Are teacher educators trapped?

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Reading Steve Sawchuk's great article in this week's Ed Week on how renegade providers like Boston Match and Relay are approaching teacher prep has left me a bit unsettled. What these new programs are doing is something that most of higher ed isn't doing: training teachers. Their training enables new teachers to walk into a classroom on the first day ready to teach--a goal that doesn't seem to be readily shared by the far less pragmatic teacher prep that dominates the thinking on most college campuses. Instead of acquiring skills which might considerably lessen the pain and agony of first-year teaching, the job of the traditional teacher candidates is basically to ponder what-have-you: their pasts, their fates, their prejudices, their own learning experiences, the fate of the students they have yet to meet, and the fate of the profession.

I'm wondering what it would take to persuade teacher educators who have to navigate the bizarre dynamics of higher education to change this approach, turning towards this more practical vision of teacher preparation in order to better serve novice teachers and more importantly better serve the kids in their wake.

The image that this all conjures up for me is some guy in a long-ago TV show--probably Batman, but instead of Batman it's a teacher educator--imprisoned in a cell when the walls start moving in, threatening to squash him like a bug. 

One encroaching wall represents the world of higher ed, in which the teacher educator is expected to perform like the traditional university scholar: researching, publishing, and thinking great and unique thoughts. The wall coming from the other side represents public schools and their need to have new teachers who arrive with concrete skills to successfully teach a classroom full of real live kids.

There are some instructive quotes in Sawchuk's article from teacher educators whom I generally think are on the right side of this argument, but which nevertheless convey just how far higher ed would need to travel here. Says Stanford's Pam Grossman: "I'm not interested in just preparing teachers as technicians. Professionals not only understand these skills but why they're using them." Smart rhetoric, but even that endorsement of skills cum understanding may not be suitably free of the taint of reference to technical skills. To most teacher educators, training, skills, and pretty much anything that Boston Match and others like it are doing these days, are dirty words, if for no other reason than because these 'low-level functions' threaten their often tenuous status on the college campus.

Other professional schools have figured out how to provide skills and still garner academic respectability. When it comes to ensuring better trained teachers, figuring out how teacher educators can do so as well may present the most important hurdle before us.