Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Sorrows of an Old Teacher Educator

I have been preparing future teachers for forty two years and have belatedly concluded that I'm in the wrong line of work. Absolutely no one of influence gives a crap if this job is done well or not.

When I began my career I chose to teach at a Catholic college run by a religious order allegedly devoted to teaching. I reasoned that this bode well for teacher education at the school. Unfortunately, I failed to adequately consider that it was a liberal arts school. In that environment the education department was Thursday's child. Plus filling our classrooms with far too many marginally committed halfwits was more profitable than allowing us to restrict entry in the same way as any professional school does as a matter of course.

Nearly half a century later the Education Department has won some credibility. But the resources we have to work with are embarrassing. Most of the revenue we generate disappeared into the general fund. Proportionately little was reinvested in properly equipping our programs. Consequently, I teach in a classroom equipped in exactly the same way as my first grade class was in 1946 except the desks are bigger.) It lacks even a bulletin board. Imagine teaching in a medical school lacking every feature of modern medical practice. Well I teach in the equivalent.

I really shouldn't fault the college though. They would be foolish to invest more heavily in teacher education than their competitors. Besides, few give a damn about teacher preparation to begin with.

This indifference is aggravated by meddlesome state education officials who, without any meaningful consultation, seek to idiot proof the process. For instance, they mandate literally hundreds of provisions that must be met before a college can secure middle school teacher program approval.  What is the result?
It's as if some crazed bureaucrat with delusions of grandeur was given several reams of paper, locked in an office and given the following instructions, "We are dealing with nuckle heads who haven't a clue about preparing teachers. Idiot proof the process by creating hundreds of requirements that leave them no latitude whatsoever."

You might think, "Well, at least they are getting tough." Oh yeah? Then why, at the same time are these half-wits  also creating pathetically easy "alternative routes" into teaching at the same time?

Oh, and lets nor forget President Obama and his totally unqualified Secretary of Education. When it comes to teacher preparation the two of them just jumped down the rabbit hole with Alice. How so? They recently decided to classify teacher interns as "highly qualified teachers." Why would they do a crazy thing like that? So that states like California, who use hundreds of interns to fill classrooms in their educational Calcuttas meet the No Child Left Behind requirement that all teachers be "highly qualified." Surely this is the first time in human history that interns have officially been declared "highly qualified." It's 1984 all over again!. War is peace! Love is Hate! and Interns are Highly Qualified." What a joke!

If I could start my career over I would choose something the American people really care about. Perhaps I should have learned how to make napalm stick more tenaciously to babies, or something of the sort. The nation has long been eager to invest in that sort of thing. But like I said at the beginning, absolutely no one of influence gives a crap if teacher preparation is done well or not.

For more on this subject see www.newfoundations.com/EGR/Cannonfodder.html

Preparing Truly Competent Teachers


Professional Teacher Preparation: The Essential Step Toward Better Schools

“When one considers in its length and breadth the importance of a nation’s young, the broken lives, the defeated hopes, the national failures, which result from the frivolous inertia with which (education) is treated, it is difficult to restrain within oneself a savage rage”

Alfred North Whitehead
The Aims of Education and Other Essays (New York: Macmillan, 1929) p.22.

Really want to improve American schooling?  Recognize that better teachers are the key ingredient. And also realize that real school reform will not happen until we greatly strengthen their preparation.

How can this be done? The vast majority of undergraduates are too immature and unmotivated for serious teacher training. What is required is thorough preparation in a post-graduate professional school similar to that required of lawyers, medical doctors, veterinarians, opticians and other occupations we actually respect.

Highly motivated and mature students in a demanding graduate environment could become the kind of teachers we need to begin tranforming our schools. But state and federal officials are not only ignoring this opportunity, they have been fostering lax, disempowering short cuts into teaching instead. The Obama administration even classifies interns as highly qualified teachers to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

Forget quickie teacher preparation alternatives; close marginal teacher preparation programs at profiteering colleges specializing in cut-rate certification; and require truly professional teacher preparation. This is what is required.
Of course, we would have to pay higher salaries and actually respect teachers in order to attract the best and the brightest to such demanding training. And the average American isn’t willing to pay this tab — particularly while we are squandering trillions of dollars on no-win wars


What is more, truly professional preparation would really strengthen the teaching profession — a primal fear of politicians. Who could they blame if the teachers could really fight back?


Yes, what needs to be done is obvious. But it is not going to happen any time soon. Meanwhile, our politicians will keep tinkering with high stakes tests, charter schools, vouchers and any other "reforms" that can be accomplished on the cheap.

To examine this issue further, see http://www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/FirStep.html