I was struck by the remarks in a blog posting this week from a dean of a teacher preparation program who had just visited Finland. She observed:
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Finnish teacher preparation program is the selectivity of the preservice teachers. Last year, for example, 120 out of 1,240 applicants were accepted to one university's basic education teacher preparation program. The question is why are so many people interested in teaching? After all, the salaries are roughly equivalent to ours. Two factors are key. First, their society holds teachers in high esteem, much like doctors. Second, as highly trained professionals, teachers have autonomy to solve problems.
My own fatigue over the ever-constant fawning over Finland aside, why is there so little acknowledgment from the field of teacher education that it actually has a great deal of power to improve the esteem of the teaching profession?
If teacher educators want the teaching profession in the U.S. to emulate Finland, there are three simple steps they themselves could take:
They need to put the brakes on who gets admitted into their programs, not only raising the academic bar, but also ensuring that applicants have a serious interest in teaching.
Programs need to stop handing out A's as if they were prizes at summer camp. We know from the work done by Cory Koedel
that the average GPA for students in a college of education is significantly higher than for other fields of study on the same campus. Teacher prep needs to make itself unattractive to college students who just want to cruise to their degree.
Programs need to stop flooding the market with licensed graduates who in fact have no intention of ever entering a classroom as a teacher. Every student who graduates from a program ought to be both someone who actually wants a teaching job and someone whom any school would want to hire. By admitting fewer students and putting in place performance milestones which screen out teacher candidates along the way, this can happen.
Why should teachers be as esteemed as other professionals if the professional training has an open door policy both for getting in and getting out? There is an incontrovertible connection between the selectivity and rigor of professional training and the public esteem in which any profession is held.
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