Redefining teacher education

They say hindsight is 20/20…a cliché that makes a person feel better about himself or herself once he or she has completed an often monumental task with many missteps along the way.  Such is the case with teacher preparation programs. Often, the clarity one receives is a phenomenal paradox: the instant a person completes the task, such as graduating from a teacher preparation program, he or she then becomes an expert in respective field (in our case, teaching), while simultaneously becoming a cutthroat critic of the path which was just traveled.  Offering endless advice to change the journey that he or she believes would be a far superior path than the down-trodden route that resulted in this new-found knowledge.

Now this is where the balancing act comes in… to offer suggestions for change in a way that is presented respectfully and productively so that the ideas are heard and thoughtfully considered, rather than instantly discounted based solely on the trivial facts of presentation and credentials of the presenter.

And thus, I begin to toe the balance.  I attempt to offer the following advice in a way that is respectful of the path that brought me here, but with open eyes as an ever present learner. With this attitude, I welcome necessary changes that are essential in order to maintain a high standard for our students in the education system.

The call for transforming education seems to be coming in at all angles, with most calling for evaluating and holding accountable current teachers, students, and schools.  This is pressing  because it is “here and now.”  However, if the reform stops there, it becomes short sighted, with no pay-off long term. So let’s go to a root of the challenge: preparing teachers to be successful in the classroom through effective teacher education programs.

Teachers are facing more demands than ever, many  new, challenging, and unprecedented in the world of education.   In order to prepare upcoming teachers for achievement in the classroom one must address the training that happens (or in some cases, doesn’t) in the many models of teacher preparation programs.  Some see this debate as just another attack in the realm of education.  I see it as absolutely necessary if we want the changes that are occurring to be sustainable.  Without both traditional and alternative models of teacher preparation changing not only the content, but an entire mind shift in culture of the programs, reform will not occur.

Thinking about my own teacher preparation, I know that it was steeped in theory.  Learning about the history and theory is very important; don’t get me wrong.  However, the most pivotal part of my preparation was the student teaching aspect.  I was fortunate to have great cooperating teachers who continue to serve as mentors even in my teaching career today.  They were the ones who really showed me how to handle 30 kids with effective classroom management, and how to streamline a 5-page lesson plan for a 45 minute lesson in a way that made it practical to actually sustain.

My teacher education was good; but similar programs today could, and must, be pushed to great.

Things that are worth keeping:

  • A brief, but thorough history of education: We need to know where we come from to know where we are going;
  • A forum to share ideas, resources, and strategies;
  • Collaboration among the many roles within education: seasoned teachers, professors, novice teachers, parents, administrators, mentors, policy makers, community.

Things that must change with the times:

  • More practicum areas/ mentorships with novice or struggling teachers learning under highly effective teachers;
  • Create continuing professional development that builds on skills learned in teacher preparation programs so the learning never stops;
  • Incorporate more technology that can be transferred to the classroom;
  • Make the skills learned partical and useable;
  • Equip teachers with the tools to succeed, especially in terms of technology;
  • Create a course to educate teachers about the policy and system that determines education;
  • Create a portfolio of assessments, rather than one data point to determine the effectiveness of a teacher;
  • Create a more systemic prep system that reflects the rigor of other professional guilds, such as the process of National Board Certification,  which student teachers would be incentivized to complete.

These changes seem to be a natural bridge with the current transformations in education.  For example, in Colorado because with the implementation of SB 191, we are defining what constitutes a “highly effective” teacher, and making personnel decisions based in this decision.   It makes sense to pair novice teachers with master teachers so that they can learn the craft from the best and brightest in the field.

If we are open and proactive to changes like the ones mentioned above, the cliché so often attached to teacher preparation will not be “hindsight is 20/20”…rather, my hope is that the attitude will be the innovative thought by artist Francis Picabia: “Our heads are round so that our thoughts can change directions.”

Related categories: