Saturday, June 14, 2014

Contemplating teacher education, Part II

Student teachers. Pre-service teachers. Men and women who intend to go to a university to become a teacher. Most of our future teachers are going to go to a more local university, probably one of their state schools. For the sake of this part of the discussion, though, we'll take a look at some of the best teacher education programs in the United States:
You can examine the requirements of just about any teacher education program for methods courses, a certain number of hours for content area, etc. What will vary is the number of practicums and how the practicums are implemented. What will also vary is the number of years since college faculty were in K-12 classrooms. I don't mean since they taught in a K-12 classroom, but how long it's been since they visited a K-12 classroom for any length of time. Or how long it's been since they spent at least a few hours visiting a K-12 school.

Just standing in the halls listening to the kids talk or watching how teachers manage their students. Or sitting in the lunchroom to observe how students interact, how teachers and students interact. Or just sitting in the back of the room to watch and listen to kids, to watch and listen to the teacher and the kids: no notes, no formal observation. Just watching and listening. And learning.

Then thinking about the realities of the classroom and the implications for what might be being taught in the teacher education program. And then thinking about how to implement any changes that might better prepare pre-service teachers for the real classroom.

I don't mean throwing away textbooks or lesson plans, but inviting students to comment on and make recommendations for using their learning based on what they have observed in their practicums and what they are learning about themselves as future teachers. They need to be discovering what kinds of teachers they think they will be.

They need to be watching video of outstanding, excellent, good, and reasonably okay teachers to discuss what's working, what's not working, what they think they'd do differently and why, what they think they couldn't pull off and why. (Ask about me about the SMART educator cooperative.)

We talk about supervising and cooperating teachers when we make pre-service teacher placements in a school. Both of those roles offer written feedback of a pre-service teacher's work. While it would require more time, why not have a 30-minute meeting (face-to-face, Google Hangout, Skype) to talk through the feedback, to allow the pre-service teacher opportunity to ask questions, and to enable both the supervising and cooperating teachers to coach. I know that many of the challenges for pre-service teachers arise when the supervising teacher doesn't think too much of the cooperating teacher, or vice versa, so the message about the pre-service teacher's learning and professional growth gets muddled if not lost.

Pre-service teachers need to learn about teaching. They need to learn their content areas. They need to learn how to teach their content areas. They need to learn what they do well and what they need to work on, just as their students will need to learn what they do well and what they need to work on. Every instance of interaction with an educator--supervising, cooperating, or otherwise--is an opportunity for that pre-service teacher to learn about her craft and her profession as well as to learn about his own skills, knowledge, abilities, and shortcomings in that craft and profession. Every instance of interaction with an educator is an opportunity to learn and to be coached.

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