "call for professionalism" in an address to the National Press Club in October, 1985: "even at the earliest grades, the motivation of a teacher to teach a child to read could not be very great if the teacher has not personally experienced the joy of reading great books. Motivation in teaching the elements of arithmetic could not be very great if at some point the teacher has not experienced the power of that knowledge."
This series will continue. Watch for Part 2 in the weeks ahead, when we'll focus on some exemplary teacher preparation programs.
Article by Gary Hopkins, Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2006 Education World