Sunday, May 3, 2009

Attention Colleges and Teacher Prep Programs!

You’re getting it wrong.

We are at that time of year again…new teachers are coming out of college, degrees in hand, ready to conquer the world of education! These new teachers have spent years learning about content and educational theory and serving required practicums in real classrooms.

But they are graduating unprepared.

Even in my own education, I felt underprepared for the reality of day to day classroom instruction—and I graduated years ago. Why has nothing changed? Why is theoretical knowledge still valued more than practical application?

These new teachers are walking into interviews with portfolios that look like doctoral dissertations—200 pages of discourse around what they “believe” about education, based on what they’ve read from books.

These new teachers are walking into classrooms knowing next to nothing about classroom management, engagement, motivation, and professional collaboration.

They are in classrooms knowing that they have to teach a particular subject, but don’t have an inherent understanding of how standards are broken apart into content and skills—and furthermore, what authentic assessment around that content looks like. They may have been taught about the difference between types of assessments, there is very little formative assessment done to drive future instruction.

Now, I understand that teachers need a year or two, maybe three, to hone their craft, and that there is nothing like actually teaching to make one a better teacher. Mentoring programs and Staff Development opportunities are making things easier for new teachers, but shouldn’t colleges be paying attention to this as well?

As much as I see a need to disrupt the traditional educational model in K-12 classrooms to affect student learning and achievement; I see a greater need to disrupt the collegiate model:

* $20,000 and 160 traditional college credits doesn’t make a good teacher. Guided practice does.
* Requiring a 200 page portfolio for graduating Master’s candidates is just busywork. That time could be better spent implementing best practices and learning to be a reflective practitioner.
* Reading a book and writing a report about what you MIGHT do in a classroom around that particular theory is moot. Having honest discourse around practical experiences is WAY more valuable.
* Teaching teachers to collaborate from the moment they enter college programs is essential. The “Island Mentality” is unbelievably bad for kids and teachers. New teachers need to know how to connect to others, develop PLN’s, and work collectively to drive ongoing improvement and advancement of their craft.
* New teachers need to have a deep understanding of differentiated instruction BEFORE they enter a classroom. Likewise, they need an extensive toolbox of instructional methods that may include more traditional methods, but doesn’t rely on them.

Please forgive my rant. I’m just seeing the same things over and over again in new teachers and recent graduates from teacher prep programs. It’s time to disrupt the model and be honest about what really makes a good teacher. It’s time to use a critical eye and examine what real preparation is all about.


  1. Just found your blog today from Mike Sansone's post on Twitter. You've inspired me to get in contact with some of my undergrad professors and discuss these very concerns. I felt almost wholly unprepared when I entered my first classroom and I think I've been reluctant to really point a finger at why that was.

    Right on!

  2. I couldn't agree more! I have long believed that if we are to work toward improving our educational system, we should certainly begin with the college prep programs. During undergrad, I dropped the education major because I was so disappointed. Later, I gave up the fight and went back for my masters. Guess what? Same easy classes where I was treated as a child.
    But I'm on my rant, so I'll move back to yours! I skipped student teaching and dove right in with an alternative certificate. I specifically went to my principal to request this so I would not be DISTRACTED by the insane amount of busy work that the new student teacher portfolio entails; he agreed. While I would have appreciated the feedback from an observing professor, I am lucky to have a mentor, fabulous PLN on twitter, and the collective wisdom found on the EnglishCompanionNing. And in retrospect, I've taken ONE education class that I found helpful, taught by a pragmatic professor: Classroom Management. Even there, it was highly theoretical.

    On the other side of things... I feel that sometimes the "sink or swim" model encourages focus and creativity. I have experimented with so many strategies this year and I'm not sure any in depth lecture would have prepared me more than this. Instead, I would like to have spent more time getting credit for collecting the "toolbox" of strategies you mentioned and less time memorizing which theorist said what. (Hey, if they're all a little bit wrong, tell me what the bottom line is.)

    Thanks for the post and sorry for my novel...

  3. I agree that teachers need a year or three to hone their craft and there is nothing like actual teaching to make you a better teacher. However, I often wonder if the college professors are modeling enough in their classrooms? Do THEY use any technology in the college classroom? Do cooperating teachers and/or student teacher advisors guide them in the direction of taking chances, having kids work collaboratively, or integration? I'm not sure what the answer is, but I agree something has to change somewhere in this process.

  4. Chris,
    I had education professors say to our class (direct quote) "This is not what you should do in your classrooms, but I'm going to do it here," when talking about giving all of us the same assignment in regard to differentiation.

    So, in my experience, the answer is no, at least not always.

  5. The "Do as I say, not as I do" model is ridiculously allowed to continue, year after year. I don't know what the catalyst for change will inevitably be, but I know that more voices are better than none. Hopefully, someone, somewhere, will starting getting the message. Doing a better job preparing teachers benefits EVERYONE...especially children!

  6. I co-teach a grad class called "Technology in the Classroom." We always use the things we use in class: Warm-ups, practice, instruction, review, and reflection. These are the things that need to happen in classrooms.

    I'm lucky that we get to do most of it through technology. Even better, half of our sessions are in a school, in a classroom and computer lab.

    I agree with your rant. I took the class I teach before I was offered the position. I didn't learn anything that would affect the students I was supposed to be engaging in the near future. I vowed to model good teaching when I teach it so that pre-service teachers have good teaching skills, technology or not, to use.

    Great post.

  7. I cannot agree more with your rant. I think I ranted on the same topic a few months ago. Student teachers are ill-prepared and it is not their fault.

    Colleges and universities need to step up and prepare these people better!

  8. Take a peek at what Steve Shann is up to, his blog and the work that he does with his students. Learning a lot from connecting with him there and on EC Ning too.