TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

A call to higher educators: Let's have an honest debate about teacher prep

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Most people who took the time to read NYT Motoko Rich's article about the training methods used by Aspire charter schools in its teacher residency probably reacted with a "makes-sense-to-me" shrug of their shoulders. Of course it's a good idea to tear down teaching's inherent complexities into manageable chunks and have novices practice each to mastery. After all, it's what other professions do when they train their apprentices.

If that was your reaction, maybe you would be surprised to learn that such methods ignite passionate, even vehement, disapproval in much of the teacher preparation field.

Many years ago, it was decided that teacher education was about forming teachers – not training them. In other words, the job of the true teacher educator was to hone a young teacher's intuitions so well that she could somehow walk into any classroom anywhere and immediately intuit how to teach.

There's little evidence that such an approach works, judging by new teachers' complaints and the learning loss that takes place in most new teachers' classrooms. The reality is, we need a world-class teacher training system in this country and it has to be premised on more than a 22-year-old's intuition, however sharp. We have to provide training that gives teachers what they need to lead their classrooms the moment they graduate. We know that there are many proven, research-based tactics that are not being implemented systematically in our teacher prep programs. We need to change that thinking — and we need to shift the "intuitive" approach to the "training" approach.

How do we do that? It starts with asking aspiring teachers, school districts, taxpayers, public school educators and parents their opinion. And it requires those in the teacher prep field to acknowledge that it is indeed their responsibility to train teachers.

Higher education leaders, opinion makers and policymakers should be having a fair, honest academic discussion about how best to train teachers. That will require all parties coming together and listening to each other about what teachers truly need.  We can and must do better when it comes to preparing teachers for the classroom. It is not too late to make it happen.