Alternative Paths to the Classroom

Our Board of Regents recently approved programs for prospective teachers to get their Masters. Our new Commissioner is the former Dean of Hunter College School of Education as "is best known for his leadership of the national effort to transform teacher preparation and improve teacher quality." In one of his first speeches to the State, he said his and the Regents' focus would be on remaking teacher prep colleges and the requirements to be met for hopeful teachers here in New York.  So, the news from the Board really shouldn't come as a surprise.

Here's the part of the story that makes me pause:
Teacher education programs are infamous for overemphasizing gobbledegooky theory rather than useful knowledge and skills.
Newbie instructors too often emerge from ed school stuffed with the ideas of everyone from Thomas Dewey to Brazilian Marxist theorist Paulo Freire (author of "Pedagogy of the Oppressed") - but clueless about how to help kids learn.
I understand the drive to practical skills. Heck, I've hosted student teachers who could quote researchers and literature going back a hundred or more years, but couldn't manage a classroom if his degree depended on it.  There should be a way to make teaching about teaching more practical. I've heard the idea of making prospective teachers more like medical interns a few times- longer period of training under the direct watch of some sort of mentor.  My own training in Albany was more practical than theoretical. I had tons of hours of field experience before student teaching, and my Methods professor refused to answer some of our more abstract questions, forcing us to figure them out in real time.

But I hope we don't lose the theory and history.  Understanding the history of public schools matters when you are trying to figure out why you shouldn't always lecture the large group.  Understanding the developmental psychology of students of different ages matter when you are creating projects and asking them to focus for X number of minutes at a time. Reading theorists and historians forces a candidate to think.  Teaching is a thoughtful, scholarly vocation. No one method is ever going to always work.  We should constantly be figuring out how to do better, to build on what the past as taught us.  That starts with names like Dewey and Freire and Bloom and Maslow.

Teachers shouldn't be just practitioners.  The best teachers think and reflect and research and experiment and share their findings and, of course, manage a classroom as well.

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