I had to laugh this week after stumbling across this New York Times article detailing the overwhelmingly negative—and borderline indignant—reaction of university leaders to an attempt by US News and National Council on Teacher Quality to develop an accountability model for our nation’s colleges of education.
“We have serious skepticism that their methodology will produce enough evidence to support the inferences they will make,” said Sharon P. Robinson, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Welcome to the club, Sharon.
Teachers have been questioning the methodology of current accountability efforts—and the inferences being drawn from those questionable methods—for the better part of a decade now. Your complaints are nothing new.
The thing is that despite being protective of my profession—teaching really does require unique knowledge and skill that few people outside of education actually understand—I’m ready for people to start questioning teacher preparation programs delivered by colleges of education.
Here’s why: I didn’t learn a darn thing in five years of higher education—including the graduate work that earns me a 10% annual salary stipend here in NC—that actually prepared me to be a classroom teacher.
In fact, I think I'd go as far as to say that outside of a course on Constructivism and an adolescent psychology class taught by a professor that I still quote to this day, my degrees were essentially exercises in professional hoop-jumping—an expensive prerequisite for employment that did little to help me once I was actually employed.
Let that settle in for a moment.
Simmer in it.
Knowing what I know now—after 17 years as a real-live classroom teacher—how would I change the programs that are preparing tomorrow’s educators?
Easy: Start by requiring longer apprenticeships for pre-service educators. And—as Louise mentions in a particularly insightful comment below—require that at least a part of that apprenticeship be spent working in the field that a teacher is going to be certified in.
Do you know how much actual full-time teaching I did before becoming certified as a teacher?
About 8 weeks.
Sure—I went on a school visit here or there. I also spent another 6-8 weeks observing my cooperating teachers in the senior year of my education program.
But I only had about 8 weeks of full-time experience with students before I was licensed for life. The rest of my 5 YEARS of college preparation was spent strapped into seats in lecture halls listening to professors drone on about collaborative learning for hours on end.
And do you know how much time I spent working with other geographers, journalists or scientists—the fields that I'm supposedly qualified to prepare my students to enter?
Not one day.
What’s REALLY crazy is this shocking truth documented by my Teaching 2030 colleagues: Only 39 states even require student teaching—ranging from a low of 8 weeks in Wyoming to a high of 20 weeks in Maryland—before they’re willing to certify that someone is ready to work with our kids.
That’s nuts—and it results in a slew of under-prepared teachers rolling into classrooms every fall who are barely qualified on a good day.
Some will persist.
Others will adapt.
Many will fail.
Most will quit.
Longer apprenticeships translates into more time working in real classrooms with real students—and more time working in real classrooms with real students is the only education that can truly prepare anyone for our profession.
Longer apprenticeships can also provide time for teachers to actually work as professionals beyond schools, giving them insight into the kinds of skills that really are essential for "ensuring student success" in the world of work. It's pretty hard to prepare kids for environments that you've never experienced first-hand yourself, don't you reckon?
Will longer apprenticeships and/or apprenticeships beyond education alone save our schools—and more importantly, result in increased levels of student achievement?
Nope. Who are we kidding? 10 years from now, schools have little chance of looking like they do today.
(Read: exactly how they looked 100 years ago)
Instead, “school” will be a blended experience. Students will come to a building for shared experiences with peers and teachers, but they’ll spend even more time learning in networked digital spaces and at their own paces.
Longer apprenticeships will, however, at least give new practitioners a fighting chance to understand what those changes look like in action.
They’ll see experienced educators wrestling with new models for teaching and learning. They'll see practitioners in their field adapting and changing and learning and growing. They’ll figure out how educational policies and new developments in their areas of 'expertise' translate into practice—and learn first-hand how to innovate within a system that doesn’t generally like innovation.
Now, I won’t pretend to know everything there is to know about preparing teachers. It’s been a long while since I set foot in a college of education. More importantly, I trust a bunch of the university minds that I’ve met in the past few years on Twitter.
Guys like Jon Becker are brilliant, giving me hope that Higher Ed can change itself.
But make no mistake: Teacher preparation NEEDS to change—and longer apprenticeships will give new practitioners meaningful experiences with students AND with professionals in their chosen fields.
How is that a bad thing?