Teacher education has always been of interest to me. Blessed with both traditional and non-traditional education courses, I felt very prepared as I stepped into my 9th grade history classroom in the Bronx. However, looking back at my years teaching in public schools and training aspiring educators with Practice Makes Perfect, I am left wondering if my experience may be the exception. Are we setting up our teachers for failure? If so, why are we surprised when we see shocking teacher attrition rates and even more horrifying student achievement data? In every other profession there is a prescribed path that is non-negotiable. With three years of law school or four years of medical school, one can become lawyer or a doctor. Yet in teaching, there is no uniform program and because of this, we are seeing varying degrees of preparedness when educators begin their first year. Different institutions combat this in a myriad of ways. Some stack their faculty with professors who have been in academia for decades. Others send their students into the field—introducing them to practitioners of diverse teaching styles. Regardless of which camp you stand in, that of the practitioners or that of the academics, we can all agree that increasing student achievement is at the forefront of this discussion.
In order to prepare students of all races and socioeconomic statuses to compete intellectually on the global stage, we need to ensure that teachers feel prepared. Currently 3 out of 5 teachers say they are not adequately prepared to teach in the classroom. They can recite the theories of education until they are blue in the face and use buzzwords like “differentiation”, “cooperative-based learning” and “higher order thinking,” but if they cannot use these things in practice, what is the point?
In his article “Educating School Teachers,” Arthur Levine discusses the importance of matching our society’s desire for increased student outcomes with increased teacher quality. “The quality of tomorrow will be no better than the quality of our teaching force.” Quality teaching leads to higher student achievement data. So, how do we increase teacher quality?
We need to be a society that values the profession—both in dollar figure and as a “real career.” Never again should someone hear, “Well, if consulting doesn’t work out, I can always be a teacher.”
We need to give our aspiring teachers a dose of reality and educate them on the current state of their student population—not what we want them to be or what theory says education “should” look like.
We need our fieldwork opportunities to reflect the needs of today’s students and today’s schools. Our teachers need a tried and true realistic job preview of what it is like to be a teacher. They need time to create their own culture of excellence and practice classroom management strategies.
It is with great pride that I write that I am teacher. I am part of a movement that is helping the next generation become the leaders of tomorrow. And as a teacher, my learning is never done. I continue to look to great teachers and use their strategies to help shape my own pedagogy. We have a job to do. When we work together, with each of us doing our part, we can create the change necessary to increase student achievement and provide better opportunities for all students.