Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How Should We Teach our Future Teachers?

In this May 4, 2010 photo, Hemant Mehta teaches his Honors Algebra Two/Trigonometry class at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Ill. A handful of education leaders want to standardize the way the next generation of American teachers is trained. (AP Photo/Corey R. Minkanic)

I love this article by Associated Press writer Donna Gordon Blankinship. It's about how teachers in our school systems are not adequately trained for teaching our kids. Here's a little excerpt from the article:

Educators across the nation have begun to work together on what teacher education needs to look like in the future, and the federal government is getting involved.

In a speech to Columbia University's Teachers College last fall, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the federal government would be investing in the reform of teacher training programs as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

"We should be studying and copying the practices of effective teacher preparation programs -- and encouraging the lowest performers to shape up or shut down," Duncan said.

Duncan said that despite evidence that teachers are not being prepared for the reality of the classroom, teacher education programs have been resistant to change, and states have been reluctant or unprepared to use student test data to track which colleges are producing the most effective teachers.

The president's budget includes a proposed expansion of the federal government's role in teacher training programs, which would add up to $405 million a year if approved by Congress. That's more than double current federal spending on teacher preparation programs.

Pam Grossman, professor of curriculum and teacher education at Stanford University, says the pendulum swings back and forth between a focus on craft and theory in teacher education. Is it more important for a teacher to know how to get first-graders to sound out words or should they be knowledgeable about why some kids learn to read in kindergarten and others don't figure it out until second grade?

"It really is that integration of knowing how and why," Grossman said. The trend in teacher education is toward adding more of the practical instruction, but she has ideas for making more progress.

Grossman describes a step-by-step way to teach things like classroom management or how to lead a discussion: show videos of good teacher technique, talk about the videos, have students role play to practice on each other and then send them out into the field and videotape them as they practice on kids.

It sounds simple and pragmatic, but many teacher candidates never practice these skills until they enter a classroom for the first time. What would a parent think if they knew a nurse hadn't practiced sticking a hypodermic needle into an orange and other nursing students before sticking one in her child?
I am really glad that steps have been taken to improve the system. I had quite a few friends who majored in elementary education in college. Being interested in what they learnt, I would always ask about what their homework was like and what they did in their classes. More often disappointed than impressed, I always wondered why more emphasis on training teachers was not put forth by colleges and the government. Again, because each state has a different set of requirements for teaching standards and curriculum, I understand that it is hard to train a uniform nation of teachers. However, much like how doctors and accountants in the U.S. have to undergo similar training procedures, shouldn't this be the same for teachers? After all, teachers today are educating our doctors of tomorrow. What do you guys think?

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