If I could be the National Director of School Reform, the first thing I would change would be the method of teacher preparation.
I would break the stranglehold of teachers’ colleges and departments of education by abolishing “education” degrees altogether.
Biology, English, Mathematics, and History are academic disciplines. An undergraduate major of Education on the other hand, is a mish-mash of courses that belong in other departments. If beginning teachers need to study Philosophy of Education, let them take such a course in the Philosophy department. Ditto for all the other so-called “foundational” courses such as History of Education, Educational Psychology, Sociology of Education, and Statistics. Let students take them in the appropriate departments.
Teaching is a practical art. The ideal “education department” would be an actual school situated on the campus. Here, master teachers would instruct by example. Student teachers would teach children in a supervised setting. They would learn how to deal with problems of instruction, grading and discipline in the context of an authentic classroom situation.
First, Master a Subject
First of all, prospective teachers must understand what it is to master a subject. The present form of teacher preparation does not require them to do so. Instead, it conditions them to regard the educational process as one of dipping into this and that without mastering anything. Small wonder that so many traditionally-prepared teachers pass this unsatisfactory approach to learning on to their students.
Here are my suggestions for a reformed Teacher Education program for teachers 7-12.
Preliminary requisite for entrance into teaching program
Prospective candidate must demonstrate
1. fluency in spoken and written standard English,
2. mastery of high school general education courses
1. A major in a recognized academic subject such as English, history, mathematics, biology, foreign language, or physical science.
2. A minor in a second academic subject.
3. Mastery of a foreign language to at least an intermediate level at which it is possible to conduct a conversation about everyday topics with a native speaker.
4. University level courses in world literature, world history, American history and government, comparative religions, and the history of the English language.
Prospective teachers would be given the opportunity to teach, beginning with the freshman year, in monitored public school classroom settings.
Justification for the emphasis on language
Language is the vehicle of education and the transmission of culture. Teachers especially need to value their native language and its literature. They need to be well-acquainted with a second language and its related culture in order to understand that not everyone sees the world in the same way. Having reached a functional level of literacy in a second language, the teacher will also have a better understanding of the difficulties faced by ESL students.
All teachers must be English teachers. Individuals who are unable or unwilling to model standard spoken English, correct students’ speech and require standard written English in student work should not be permitted to teach.
Subject Mastery First
The Wikipedia article “Teacher Education” contains this curious comment regarding the content requirement of teacher preparation:
There is increasing debate about this aspect [content-area and methods knowledge and skills]; because it is no longer possible to know in advance what kinds of knowledge and skill pupils will need when they enter adult life, it becomes harder to know what kinds of knowledge and skill teachers should have.
Yes, many of the requirements of modern life differ from those of the industrial age during which the structure of our current educational system was established. For example, present-day teachers need to be computer-literate.
The system itself is antiquated and in need of change. The kinds of knowledge and skills needed as a foundation for effective teaching, however, remain the same: mastery of a subject on the part of the teacher. A teacher who has not experienced the learning process to the level of mastery of a particular subject is not equipped to guide children along the path of learning any subject.
Beware Meaningless “Rethinking”
The Wikipedia article goes on with this statement about possible changes in methodology:
Increasingly, emphasis is placed upon ‘transversal’ or ‘horizontal’ skills (such as ‘learning to learn’ or ‘social competences’, which cut across traditional subject boundaries, and therefore call into question traditional ways of designing the Teacher Education curriculum (and traditional school curricula and ways of working in the classroom).
This is meaningless Edu-Speak.
Children “learn to learn” by mastering specifics. Five-year-olds who master the phonetic elements of the language have learned more than the written symbols of English. They have mastered the learning process that builds new knowledge on previously-acquired knowledge.
Teachers who have mastered an academic subject—no matter which—understand the place of rote learning, independent thinking, research, organization, and presentation.
Bottomline: The foundation of teacher education is mastery of a valid academic discipline.