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Practice what you preach

This may not be news to you, but I was shocked to learn how many people who are responsible for training teachers hold what we do in such low regard. Some so-called teacher-educators actually find teaching repugnant.

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending part of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) National Convention in NYC. In general, it was a great meeting of wonderful people. Like many people today, I am deeply concerned about how we prepare new members of my profession. While some of the criticism being leveled at colleges of education is politically expedient or just plain mean spirited, some of it is well-founded and justified.

I have spoken with and heard of too many teacher ed faculty, and even some deans, who refer to “practitioners” [that’s those of us who actually teach for a living] with disdain. I’ve seen some say it with a snarl on their face, as if were a cuss word. I chose not to accept a doctoral fellowship to one of the top ed schools in the country because the assistant dean bragged, “We don’t train practitioners; we develop researchers.”

Wait, let me check. Isn't the faculty of schools of education made up of “practitioners”? Don’t they teach? Whether students are undergraduate pre-service teachers or doctoral candidates, don't they still need to be taught? One reason teacher ed is suffering from such a bad reputation is too many of us who have been through it will turn around and testify to how bad it was.  Some of the worst teachers and teaching methods ever seen live in colleges of education. What would happen if all (or even most) teacher ed faculty actually used the practices and theories they teach?

I serve on the Commission for Teacher and Administrator Certification and Licensure in Mississippi under the State Board of Education, and we have had to deal with some serious issues around teacher shortages and teacher preparation. I upset quite a few of my teacher ed colleagues for my support of one of the alternative certification programs in our state.  Let me be clear: I believe only fully trained, prepared persons should teach. But I question our perceptions of how that training is best delivered, particularly in the 21st Century. I know for a fact that alternate route candidates who spent a total of 144 hours being trained by me, a practicing, accomplished NBCT in the Mississippi Delta, went into the classroom better prepared than I had after completing a well-respected traditional teacher education program. I also know, partly due to my continuous reminders, that those alternate candidates understood the need for further training and study in the field of education if they were going to continue and succeed in this profession.

My hope, however, is that many of the existing alternate routes will soon become unnecessary as our colleges of education will rise to the hour. My original desire was that the ed schools in our state would absorb those alternate route programs rather than fight them, and allow their programs to morph and grow to fit the new needs in our public schools. Their reluctance to do that has opened the door for increasing criticisms and missed opportunities.

Not the least of these opportunities is using proven accomplished teachers and teacher leaders as instructors for pre-service teachers; particularly teachers who have distinguished themselves working with students in high need schools. Gloria Ladson-Billings of the University of Wisconsin and author of The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Students, gave us an important clue during her remarks at the AACTE Convention, when she noted how few African American educators serve as full faculty in schools of education (outside of the HBCUs) despite the fact that almost 40% of all doctoral degrees earned by African Americans are in education. 

Could this have something to do with the high percentage of new teachers, especially in high needs schools, who don’t make it past the third year?

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