Teacher Preparation needs reform ( So does teaching) : You cannot teach what you do not know

05 Feb


teacher-clipartI have been in involved in teacher preparation from pre-service teacher to education professor. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly along the way. I have seen hero and shero teachers who give it their all, not just during the school day but whenever they are awake. I have seen teachers whose licenses should be revoked for malfeasance and posters of them put up in all school districts to ban them from setting food in a school building.

Teaching is a calling as certainly as being a pastor is a calling. Being a teacher is not a career it is a lifestyle and it is not one you can turn on and turn off. I used to line up my dolls and teddy bears on the stairs of our home and teach them when I was a small child. I identified more with the teachers than my fellow students from kindergarten through my PhD program. In many ways true educators are cult members. We feel we have great power and we do not like it when someone fails to use theirs in the proper way.

Teaching is not easy. It is demanding, emotionally, physically, and psychologically draining.  On the one hand you are the expert in the room, the authority figure, the in loco parentis, but in some ways you are at the mercy of so many others. The school board, the superintendent, the principal, your fellow teachers, the parents of your students and in some cases your students.

Teaching is an art form but we try to make it into a static system. I always tell my teacher preparation students that no one can teach you to teach. We can give you tricks and clues but the development of the relationship with your class is the same as the development of any relationship, it takes work, listening and being willing to learn yourself.

The idea that the students sit and listen and the teacher imparts wisdom is as old as humankind and as ineffective as if we were chiseling out numbers on a rock tablet. The teacher is a guide , not an oracle of wisdom. Any teacher who believes that they know everything and the students should just listen to them and they do not need to listen to the students needs to be summarily dismissed.

In this era of electronics and the internet, all of which have revolutionized information streams, teaching is trying to hold the line and continue the old ways. Won’t work.

Teacher preparation schools have to understand that the way to teach the modern student is to teach the individual, to take him or her from where there are to closer to the goals that they need to accomplish. The students  have to be participants in the journey, not simply mute followers of the herd. Creativity and adaptability and the ability to assess whether what you are doing is working is crucial.

Yet the preparation of teachers is heading into more stylized methodology rather than less and at least in the materials provided by Pearson, one of the giant money makers taking the field of education instruction by storm, there is less and less relevant material about difference.

When I was in a teacher prep program, back when the earth was still cooling, the emphasis was on subject matter knowledge. This is still vitally important. As my after the colon comment says you cannot teach what you do not know. This is one reason we need to stop asking elementary school teachers who did not major in history or art or music or math or science to teach it. There should be majors teaching those subjects, not folks who can just pull up Wikipedia and jot down a few perhaps accurate facts and tell the kiddos that.

But, we have all known brilliant people who cannot teach worth crap. They are sometimes too smart, but frequently too arrogant to understand that if you know it but cannot communicate it to the students in a way that it interests and engages them then what you know is irrelevant to anyone but you.

The emphasis on teacher preparation should be tripartite: 1) You have to like students, all of  your students and accept responsibility for figuring out how to get the best out of them. The fact that they are poor, of color, orphans, from a single family home,  or any other personal characteristic is irrelevant. You have to free yourself of stereotypes and biases or change careers.  2) You have to know your subject matter in depth so you can vary your instruction as you need to in order to get the students on board and interested in inquiry. If one thing does not work you have to know another path to get to the same goals and objectives  3) You have to be adaptable and creative and willing to experiment and willing to defend what you do against the status quo keepers who do not want change because they are not confident they are smart enough to adapt.

I know already what the response from teachers is going to be. We have to teach to the tests or be penalized. What we teach and how we teach it is not up to us. And my response to them is going to be, whose fault is that? If all teachers were politically and socially active they could change what is going on in education.  The new status of teacher as martyr is not working, not for you, not for your students. I never felt powerless as a teacher. I never was powerless as a teacher. Yeah, yeah, I know, it was a different time.

Don’t like what you have to do? How many times have you and your colleagues gone to school board meetings and presented a petition to stop or start something? How many letters and emails and trips to the legislature? I was unhappy with some things I saw in my last gig teaching teachers. I tried to tell the Dean, he smiled and did not change anything, I tried to tell the President who dismissed it out of hand, I told the legislature in my state in charge of education. She is starting an inquiry into what I said was wrong. The only one who can improve your lot is you and your colleagues.

Education got into this mess from being passive. It is true that education is not valued as it once was in many places but that erosion of power and respect is down in some measure to the education community. When non-educators began making the rules and coming up with simplistic solutions to complex problems, which led to standardized testing taking the place of curriculum design and delivery based on educators’ knowledge did you revolt or just whine? If enough teachers say NO, things will change. If everyone is afraid things will get worse. What you tolerate is what will continue.

Perhaps I should add a fourth requirement to my previous list of what needs to be taught to and required of  pre-service teachers, how to be a revolutionary bad-ass teacher.

One of the reasons I was popular in my teaching career is because I did not allow anyone or anything to get between me and my students. They were MY students and I did what I thought was best for them whether it was what the administration or the School Board or anyone else thought. It was my duty as their teacher not to betray my ethics and shortchange them because somebody else thought it was a good idea. So we have two choices, keep on doing what we are doing in teacher prep and teaching and continue to get what we are getting or change and turn out students who can and will change the world for the better. Your choice, choose wisely grasshoppers!







Leave a comment

Posted by on February 5, 2016 in Uncategorized


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: