Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Teaching the Teachers

A recent study points out what a lot of us have known for a long time: Teacher training at the college level is in a state of chaos:
The damning review comes from Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University.

His report, released Monday, comes as public schools are under federal orders to have a qualified teacher for every class. It casts doubts on the most basic aspects of how teachers are taught. Teacher quality has a huge influence on whether students pass or fail.

The coursework in teacher education programs is in disarray nationwide, the report says. Unlike other professions such as law and medicine, there is no common length of study or set of required skills.

Then there are a host of other problems: low admissions standards, disengaged college faculty, insufficient classroom practice and poor oversight, according to Levine's study.

"Teacher education right now is the Dodge City of education: unruly and chaotic," said Levine, who now heads the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. "There's a chasm between what goes on in the university and what goes on in the classroom."
The study was done under the umbrella of something called the Education Schools Project, which is devoted to improving teacher education.

I think the problem is even more complicated than that, because there's one thing not mentioned in the article: whether an overabundance of "teaching people how to teach" classes are even a good idea in the first place. Having gone through an undergraduate music education program that required us to take around 12-15 credit hours from the "regular" education department, I can't say that I was impressed with any of our required classes (and yes, I realize that part of my sentiment could be derived from the fact that music is taught very differently from most other subjects, so there was a definitive issue of relevance there).

The main problem was that so much of those classes were filled with the generic trendy psychobabble of the day and contained very little practical information or experience. By far, the best things I learned about teaching were in the classes where we actually had to teach someone something, but the vast majority of those moments took place in the music building and not the education one.

I understand that they've added a communications class to the degree plan since I graduated, and I think that's a great idea, because someone could be the most brilliant person at his or her subject matter, but that brilliance would be greatly diminished if the person couldn't effectively impart that knowledge to the class. But otherwise, I think far less time should be spent on "teaching how to teach" and much more time spent on making future teachers into true experts in their chosen subject matter.

As always, comments are welcome.

Not just a stupid criminal, but a lazy one too: A man charged with burglarizing a house in California was caught by the homeowner when he stayed there long enough to do some laundry and order a pizza.

This might well work, but it wouldn't win any popularity contests: A city council member in Charleston, South Carolina came up with a, well, unique answer to the problem of juvenile delinquency--if the kids won't behave, then sterilize their parents

Belated candles: Happy birthday yesterday to Shawn. Apologies for the tardiness; I was enjoying the Fair Day holiday so much that I didn't manage to either blog or check my calendar--d'oh.


SuperanonymousJP said...

Other professions such as law and medicine have lots more money to spend on educational quality. Teachers could not possibly be asked to pay the fees that doctors and lawyers pay to their certification boards.

On another subject, I learned that I am both masculine and feminine in said communications class. But seriously, that class did a good job helping students to see things from others perspective and use that information to aid in communication.

And one final note - without those "psychobabble" classes, a new teacher would be totally lost in their first faculty meeting hearing all the lingo for the first time. Now, that may be the only use of some of that information...

All schools can do is teach students to think for themselves, find information, ask others for help, and give them the basic information to build their future "teaching knowledge" on. I am sure it is the same in the medical and law fields as well.

Ms. Worley said...

As a teacher, I'll say that there is some use for all the psychobabble, to a degree.... but I agree that there is a need for more teaching experience in your average teaching degree plan.
I think I heard at some point (I forget where I'm geting this from) that some colleges were changing degree plans such that there were two semesters of student teaching: one at the beginning of the degree, and one at the end. I have never heard a samrter idea, with the possible exception of your Administrators-Must-Teach plan.
In Summary: You can do all the book-learnin you want, but until you get in front of kids, you don't have a clue.