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Cultivating a Community of Teaching

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The initial emphasis in the reports on American education has been on curriculum requirements and on structural reforms in the profession of teaching and the organization and governance of schools. The issues in the necessary reform of teacher education lay hidden. Taken together, however, the reports provide the basis for a thorough review of teacher education in America, even though they mostly ignore it.

They give a succinct analysis of the state (and status) of the teaching profession, remarking on such things as the low pay of teachers, their diminished status, the supposed decline in their abilities as measured on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and other measures, their reported lack of command of their academic disciplines, and the lack of incentives within the public-education system for professional improvement. This diagnosis was accompanied by a set of prescriptions--including better basic pay, merit-pay or master-teacher plans, new programs to screen and assess teachers, and better knowledge of subject matter.

As education policymakers and the public have sifted through the reports, the issue of revitalizing the teaching profession has become increasingly important. The renewal of the profession will probably be the bedrock for any of the fundamental, long-term reforms in education that the nation now seems ready to contemplate. The career structure for teachers (whether on the master-teacher model or some other), improving teachers' pay, and encouraging talented people to enter the profession are the issues being treated with highest priority as people prepare to allocate more resources to public education.

Encouragingly, all the recommendations were advanced in a new spirit of support for teachers. The reports did not blame teachers for the many shortcomings they perceived in the schools--there was no call for ''teacher-proof" materials or alternative institutions to protect children from the "tragedy" of classroom teaching. To the contrary, the reports suggested there is little reason to expect improvements in education without more effective classroom teaching. But these improvements cannot be sustained without basic reforms in teacher education.

Unhappily, schools of education are not as well prepared as they might be to shape and use the current moment of reform. As the attractiveness of teaching as a career has diminished during the past decade or more, many schools of education have lost enrollment and have undertaken or had imposed upon them rigorous programs of retrenchment. They are weak at the very moment they need to be strong.

Our schools of education also have a mixed reputation in the academic community and in the profession they serve. Their toughest critics are often teachers who feel they neither enjoyed nor profited from their own teacher-education experience. The stereotypical view that teacher education is all method and no substance still has too much currency among those who must support any necessary reform. It matters little that such criticisms are more perceived than real in many schools of education, or that the knowledge base required for the education of educators has developed quickly and is far more solid than the conventional academic view admits. There is only the beginning of an appreciation among educators, policymakers, and the interested public that many schools of education are ready and able to participate in the improvement of the profession and the schools.

The schools of education that are ready must make their case forcefully. At the same time, they need to be candid about the constraints they now face. A particularly confusing constraint is the current division of responsibility for the professional preparation of educators. Education's bureaucratic geography is complex. State and local officials, professional and regional organizations, as well as schools of education, all share responsibility for accreditation, certification, and curriculum priorities in teacher education. Within the profession itself, teachers and their professors too rarely communicate, let alone cooperate. The appropriate amounts of undergraduate and graduate preparation for teachers are not clear even among schools of education; some people contend that an undergraduate education, no matter how good, is not enough to merit permanent certification.

We must all find ways to overcome our tendencies to sequester power, and to overcome the status quo and move toward some significant changes. Judith Lanier, dean of the Michigan State School of Education, has suggested a national commission on the issue of teacher preparation. This would be an excellent first step. But such a conference would move more quickly if it had some solutions--proposed in advance--to consider and discuss.

We offer one such solution. Borrowing a technique from the National Science Board's report on precollegiate education in mathematics, science, and technology, we began by imagining a future (10 to 15 years from now) in which most of the education reforms proposed in the mid-1980's are in place. By this time, basic pay has notably improved, especially at the entry level. Career structures resembling the career-ladder and master-teacher proposals now under consideration have been set up. Curriculum requirements have been clarified and standards raised. Successful school-improvement plans have become the norm. In addition, many well-educated and talented people are entering the education profession. They are monitored by the profession and the public through reliable entrance tests, sound performance evaluations, and flexible certification requirements. In short, American education has been solidly improved.

We then asked what kind of professional preparation programs would help create and sustain such a future? To answer this question, we began with the assumption that what teaching needs most of all is to develop as a profession. Teaching needs a community of people who build and share a body of systematic knowledge about education, who hold and enforce commonly understood standards of ethical behavior in their work, and who therefore guarantee the public against ineffective or harmful teaching. Effective craftsmanship in the classroom is an indispensable part of such a profession, but only a part.

Our second assumption is that teacher education must change and improve considerably to play its appropriate part in creating such a profession. But we also assume that teacher-education institutions must be at the heart of this reform. A "good liberal education" plus a crash program in pedagogy cannot produce the professionals that society requires. Albert Shanker, hardly a cheerleader for teacher-education programs, has said:

Teacher education needs to be looked at, revised, upgraded, strengthened. But we'd better think twice before we abandon it. Teachers have to have subject-matter expertise, a thorough grounding in the knowledge base of their profession and the performance skill required for effective classroom teaching, ... all three, not just one or two.

