Experts Question Setting, Goals of Teacher-Education Programs
Austin, Tex.--The questions of where, how, and for what purposes prospective teachers should be trained were raised by many of the witnesses who testified here at the second of five regional hearings on "Excellence in Teacher Education."
The hearings, which are being held by the National Commission on Excellence in Teacher Education--a group of teacher educators, legislators, teachers, and school administrators established last March by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education--began last month in St. Paul. (See Education Week, Oct. 3, 1984.)
During the two-day meeting of the commission here, speaker after speaker questioned two basic assumptions of teacher education: that it is carried out in colleges of education and that its sole objective is to prepare teachers for traditional schools.
Gene E. Hall, director of the Research and Development Center for Teacher Education at the University of Texas at Austin, was among those who recommended that teacher-education programs may be better off in settings other than the traditional university environment.
"Perhaps teacher education should have a more supportive environment [than universities]," he suggested. "Perhaps university-based people should concentrate on research in education and teaching, leaving the training of teachers to others."
Ernest Dischner, dean of the school of education at Southwest Texas State University, advocated in his testimony a return to campus-based laboratory schools to train teachers.
While acknowledging that such schools are expensive to operate, difficult to manage, and open to criticism, Mr. Dischner said laboratory schools provide a "clinically oriented program" in which education students can observe and participate in an interactive environment that cannot be matched elsewhere.
Eugene W. Kelly Jr., dean of the school of education and human development at George Washington University, chided the commission for "prematurely foreclosing" its opportunities to study the education of teachers in the broader context of a "learning society" that encompasses more than learning in the narrow confines of schools.
Mr. Kelly recommended that the commission place teacher education "within the larger context and organizing framework of public education understood comprehensively and not over-identified with ... the schools."
While emphasizing that pedagogy must not be neglected, Mr. Kelly said that "learning, like health, requires multiple actions on many fronts by many people, not just instruction by teachers in schools."
Mary Anne Raywid, chairman of the department of administration and policy studies at Hofstra University's School of Education, pointed out that students who are prepar-ing to be teachers in nontraditional schools should receive training different from those who are studying to teach in traditional public schools.
Magnet schools, religious schools, and independent-study arrangements, she said, "require a better-prepared teacher than many of us are graduating now ... and also teachers who have been quite differently prepared."
Ms. Raywid suggested that such teachers should be generalists be-cause they will have to do many more tasks than the traditional teacher and should be more than ordinarily responsive to their students and the students' parents.
Witnesses also discussed new definitions of "teacher" and "teaching skills," and emphasized that teachers are people with greater and different skills than can be measured by tests of literacy, spelling, and computation.
Gary Griffin, dean of the college of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, suggested in his presentation that "teacher effectiveness involves knowledge ... directly related to doing the work of teaching and not solely language and number proficiency."
Mr. Griffin listed as important an understanding of the curriculum, a grasp of research findings on teacher effectiveness, positive relations with students and colleagues, and an awareness of available resources that promote learning.
He suggested that new teachers in a school district be teamed with the "best experienced teacher in the same area or grade level," with the experienced teacher serving as a "professional and personal lifesaver" to the new teacher.
Mr. Griffin warned, however, that such a peer-teacher system is most effective when the experienced teacher is trained in the best ways to work with adults. "Someone who works very effectively with 1st-grade students ... may not be equally effective with another adult."