In a continuing effort by the Obama administration to improve our school system, the Department of Education has been directed to develop a strategy for evaluating U.S. teacher training programs. These standards are meant to improve teacher preparedness for entering the classroom as too many believe that our teachers are sorely under trained for the important task at hand. Following a period of public comment, the new proposals are expected to go into effect next year.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated that, “Poor teacher preparation programs produce teachers who are under-prepared, ineffective and frustrated.” How have we gotten into this sorry state? Well, Duncan, along with the 2/3 of the new teachers who feel that they are ill-equipped for the crucial task at hand, believe that universities often treat schools of education as “cash cows”. They are comparatively cheap to operate yet attract a high enrollment. This, perhaps, lowers the incentive to develop excellent teacher education programs.
A 2013 review by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a group that favors strengthening standards for teachers, looked at 2,420 teacher preparation programs in 1,130 institutions of higher education across the country. It found that 93% of programs failed to ensure that candidates were assigned to highly skilled teachers during student-teaching. It also found that only 23% were providing teacher candidates with strategies to improve classroom behavioral problems.
Through my own university education and student teaching experiences, I can attest to some of the problems noted. Receiving my Master’s in Early Childhood Education from a respected college, I was required to take 10 courses. 6 of these were taught by the same tenured, unpleasant and rather lazy teacher. Almost every class involved the students doing presentations and the teacher sitting silently. In addition, those of us who asked questions because we were actually trying to learn something were regularly given a “B” on our assignments and those who didn’t ask questions received an “A”. Eventually, we caught on that this “Professor” just wanted to be left alone. By doing her that favor, we were rewarded with a better grade.
My student teaching involved working with a kind, if not average, first grade teacher. Most of the day was spent giving out work sheets and having students line up at our desks to get them graded. I learned minimal teaching skills. My other assignment was to work with 3 teachers in an open-space classroom. The concept was that students would be self motivated and self teaching. I got a lot of experience making attractive bulletin board displays and “learning games” but gained little about presenting a lesson or classroom discipline as there wasn’t a need for it since this was basically a free-for-all situation.
Yet, by gathering the sparks of information that I did reap from my teaching degrees and with determination to be the best teacher that I could be, I managed to be awarded “Teacher of the Year”-without government created evaluations.
Trying to set standards is not new. In 2002, President George Bush signed the No Child Left Behind act. This required standardized testing for all U.S. students across the country to assure that they were actually being educated. Part of this mandate was teacher testing to verify that they were qualified in their field of expertise. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, this measure did little to improve education. In 2012, President Obama granted waivers from NCLB requirements to several states. As noted, “In exchange for that flexibility, those states have agreed to raise standards, improve accountability, and undertake essential reforms to improve teacher effectiveness.” Time will tell if this will happen.
A Google search will generate endless ideas for aiding teachers in developing their skills, from creative lesson plans to behavioral tools. In addition, several agencies and organizations have studied the characteristics of good teachers. One of these is the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC). They have a thorough list of practical skills which can help any teacher with a desire to improve succeed. In addition, any subject one feels that they lack knowledge can be attained by going to the library, viewing youtube, or searching Google.
Do we really need more of our tax money poured into government watch groups? I’d love to hear what you think.