There is a saying that “Teaching creates all other professions.”
It rings with truth so loud that one should hear it from miles away. So my thoughts this morning turn to teacher preparation. Since it is true that teaching creates all other professions, why do I get the impression that teacher preparation is not as rigorous as it should be? My own preparation to become a teacher can serve as an example.
I do feel that I received a “best of breed” education from my alma mater. Still, they could have done better in some areas. I also feel that my student teaching experience was insightful and useful, but more can be done by school districts that accept student teachers to ensure that their future employees are well prepared to assume the duties of teacher. I am proposing that teacher preparation programs become apprenticeships. Just as an apprentice studies and works alongside those who have mastered the skills required, teacher-apprentices should study and work alongside certified teachers for more than just the usual period of student teaching. According to the Department of Labor:
Apprenticeship is a combination of on-the-job training and related instruction in which workers learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation. Apprenticeship programs can be sponsored by individual employers, joint employer and labor groups, and/or employer associations (“U.S. Department of Labor – Find it by topic – Training – Apprenticeship,” 2012). (Emphasis added)
Teaching is a highly skilled occupation, despite what some people might think and say about it. Teachers are required to do so many things during a typical school day that fall outside the realm of teaching. It is our duty to help young people find their way to adulthood in a healthy, humane way; this often requires developing relationships that foster development and crosses into the realm of psychology and parenthood.
Yet, I feel that many teachers are learning those skills on-the-job without a skilled professional to guide them. They are behind that closed classroom door, hoping they are doing things correctly, and often finding themselves making mistakes that could have been corrected quickly, had a skilled professional guided them.
4 Ideas To Better Prepare Teachers For The Classroom
1. Teacher Preparation Programs Should Terminate In A Master’s Degree
It is my strong belief that teachers should study education, teaching, child and adolescent psychology, English language learning, and a host of other topics throughout a bachelor’s and master’s program, culminating in a Master of Arts in Teaching or a Master’s of Education. Throughout the graduation program, teachers could be teaching, but their supervisor and the district should closely monitor their activity. They should be apprentice teachers until they prove they are ready to assume the mantle of teacher. If a teacher does not receive a master’s degree within two years of receiving a bachelor’s degree, that teacher should be on probation until he or she obtains that degree.
2. Start A District And School Partnership From Year One
Once the apprentice declares a major and enters the education program, the college and the student should forge a partnership with a district and school. Students should attend classes that require visits to their partner school at least once a week. While they are there, they should observe a highly skilled teacher and report their observations. At first, their observations will be instinctual, and based on their experiences as a student. However, over time, the student will learn educational theory, classroom management, and academic content that will help refine their observations. These observations should continue until the student is ready to become a student teacher.
No teacher should learn educational theory, classroom management, and academic content in a vacuum; they need to observe all of these things in real-world situations. Students should be invited to in-service activities, and perhaps even faculty meetings. They need to see the other aspects of teaching that go beyond the classroom. They need to see what professional development will be like once they graduate, for instance. They also need to understand the political aspects of teaching. Schools should train the students to respond to crises and to recognize potential problems with young people or fellow staff members. I think most student teachers never learn about these things while they are in training, unless they experience these types of situations.
Schools should also training students in the administrative functions of teaching. For instance, they should learn how to use school management software, how to report discipline problems, and how to refer students for special education. Let’s get serious about preparing future teachers. Let’s make sure that the program is rigorous enough to attract the best candidates who feel they are ready to enter such a program.
3. Practicing The Art & Science Of Teaching Should Not Start With The Student Teaching Assignment
Students should practice their teaching skills while they are still early on in the program. They should get involved with their classroom as soon as possible. In Year One, skilled teachers could ask them to become participant observers, working alongside the skilled teacher during class.
In Year Two, skilled teachers could allow the student teacher to facilitate lessons upon occasion. By the time they are ready to start student teaching, pre-service teachers should be comfortable facilitating lessons, and should be ready to assume other classroom duties as well. During that time, skilled teachers should teach the student how to plan lessons, while they also learn how to plan in their college classes. By Year Three, students should be able to plan and facilitate their own lessons. They should teach on a regular basis.
4. Content Knowledge Is Important, But Other Critical Skills Are Overlooked
Since I can only speak to my experiences as an English teacher, my experiences in that capacity will be the focus of this section. English teachers rarely learn how to teach the critical skills of using proper grammar, punctuation, and style. They also rarely learn how to teach writing skills – and the results show in the skills demonstrated by our students. Teachers learn how to teach these things when they finally get their own classroom and have to teach these skills to others.
I was fortunate enough to observe a few classes that focused on grammar, but only because those classes had been scheduled to occur long before the teacher knew I was coming. Most teachers are quite resilient and resourceful. If they do not know how to teach something, they examine their resources, research, and develop lesson plans that will work with their students. However, I feel that not having a course on instructional strategies related to these skills is a gross oversight on the part of teacher preparation programs. Most teacher preparation programs have courses on teaching reading development, so they should have courses on teaching writing, grammar, punctuation, and style as well.
I also find it interesting that there are Reading Specialist certifications available, but not Writing Specialist certifications. I wonder why. I’m sure teachers in other content areas can speak to skills they wish they had learned how to teach while they were skill pre-service teachers.
To reiterate: Let’s get serious about preparing teachers to enter this highly-skilled profession of educating our young people to become healthy, vibrant, productive, and happy adults. Let’s make the curriculum of teacher preparation programs rigorous and challenging enough that those who enter the profession are the best we can offer. Let’s make it challenging enough that those who think the job is easy will quickly learn they were misinformed. I believe a demanding apprenticeship program would achieve these goals.
Reference U.S. Department of Labor – Find it by topic – Training – Apprenticeship. (2012, December 11). U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved January 8, 2013, from http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/training/apprenticeship.htm#.UOv6s3faqM5; image attribution flickr user jonathankosread