Eliminating Teacher-Training Programs Is Not the Way To Improve Them
James W. LoGerfo's criticism of teacher education in New Jersey is a classic of its kind. (See "The Crisis in Education Is Mainly a Crisis in Teacher Education," Education Week, March 21, 1984.) It probably represents the experiences of many teacher-education students, particularly those who attend state-run institutions. But it is also a classic example of the curious logic that is frequently used in the current spate of observations about the ills of teacher education.
Mr. LoGerfo complains about a course in educational psychology that was mindlessly romantic, lacking in substance, and morally defective. He also comments on the pitiful quality of the students who are in teacher-preparation programs and the "parochial and inept" faculty members he encountered in his other education courses. This does not surprise us.
In our own Commentary (See "Chiefs Can't Cast the First Stone at the Teacher-Training System," Education Week, March 7, 1984), we too criticized the quality of students and instruction in teacher education, even though we ourselves are teacher educators. In fact, Mr. LoGerfo makes some of our criticisms more vivid by recounting examples of his own unfortunate experiences. We claimed that state-run institutions are the biggest offenders in offering teacher-education programs of low quality. Mr. LoGerfo backs this up. We claimed that many of the college students attracted to teaching are academically substandard. Mr. LoGerfo experienced this reality.
We have no quarrel with Mr. LoGerfo's criticisms. In fact, we could probably go him one better. What we do not understand, however, is how his suggestion--to virtually do away with certification requirements for teachers--will improve the situation. In fact, we strongly disagree with Mr. LoGerfo's curious notion that a competent teacher need only have mastered the subject matter that he or she wishes to teach. Mr. LoGerfo fails to see that an understanding and an appreciation of the students he wants to teach are large parts of his teaching obligation to future students. After all, knowing at least a bit about how children and adolescents develop mentally, socially, physically, morally, emotionally, and sexually might help him know what kinds of questions to ask, how to motivate students, howto tailor instruction to their diverse needs, how to put his subject matter in a broader context, and so on. In short, he might have learned how to teach a lot better. And these sorts of things cannot be learned in the one-year internship that New Jersey's Gov. Thomas H. Kean and Mr. LoGerfo endorse.
Clearly, Mr. LoGerfo does not understand the role of understanding in good teaching. Moreover, his anti-intellectual stance surprises us. He seems to endorse the notion that becoming a good teacher is simply a matter of practice, rather than a matter of understanding the process on which the practice is based.
He also totally overlooks the fact that Governor Kean and the governors who preceded him are ultimately responsible for the quality of the teacher-education courses they now seek to circumvent.
Finally, Mr. LoGerfo concludes from his experiences that it is too much to ask of the men or women who wish to teach that they take relatively few education courses because some of those might not be any good. The solution he shares with Governor Kean is not to improve the courses, but to get around them and simply let aspiring teachers practice on students until they get it right. Never mind that people who wish to doctor our dogs and cats or drill our teeth or count our money must spend years in coursework before they are permitted to work on anything of even marginal substance. Forget that these dog doctors, teeth drillers, and money counters often make more in a month than those we entrust with the lives of our children earn in a year. No, let's just eliminate the few existing professional requirements we now have for future teachers, substitute a year of supervised mimicry, and hope for the best.
Mr. LoGerfo rightly deplores being forced to study the simple-minded "romantics" who write appallingly popular books on education. But he then turns right around and endorses an equally empty-headed idea--doing away with teacher-education coursework--because it would let him in the classroom through the back door.
No, the plain fact is that teacher education will never be improved by eliminating it.
Vol. 03, Issue 31, Page 19