Yesterday, I had the opportunity to jump on a panel at Bank Street College with a few education colleagues (including representatives from Hechinger Report and Gotham Schools) about education and the media. Save for a few questions about my blog (see: teacher voice), the general topics at the panel centered around perceptions of teachers in the media. Teachers on the panel were asked how they felt about the constant teacher-bashing by the Rush Limbaughs and Fox News pundits while education reporters and researchers discussed how difficult topics like value-added measures and teacher working conditions were to fully write for the American public.
One part of the discussion that struck me was teacher preparation. While I have a hard time recalling every bit of the conversation, I remember I mentioned three things (which you’ll probably recognize)
- We ought to have differentiated pathways into the profession, so long as …
- We find ways to ensure that teachers are adequately prepared for the system they’re encountering
- There’s a certain privilege in attending places like Bank Street in the kind of education those students receive that I didn’t necessarily get
I might have gotten under some people’s skin with the last statement, but there’s an element of truth to it. In no way am I suggesting that we only need to come from so-called elite colleges. Actually, I’m suggesting we need to discuss what we consider “elite.” There’s a functional difference between a college with an awesome name but whose students don’t see a correlation between what they learned in the ivory tower and their experience in the classroom. While most teachers surveyed here believe that their teacher preparation program was satisfactory, they tended to trust in-school dimensions of their preparation much more than anything the college can provide. That probably has to do with the fact that many colleges concentrate too much on theory instead of practice.
Thus, the place doesn’t have to be elite in name, but functionality.
I know plenty of folks who graduated from a smaller school, but whose professors gave them the rigorous, thorough foundations to at least get the technical sides of the profession right before they came in the classroom. Things like lesson plans, unit plans, rubrics, assessments, creating independent thinkers, differentiation, and questioning don’t come naturally to people and have to be taught. Some of this stuff requires tons of professional development from inside and outside sources. Walking into the classroom and surviving (!) the first year is hard enough without knowing how to create a critical question from the top of the lesson, but if we’re given the tools and techniques to withstand the culture shock of standing in front of a live audience for 10 months out of the year, then that goes a long way in creating a stronger teaching core.
In a way, educators who believe in this Teaching 2030 vision are, in fact, seeking a secret technocracy, where the merits of our most expert individuals hold more merit than the whims of an appointed few. In this case, the experts happen to be educators, educational researchers, and those who seek to enhance this valuable profession for our students. We can’t rely on the unreliable (i.e. standardized tests) to tell us whether teachers actually matter. We have lots of evidence for things that do matter, though, and one of those is whether people can push out of their comfort zones and into the mode of a professional teacher.
New teachers entering in the profession deserve the best foundation possible, and secretly, we’re going to need a few more technocrats like us.