The need to train teachers

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Almost all teacher educator leaders acknowledge that the field has deep problems, although their concerns focus on a lack of consistency -- not a problem usually noted by outside observers. (Outside observers tend to cite as problems a lack of selectivity, an imbalance between content and pedagogy, and/or the lack of value delivered.) But inconsistency seems to us to be an inevitable consequence of the field's belief that it is not its role to impart specific knowledge to future teachers -- in other words, to train them. Training a teacher is viewed (as stated in the summation of Studying Teacher Education, a lengthy and revealing 2006 volume published by the American Educational Research Association) as "an over simplification of teaching and learning, ignoring its dynamic, social and moral aspects." Instead, the perceived function of teacher education is to launch the candidate on a life-time path of learning, as distinguished from knowing, because knowledge is too fluid to be acquired.

We ask: How could such an institutional purpose possibly lead to consistency across nearly 1,400 institutions? Add in a tradition of academic freedom in higher education and it should come as no surprise that, for example, we find significant variation in preparation programs in instruction in different sections of the same course at the same institution. And that doesn't even speak to whether any of the instruction adds value. 
To draw a stark contrast, we do believe that the purpose of teacher education is to impart real and measurable knowledge, skills and techniques to teacher candidates that make them capable and confident from their first days on the job. In addition, teacher candidates need these skills and knowledge as a basis on which to make informed and effective judgments. In a word, the purpose of teacher education is training. We believe that if teacher educators embraced training as the core of their mission, better teacher education would evolve. Moreover, a focus on training by instructors and researchers would create a virtuous cycle that would eventually lead to much greater alignment of education within and among institutions. Certainly there might still be faculty friction on academic freedom issues in education schools because the research base is still spotty, but the alignment encouraged by a training mission would be no more perceived by ed school faculty as an intellectual straitjacket than it is by medical school faculty. 

Kate Walsh