He's right. And we believe the necessary preparation for teaching must include the following:

  • A professional post-baccalaureate degree in education;
  • More cooperative involvement between schools of education and local schools, between formal training and work in the field.
  • Certification and licensing conducted jointly by teachers, schools of education, and responsible public agencies;
  • Alternate career paths that allow teachers to pursue specialized professional interests during their careers--and to remain teachers even as they administrate or develop curricula, do research, or train other teachers.
  • It is now time in the evolution of teaching as a profession to insist that the prerequisite for entry into a professional teacher-training program be the successful completion of a sound undergraduate education centering on the liberal arts. Schools of medicine, law, and veterinary medicine require their applicants to be educated persons before they begin their professional studies. Should education ask less?

    It is also time to decide how qualifications and standards for acceptance into professional education programs can be jointly established by teachers (through their unions and other professional organizations) and schools of education, and how these groups can jointly perform the continuing work of clinical training and research.

    The professional training procedure we envision would have two distinct phases. During the first phase, students would complete a two-year Master of Arts in Teaching program, followed by three years of teaching experience leading to certification, professional licensing, and permanent employment according to the procedures of the state or district. The MAT would contain courses in pedagogy, subject-matter instruction, professional foundations, and ethics. But it would also include practice teaching during the second half of the first year; a second year of clinical work, including a semester's paid internship at a cooperating school under the supervision of one of that school's master teachers; and a final summer of cooperative training with the school intending to employ the graduate.

    After the graduate had successfully taught full time for one year under a master teacher's supervision, the state would issue that graduate a teaching license. The teacher would continue to develop skills and gain experience under the guidance of his or her mentor until a review by peers and by the school system confirmed the teacher's permanent professional status during the third year of full-time teaching.

    Thereafter, a number of career options would be available to the teacher. The first, and probably most common, would be to continue classroom teaching with opportunities for further training and progression to master-teacher status.

    The second option would be to pursue training in advanced professional education--either to suit the ambition of the individual, to meet the needs of the school system, or to meet larger national or state priorities (such as shortages in specific disciplines). Teachers pursuing such advanced study could enter one of five programs leading to a doctoral degree. These include:

  • Teacher-specialists pursuing advanced expertise for continued instruction in one's special area of competence or in a new area;
  • Teacher-mentors engaged in on-site curriculum development and teacher training;
  • Teacher-researchers who help solve local problems of practice, using the tools of systematic inquiry;
  • Teacher-administrators who manage and supervise schools and instructional programs; and
  • Teacher-educators who work either in the school in staff development or in the college of education as a clinical professor.
  • Each of these paths would involve a three-year program with common features. The first year would consist of full-time coursework and practice performed during a paid leave of absence. Students would spend the following summer preparing a doctoral field project in collaboration with a college sponsor and a school-system specialist. Normally, these projects would be mergers of theory and practice--scholarly studies and educational activities intended to demonstrate the teacher-specialists' competence in teaching both students and other teachers, curriculum development, and research. During the next two years, the doctoral candidate would return to his or her school, teaching half time at full pay while completing the doctoral project.

    This model would have many benefits beyond those the individual would receive. It would make career change more possible and constructive, enabling educators to use their skills in other schooling roles or in other educational institutions. Collaborative arrangements could develop with business, industry, government, and colleges to use school educators in other settings, and other educators in the schools.

    Another great benefit would be the total articulation of professional development, professional practice, and professional education. This would be an incalculable benefit to the schools of education, giving them needed new focus, legitimacy, and support.

    In our proposal, too, teachers who want to develop advanced specialties would continue to teach and would thus keep their hands in the main business of educating while they used their acquired skills and knowledge to make their schools dynamic, professional work places. It would thus help recreate a unified education profession around the activity of teaching. All would teach; some would also have time for serious research on local problems, securing or developing and demonstrating locally appropriate curriculum materials, working as mentors with beginning teachers to help them become professionals, and administering the schools.

    This structure of professional preparation for education dovetails with proposed arrangements for professional fulfillment and economic reward in teaching. It also helps build a necessary new model of the knowledge and behavior required for a successful professional educator.

    Its cost is a problem (although we suspect that many of the needed dollars could be found in modifications of the salary-lane structures that characterize teacher-compensation arrangements today); but the dollars will be found, we assume, if teacher educators, teachers, and state and local policymakers agree that a renewed profession will result.

    Whether this plan or another like it is adopted, we believe that nothing less comprehensive or less integrated with desirable educational improvements is likely to draw much support or make much difference for the schools of America, the schools of education, or the profession of teaching.

    We in education have a rare opportunity to change a broad range of policies and improve both the amount and the distribution of resources so that everybody gains more than they lose in the rearrangement of functions and rewards. In this circumstance, individual interests can tolerate the loss of some specific current benefits as a necessary and acceptable price for the gain of many others. Such chances don't come along very often.

    Vol. 03, Issue 32, Page 24, 19

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