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The More Things Change, The More They Remain the Same.

Editor's Note: This week's post comes from Dave Weiss, a college professor who teaches in the education department.
The title of this post can be applied to the state of teacher education today. When I did my teacher training, forty years ago, I was armed with Piaget, Bruner, Dewey, and other theories of learning. I found these theorists exciting and stimulating. I was ready to implement these theories when I would finally be given my own classroom. My goal was to teach in an urban school system specifically in a high poverty area. My fellow students and I were ready to shake up the education world, and along with our theories, use education to empower our students and lift them out of the cycle of poverty. Unfortunately, this was not to be the reality. All of my training in lesson plan and unit construction, simulated lesson presentations, readings on the culture of poverty and inner city schools, were of no practical use when I was assigned to my first school. Not one professor, not any of my readings, had prepared me for the realities of what I would be facing. After some harrowing and "seat of the pants" experience, I was able to finally get down to the practical business of teaching. I literally had to sink or swim on my own.
I now find myself in the position of an adjunct instructor in the education department of a prestigious, urban centered university. In the classes I teach I see myself reflected in the faces of my students when I was their age. They are highly motivated, conscientious, and eager to get into a classroom of their own. These students have gone through the same courses I took when I was young.
They design magnificent portfolios, lesson plans, and demonstrate their skills in lesson presentations. Given all of this, their constant complaint, after the student teaching experience, and for graduate students who have already started teaching, remains the same. Why weren't we taught the everyday routines and practices that teachers face in the classroom? What do we do when administrators do not support us with discipline issues or irate parents? How can we truly individualize instruction when confronted with 28 to 32 students with different learning styles, and various levels of reading skills? What if some students refuse to do homework or long range projects? These are questions that are raised in my classes all of the time. Yes, they have read many books and articles on urban education, poverty and related issues, but when they are faced with the actual day-to-day practice of classroom management they feel unprepared. A former student, with tongue-in-cheek, once contacted me concerning an incident which had occurred in his classroom. He stated, "While I was explaining something at the board, I heard a commotion and saw a desk go flying by. A fight immediately broke between a group of students. I quickly took out my paperback issue of Piaget and searched the index for 'throwing desks.'" Although written facetiously, it illustrates an issue which novice teacher's are unprepared to deal with.
Unfortunately, from what I have witnessed, there has been very little change or improvement in schools of education. The vast majority of the classes are theory driven and taught, for the most part, by professors who have had very little or no experience in urban education. In an article Jean Johnson in TC Record of Aug. 2005, the author cites a study conducted by Public Agenda, which states, "There is in fact a substantial gap between the attitudes of teachers in the classroom and those professors who prepare them for careers." Most professors of education are scholars who are research driven and teach their particular expertise to their students. The professors of education whom I have had the pleasure to work with are student-centered, compassionate, and dedicated to their students. They truly want to see their students succeed and go on to fulfilling teaching careers. It is "the nature of the beast" that schools of education are populated by scholars and are therefore highly biased toward teaching theory.
Dave Weiss is an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the College of Education. He spent 36 years teaching in the Chicago Public School System where his tenure included middle school through high school.

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