Education Opinion

‘Thoughts From the Lounge’ on Teacher Training

By Judith Bodenhausen — May 21, 1986 6 min read

Despite the attention currently being given to ideas for restructuring teacher education, we classroom teachers are rarely consulted about needed changes. This is partly our own fault: Some of us are not concerned about changing teacher-training institutions we no longer have to cope with. But many of us are also discouraged by the improbability that our ideas will ever be listened to outside the faculty lounge.

In the hope that some of these ''thoughts from the lounge” will gain a hearing, I offer some proposals for teacher education that reflect my experience and that of other classroom veterans.

• Require teacher educators to have current experience in precollegiate teaching. No one would dream of permitting nonpractitioners to teach medical courses or to supervise medical internships. Yet that is the norm in education. Not only do education professors and student-teaching supervisors disdain elementary- and secondary-school classrooms, they actually seem to fear them. When California, in the Hughes-Hart Educational Reform Act of 1983, had the temerity to require that teacher educators “participate” in the schools, there was a stampede to find loopholes.

For teacher preparation to have more relevance to the real needs of classroom teachers, teacher educators should be no more than three semesters removed from precollegiate teaching. There are several ways such a requirement could be implemented. For example, four teacher educators could share a teaching assignment, each assuming the responsibility every fourth semester. However, many secondary-level teacher educators might prefer to teach one period daily in a local district. This would have the advantage of permitting a professor to maintain continuity in the other aspects of . his professional life. An elementary-level teacher educator could accomplish the same thing by sharing a job with an “80 percent” teacher who wants released time for personal or professional reasons.

• Refocus pedagogical training. After earning a bachelors degree in an intended field of specialization, the prospective teacher should have a full year (including a I summer session) of graduate-level professional training. Coursework--in educational philosophy, psychology, and teaching techniques--would be concentrated in the summer and fall. Classes would take the form of seminars, with master teachers included among the participants.

Acquiring teaching experience, however, would be the main focus of the program. During the summer, candidates would team-teach with master teachers, giving the prospective teachers their first taste of teaching. In the fall, those pursuing an elementary- level teaching certificate would again team-teach--this time learning how to coordinate instruction in one area with that in another and how to organize a classroom in which students are not all doing the same work. Candidates for secondary-level credentials would have primary responsibility for one class of average students, under the supervision of a master teacher.

In the spring, candidates would concentrate almost entirely on teaching; their only other requirement would be a seminar in which they discuss their experiences and problems with a master teacher and a university supervisor. A secondary-level candidate would have full responsibility (under close supervision) for three classes, with two or three different preparations. He would also be expected to gain some experience working with exceptional children. An elementary-level candidate would shoulder about 75 percent of a regular teaching load--probably 50 percent for the first half of the semester and 100 percent for the second. In both cases, he should work with a different master teacher and, if possible, in a different school, in order to obtain a broader perspective.

After successfully completing a year of professional training, candidates would serve a three-year, paid internship. A first-year intern--earning the pay and fringe benefits currently given a beginning teacher-- would teach 80 percent of the time in a school near his university, while spending the other 20 percent in graduate study.

The first-year intern, although the teacher of record for his classes, should be neither expected nor permitted to teach without the structured assistance of experienced teachers. A designated mentor would assist him with lesson plans, curriculum evaluation, teaching strategies, test construction, disciplinary techniques, and subject matter. The intern would also participate in a university seminar with other interns from the same academic discipline. The time spent in discussion--looking with different perspectives at the problems they face--should help the beginning teachers develop their independent professional judgment.

In the second and third years, the intern would be assigned to a school chosen both for the quality of its programs and for being representative of the milieu in which he prefers to teach. Only about 10 percent of second-year work and 5 percent of third-year work would be in university study. As in the first year of internship, seminars should reflect the needs perceived by the interns, not the ideas of teacher educators.

• Institute more in-depth and helpful evaluations of beginning teachers. Though several states have recognized the need for frequent evaluations of beginning teachers, most evaluations do not require sufficient observation, thus making it difficult to identify any problems short of gross incompetence. Each teaching intern should be the subject of three annual observations, each consisting of two sets of three consecutive visits to the same teaching period--a total of 18 visits per year during the internship period.

In addition, a major, week-long evaluation at the end of the first year--by both an administrator and a teacher in the intern’s discipline--would determine whether the beginner could proceed to the second year of teaching. Another week-long evaluation, at the end of the three-year internship, would would be the final determinant of whether the new teacher would be granted a regular license. Because of the importance of this final evaluation, it must clearly be free of bias developed through friendship, animosity, faintheartedness, or any tendency to prefer known mediocrity (or worse) over the unknown. Thus, the evaluators should be from outside the intern’s school and university.

My proposal for such evaluations will undoubtedly be criticized as too expensive. I believe, however, that it would be more cost-effective in the long run. In California, for instance, districts claim that the direct expenses of firing a teacher run from $25,000 to $40,000. The costs of more intensive evaluations seem reasonable when compared with the costs of reclaiming lost time for children ''taught’’ by teachers who are subsequently fired, by those who aren’t quite awful enough to precipitate a $40,000 expenditure, or by those so awful that parents won’t permit them to be kept in a classroom long enough to be evaluated out. In calculating the expense, we must also consider the long-term economic damage done to the nation when we fail to educate children to their potential.

We have a choice in the next few years. We can seize the opportunity to change our schools by changing our pedagogical training--or we can let the vested interests continue to dominate. If those in power in the education schools and state bureaucracies fail to lay aside their petty interests and restructure teacher training, we will lose our best chance in years for reform.

A version of this article appeared in the May 21, 1986 edition of Education Week