Where teachers learn to teach matters

I teach future teachers. I teach them in a traditional undergraduate program, and in a Master in the Art of Teaching program. And if feedback from my former students, and their principals is any indication, I do a pretty good job. Teacher preparation is a bit in the news now because the new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as Every Student Succeeds Act, included some language around teacher preparation that has people like me — people who teacher future teachers — worried, angry, and flummoxed. And how teachers become teachers matters to anyone with a connection to schools: public, private, or charter.

State Board of Educator Certification data

I won’t go into the whole history of teaching and teacher education here — it’s a blog post after all. Though I will recommend Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein. The book is a great over view of how things got the way they are, though I disagree with some of her arguments about recent developments. For a more scholarly read, Schoolteacher, is a classic sociological study of the profession of teaching.

What matters for now, though, is that some of the language in the new law appears to allow for (yes, I’m hedging, but the hedge is about the difference between the spirit and the implementation of the policy) something called teaching academies to prepare teachers. Academies seem to be similar to the various “fast-track” teacher preparation programs like Teach for America or local alternative certification programs. The irony being that the ESSA backed off federal meddling in education at the classroom and test level (sort of), but it meddled more in the teacher preparation side.

What’s the problem with fast-track certification programs? To answer that, consider an analogy, one you may be familiar with: teachers are like doctors. Alternative certification for teaching would be like this: taking an undergrad who couldn’t get into medical school, or a mid-career professional wanting to become a doctor, and saying, “You want to be a doctor? Step right up!” Maybe (and that’s a big maybe) this program is picky about who it admits: applicants had to have a C average in college. But all programs aren’t like this. The program might then train this individual for a year, maybe even letting them see patients in clinical settings  — practicing to be a “real doctor.” Then, after a year of courses and some supervised experiences in the clinic, the program says, “Okay, you’ve done our program, go forth and see patients!” Do you want to go see that doctor? Do you want to send your kid to that doctor? Do you want other people to have to send their kid to that doctor?

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