Teaching teachers

Excellent op-ed in today’s New York Times on how poorly America teaches and mentors new teachers:

Our best universities have, paradoxically, typically looked down their noses at education, as if it were intellectually inferior. The result is that the strongest students are often in colleges that have no interest in education, while the most inspiring professors aren’t working with students who want to teach. This means that comparatively weaker students in less intellectually rigorous programs are the ones preparing to become teachers.

The author’s recommended reforms seem obvious, which suggests how abominable our teacher training system has become:

Too often, teaching students spend their time studying specific instructional programs and learning how to handle mechanics like making lesson plans. These skills, while useful, are not what will transform a promising student into a good teacher.

First, future teachers should continue studying the subject they hope to teach, with outstanding professors. It makes no sense at all to stop studying the thing you want to teach at the very moment you begin to learn how.

Meanwhile, students should learn their craft the way a surgeon learns to operate: by intense supervision in a real setting with expert mentors. Student-teachers are usually observed only twice during a semester and then given a written evaluation. But young teachers, like young doctors, should work side by side with skilled mentors, getting plenty of feedback, having plenty of opportunities to observe and taking on greater and greater responsibility as they improve….

Teachers must also learn far more about children: typically, teaching students are provided with fairly static and superficial overviews of developmental stages, but learn little about how to watch children, using research and theory to understand what they are seeing.

Years ago, I actually investigated becoming a teacher but quickly gave up because the process seemed to involve jumping through many hoops… hoops that had little to do with becoming a successful teacher. The credentialing system seemed perfectly designed to weed out candidates with low tolerance for bureaucratic, boring, cookie-cutter training classes that you had to repeatedly drive 100 miles to attend — the exact kind of dynamic, knowledge-loving, get-it-done, creative people schools should be tripping over themselves to hire. Sadly, experts in the field seem to agree.

Posted by James on Monday, November 02, 2009