What’s Wrong with Teacher Education in this CountryBy Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
by Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
Founder, Supervisor of Instruction
Updated by the author on 4/18/2011
I am not the only one who is critical of Teacher Education in the U.S. The U.S. Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, has sounded the alarm (as posted on Fri, Oct. 30, 2009 in The Philadelphia Inquirer):
More must be done to prepare future teachers, especially those sent to failing urban school systems…Future teachers must be as adept at managing a classroom as they are at preparing a lesson plan…Duncan citing (2006 report by former Columbia Teachers College President Arthur Levine) that 61 percent of educators believe they were inadequately prepared for the classroom…that most of the nation’s 1,450 teachers colleges are doing a mediocre job, at best, of preparing future teachers.
But, specifically, what is wrong with teacher education in the United States?
The short answer? The curriculum that prospective teachers are put through. Teachers need less training in: Piaget, Erikson, Maslow, or the history/philosophy of education, nor even better methods courses for teaching, e.g., the Pythagorean Theorem.
They need more help with classroom management and classroom disruptive behavior.
In 2007–08, 34 percent of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that student misbehavior interfered with their teaching. And, student verbal abuse of teachers was up to 12%; and non-verbal disrespect as high as 18%. [Natl. Center for Educational Statistics, Indicators of School Crime and Safety, U.S. Dept. of Education, 2010]
Classroom disruptions lead to nearly two million suspensions a year! [Daniel Macallair, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, 2005].
More than 1 in 3 teachers say that they have seriously considered leaving the profession – or know a colleague who has left – because student discipline and behavior became so intolerable. And 85% believe that new teachers are particularly unprepared for dealing with behavior problems. [Teaching Interrupted, Public Agenda, May 2004]
And, these classroom disruptions do not just hurt our schools. They also fuel truancy, youth crimes, gang recruitment, family dysfunction, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and suicide.
What is wrong with teacher education for so many years that it has not helped teachers with what they really need?
1. Most teacher education curricula taught in our nation’s colleges are loaded with too much abstract theory and too little realistic practical help. Courses in the history and philosophy of education, learning theory, and child development do help reframe teachers’ perceptions of students’ learning, but they do little to help teachers with their priority need: what to actually do in the classroom on the spot. There is a training gap between giving teachers informed perceptions, and actually helping them with what specifically to do for over 6 hours a day, 180 days a year. Even the usefulness of subject methods courses only help get across the subject matter, IF the teacher can control his class. Teachers want effective classroom management to be a priority in their education. It is not.
2. It is not because teachers have little or no say regarding the courses they must take. Instead, professors of education have most of this power. And, most education professors tend to select theoretical courses they are comfortable teaching, rather than teach to the priority of what their students need. In many institutions, if the course offerings were more about what teachers really needed, many of these too theoretical professors would be out of a job. Many cannot teach the priority of what these teachers need. Professors vote for curricula that more secures their jobs, than that which would really help the jobs of those they are supposed to help. Some education professors, assigned to train K-12 teachers, would, themselves, fall apart in front of a real K-12 classroom.
3. Teachers are handcuffed to this professorial-chosen curriculum in order to get college credit, to get salary increments. They dare not buck the system or ask too many reality questions in their education classes that are “off the ivory tower curriculum” for fear of getting a low grade, no credit, and, thus, no salary raise.
4. Why don’t we have more education professors who can teach the priorities of classroom management? Because their training is too conceptual. Unfortunately, teaching (and classroom management) is not just conceptual. Instead:
5. It is a Performance Art. It is not like learning chemistry formulas. Nor is it like learning what a car needs and then fixing it, no matter how good the (lesson) plan. It is also not like learning Math concepts and then plugging them in.
Instead: teaching is more like learning the game of tennis: first, how it is played; then actually practicing how to play it, with coaching; then, learning the strokes; until these become instinctive; and finally performing these skills interactively, with other players, on the spot.
Yes, it involves learning to reframe one’s perceptions, as does a trained counselor listening to his clients; thus, educational psychology is useful. But, like the counselor, one must learn the appropriate responses, how to use one’s personality, one’s authentic responses in order to help. Notice: “responses”, “how to use…” performing!
Or, teaching is more like playing jazz piano: where you learn concepts, practice reactions (e.g., learn to hear the chords), and then perform these responses spontaneously, interacting with the other musicians in such a way that you play with honest feeling in order to make “music” together.
Or, it is like learning lion taming! where you learn and practice spontaneous decisions, using your feelings, personality, intuition to deliver the appropriate, correct reactions when confronted with the myriad of responses of those to be trained – when that door opens, without having too much time to think.
6. Training teachers in this Performance Art is very important because without it, or with just theories for reframing perceptions, teachers will fall back into just teaching the way they were taught! And, some of these teachers have had some really bad teachers, and/or parents.