Although I haven't found much time to blog lately I have been keeping up on my google reader. I was thrilled last week to read from The Quick and the Ed's blog that Arne Duncan is putting a priority on teacher prep. Too many of us are sent into classrooms unprepared. And although your first year teaching is going to have a high learning curve no matter what, there are ways we can make it less steep.
One of the unintended consequences from Teach for America was that it somehow made people believe that teachers didn't need training- anyone could do it. I know it wasn't TFA's intention, but I think the assumption that anyone could go in and teach with virtually no background became a huge catalyst for the anti-teacher movement. Who would respect someone whose job is so easy anyone could walk in and do it?
Of course one of the problems is that although teacher training should be rigorous and should fully prepare students to enter classrooms, many programs are ridiculous. Mine certainly was. It pains me how unprepared I was, and it should not have been a surprise to me- my Ed classes were absurdly easy. This was a huge waste of my time- what I would have given to be challenged in those classes.
Because the classes were notoriously easy the teacher prep program was seen almost as a joke by outsiders. Potentially excellent teachers turned their noses up at the profession because they felt they were smarter than those classes. And they were- but that doesn't mean they were too smart for the profession.
Improving teacher prep can do what TFA wanted to do- bring intelligent people into the profession. But it can also do more- it can change the perspective people have for the education field by making it a more respectable major. Who in college wants to major in something that is a running joke throughout the school? Let me tell you- it takes a firm backbone to be able to stay in a major that makes people assume you couldn't cut it in anything else in the school. People start to talk slower around you, and explain their jokes as though you don't get them. Who would suffer through that?
However, I don't think we can improve the outcomes of teacher prep coursework simply by modifying the coursework alone. It has to go hand in hand with giving teachers ample time in the classroom as interns, or student teachers, working alongside expert teachers who know how to think out loud and explain best practices throughout the intern's time in the classroom.
My school works closely with one university in the area. We have at least 4, if not more, interns every year who stay with us throughout the entire year. Because they spend so much time in the classroom learning alongside the teacher before they take on the responsibility of running a classroom alone they usually end the year extremely prepared. We love when our interns are hired as teachers the following year because we know they are fully prepared and well trained.
I'm excited that the ed conversation has turned toward teacher prep and I hope it will be a positive turn. There has been criticism of teacher prep for awhile with the answer seeming to be that it should be eliminated. Instead let's make it more rigorous and fully prepare teachers for the huge amount of responsibility they will have in their first year teacher.