Thoughts on Education Reform: Teacher Preparation
I admite Matthew Lynch for having the courage to post his article: Is Teacher Education the Real Problem?
I think it takes real guts in today's world to actually get around to defending the work that teachers do in the classroom. We are not a perfect bunch of people, but I think we work a lot harder than the average parent or politician knows. For this I thank Lynch who utimately thinks there are better ways to bring about changes in education besides just body-slamming teachers (again).
A large part of the problem as I see it is that when little Johnny comes home from school with a sketchy grade, it must be because the teacher has done something wrong. It probably has nothing to do with little Johnny having been enrolled in school at too early an age and not properly developing social appropriate social skills which leads to behavior issues and so on. And so it goes, and I'm not going to dwell there right now.
Lynch hits hard on this idea that someone needs to make it 'harder to become a teacher.' I don't think we need to make it harder to become a teacher either. He writes:
Instead of making it harder to become a teacher, why not spend money on making classroom size smaller and more manageable when those teachers start their careers? Or on technology programs and training that give teachers an advantage when it comes to educational gaming?
He points out three areas in particular that we should think of investing in before we start investing in more difficult teacher preparation and retention programs. He writes that we need 1) more parental involvement (!!!! I agree wholeheartedly and written as much elsewhere); 2) smaller class sizes (I suppose I agree with this, but I'm not sure yet what this means); 3) technology in classrooms (Meh, I use a lot of tech; I don't think it makes much difference).
On the whole, Lynch makes a good point:
This pilot teacher-prep program seems like just another way to blame teachers for what they cannot control. More education can't hurt, but there are so many other issues that deserve this spotlight instead.
On the other hand, I want to note this. I am a relatively newly minted, second career teacher. I finished my graduate degree at the age of 41 and started full time about 2 months after my graduation and after receiving my credentials from the state. I am now nearing 44. Here's what I want to say: teacher preparation does need reformed on a couple of different levels.
First, what is generally referred to as 'student teaching' is more or less a waste of time. I endured student teaching and at the end I only wanted to quit teaching. There was too little coordination between coordinating school (university) and the public school teachers. Staff at the public school were generally indifferent and the mentor teachers were nearly wholly unprepared for my presence in their rooms–on top of profoundly reluctant to let me actually 'take control' of their classrooms and classroom agenda. Making matters worse, when I was hired by a local school I was informed that I would have to endure a four year (yes, 4 full school years) of residency (resident educator program). What the hell did I student teach for?
It might not be the 'sitting in the classroom' that needs reforming for teachers, but 'student teaching' does. It is a horrible and does nothing for the student teacher.
So, let's make it worse for new teachers. First, make them student teach (and pay for it on top of that). Second, let's let them be resident educators for four more years. Third, let's also hold them to the same standards as fully vetted teachers (so that they are being observed twice as many times by principals/mentors as regular teachers). Fourth, let's not explain to them the rather heinous nature of local school politics. Fifth, subject them to the rigors of state testing administration. And so on. Now I can deal with all this because I am older and I really don't care, but imagine throwing a 20-something into all of this. Now wonder why teachers leave after 5 years or less. (And let's not even get involved in a conversation about student load repayment.)
This, then, is where I would make a second reform. If new teachers (within the first 5 years) are going to be subjected to the rigors of Resident Educator status, then they should not be held to the typical standards all teachers are subjected to. In other words, resident educators (in Ohio, for example) should not be subject to OTES. It is simply too overwhelming to have to do both (on top of all the other work we have to do every day to simply educate students.)
Lynch is correct: stricter teacher requirements will not necessarily make better students. However, improving the way teachers are made might just lead to retaining teachers for longer periods of time which might lead to better education for students.
At some point someone needs to look at these things because in my opinion it is wasting a lot of talent among those called to teach. It is not easy to become a licensed teacher–at least in the state of Ohio. It is rigorous and it costs a lot of money and time. But I believe strongly, and I will preach this as long as I teach, that student teaching and resident educator practices need to be challenged and changed. They do not make better teachers; they make bitter teachers.