Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The "Aristocrats" of Education: Teacher Education Programs

If you ever want to get a hearty chuckle out of an experienced K-12 teacher, ask them about the teacher education program they went though in college. Be advised that the chuckle will often be accompanied by a derisive snort and/or flabbergasted rapid exhalation of air. Almost certainly, the seasoned teacher you ask will at some point in their answer:
  • Raise an eyebrow into a disdainful arch
  • Roll their eyes once, if not many times
  • Use words like "useless", "pointless" and "interminable" in multiple combinations
It is one of the K-12 "secrets of the temple" that almost all teacher education programs suck. Sure, I'd like to use a fancier, less plebian term than "suck", but the word "suck" captures so well the sucky sucktitude of these programs.

I have now come across a recently released "study" of said programs, and (wouldn't it know it?) it has come up with exactly the same finding. Being academics with reputations to uphold and significant funding, the members of the "Education Schools Project" did not entitle their 140-page report "Teacher Education Programs Suck", but instead called it "Educating School Teachers". Despite the wishy-washy title, the report confirms what every experienced teacher would tell you, but with bigger words and without the hearty, turning to derisive, chuckles.

The sexy quote from the report's executive summary is this:

"'Teacher education right now is the Dodge City of education, unruly and chaotic,' said the author of the report, Arthur Levine, the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and the former president of Teachers College at Columbia University."--New York Times (and others), September 19, 2006

You can tell Dr. Levine was a eyelash away from using the word "suck", can't ya?

The question you non-teachers are probably asking yourself right now is: why are the preparation programs so bad? And because I'm too busy chuckling, snorting and rolling my eyes I'm simply going to direct your attention to the 140-page report (yes, it's a dreaded .pdf). Besides, Dr. Levine and his crew got paid more, analyzed/experienced more than just one such program (in my case the University of New Mexico Special Education Department, an entity whose mere mention makes me almost fall down laughing/crying) , and used more sophisticated words than "suck".

Two years ago, for complicated reasons, I found out that I needed to take a teacher education class at UNM after having last attended the place in 1994. It was a remarkable experience. The class was full of newbie teachers, only a few seasoned folks like myself sprinkled like hot chiles amid all the ingenues (and they were mostly young women, btw).

Truth be told, I felt like a returning soldier from a foreign war stuck among new, idealistic recruits. I heard their stories and concerns and really couldn't bring myself to tell them how misguided, naive and out of touch with teaching reality they were. Okay, on rare occasions I did tell them, and in each of these few instances my tales from the front were met with disbelief, askance looks and, in one or two cases, a not insignificant level of righteous outrage. I quickly learned to hide my battle scars and waited patiently for the end of the semester. I collected my ridiculously easy "A" in the class and repeated my vow to never, ever take a teacher education program class again.

But don't take my word for it. Read the "study", especially if you, dear reader, are thinking of a career in K-12 education. Read it, visit the various programs, ask questions of seasoned teachers you know. If you make it through that gauntlet still wanting to teach maybe, just maybe, you can survive the inanity of a teacher education program. Frankly, I wouldn't wish it upon anybody. I wish I were kidding.

P.S.: For those interested, here is a comment thread at "TeacherMagazine.org" in response to the "study". Like most comment threads it ranges wildly from insightful to banal to bizarre, but is worth a cursory look for anybody with wants to better understand the mindset of teachers working in the field.

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