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Opinion: Teachers Aren't Dumb, Teacher Preparation Programs Are

Teachers Aren't Dumb, Teacher Preparation Programs Are

According to Daniel T. Willingham, contributor for The New York Times, teacher training programs in the United States are what need reform, not the teachers themselves.

While many schools try to attract top-scoring teachers with the philosophy that more intelligent teachers will be the better educators, Willingham argues that the programs are failing even the brightest teachers that pass through them.

"Teachers are smart enough, but you need more than smarts to teach well. You need to know your subject and you need to know how to help children learn it. That’s where research on American teachers raises concerns," he said.

He calls teacher preparation in America "mediocre" when it comes to nearly all subjects, particularly reading and math.

"Mediocre teacher preparation extends to mathematics. An international study of new middle school teachers showed that Americans scored worse on a math test than teachers in countries where kids excelled, like Singapore and Poland."

This is partly to blame, he says, on the fact that teachers don't take that many math classes, limiting their knowledge on the subject in the classroom.

"Teachers themselves know that their training focuses too much on high-level theory and not enough on nuts-and-bolts matters of teaching;" Willingham references a 2012 survey where teachers cited this phenomenon as their biggest issue with their training.

In order to fix teacher preparation programs, or at least start, Willingham has several suggestions for how to proceed.

For one, Willingham argues that teacher evaluation should not be based on student test scores, but rather on direct tests for the teachers that measure whether or not he or she is learning what they need to. A test after graduation, Willingham said, would suffice to help consider whether a teacher training program is effective.

And for two, Willingham argues that more research needs to be conducted into formulating an up-to-date list of what teachers ought to know.

"A good deal of evidence shows that students learn to read better from teachers who understand the structure of language and learn math better from teachers who know specific techniques for drawing analogies to explain mathematical ideas. A list like this could be used as the guiding framework not only to evaluate whether a teacher is well trained, but also whether he or she should be certified to teach and whether a training program should be accredited."

Read the full article here and comment with your thoughts below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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