Teacher: ‘A Person Who Wanted Us To Learn for Our Good, Not Hers’

November 11, 2019 12 min read

Education Week: Let’s talk about teachers. How well are they doing? How should they be prepared?

Patricia Carini: I would just like to say that my greatest confidence about American education is in teachers.

Benjamin Bloom: When I was a kid, teachers seemed to go into the profession as a calling, almost as a religious or artistic calling.

Today, people both inside and outside the profession are all mixed up as to why anybody would stay in the classroom at the elementary or even the secondary level, when there is no money and there are other things outside.

The joy and the intangible things that you get out of teaching should somehow be far more publicized than they are now. The satisfaction that good teachers get out of it should somehow be emphasized.

Patricia Browne: That’s true, but teacher practitioners also have to have more control over who comes into the classroom. We, as practitioners, should have a very decisive part to play in the training of incoming teachers.

Before teachers enter the classroom, we have to make very sure that they are prepared and that through inservice training they remain prepared. I got most of my experience in relating with children through on-the-job experience and in service training. I did not get that through my education-school training. If practitioners were used much more often in helping prepare prospective teachers for the classroom, we would have many more successes.

Lorraine Monroe: We need to talk to the people who are in the trenches and find out what they are doing and what they need. We need to publicize what I call the pockets of excellence. The public really doesn’t know what goes on in schools.

Ms. Carini: There are so many wonderful teachers and so many wonderful class- I rooms that it wouldn’t be hard at all to start identifying them, and then those teachers would know others.

I’ve been involved in interviews that tried to find out why teachers stayed in teaching. I want to mention some of what they said. They stayed in teaching in spite of frustrations and not because there was a lot of money or respect, for sure. They stayed because it was whole. They aid, you go in there and it is the whole community. It is a whole community of learners. And you know you are going to be together for a period of time, and you are going to be able to do all these different and exciting things together. They said the intellectual challenge of going on learning in a community of learners was what kept them there-that it was vivid, it was diverse. You got to talk to parents. You got to work with the children.

And then they would describe what they thought other jobs would be like, or some of them tried other jobs. And the thing they would come back to is that in those other jobs, they never had that sense that they were doing a little bit of good in the world, making a little bit of a difference, the way they did every day in a school.

E.W.: You have stressed the importance of teachers and how crucial it is that the elementary teacher be sensitive, caring, and well educated. But you have been critical of education schools. What is the relevance of teacher training? What issues should we be talking about?

Allan Shedlin: I would like to share something that I did as a principal. Over a seven-year period, I interviewed, in groups of 18, the 6th graders who graduated from the school. I asked them three questions.

The three questions were: As you think about your elementary-school education, what is the most vivid experience you remember? Describe the characteristics of the I best teacher you had. And describe the characteristics of your favorite teacher.

What I wanted to focus on was the qualities and the characteristics of teachers, because I think that bears on teacher preparation.

There were eight characteristics the kids talked about. The first one was respectful of children. The categories are mine. The kids said it in a much better way: ''We were little, but she didn’t make us feel that way.”

The second characteristic was a sense of humor: “A person who could teach in a fun way so that it would stick.”

The third one was clear-cut and demanding expectations. And this is a particularly sophisticated comment: “A person who wanted us to learn for our good, not her good.”

The fourth one was firmness and flexibility: “Someone who knew when to be strict, only when it was really necessary.”

The fifth one was enthusiastic and resourceful, able to offer a variety of approaches: “A person who taught us more than we needed to know.” “Somebody who presented ordinary stuff in an interesting way.” “She was able to get excited about what she taught.” “She was enthusiastic.” “You could tell she really liked it.”

The sixth one, particularly sophisticated for elementary children, was interdependence of curricular areas. They surely didn’t say it that way. They said: “Somebody who helped us make connections between things we were learning.”

The seventh one was utility of learning: “He helped us see why it was important to learn various things.”

And the last thing was a good listener. “A person who could listen and made us feel that what you were saying was really important.”

You could compare these characteristics with those in a teacher-education program. I like what the 6th grader , the clients, had to say. The implications for teacher preparation are interesting.

Ms. Browne: The question then is, how can you give someone a paper-and-pencil test as they do in Arkansas, as they do in Texas, to test their ability to teach? You cannot do that. You can test subject matter, but you cannot test a teacher’s ability to interact with a child.

Dennis Gray: You can’t.

Ms. Monroe: The test should come on the other end, before a teacher enters the classroom. Testing does not belong with a practicing teacher unless that teacher is getting ready to go into a field or an area other than the area that he or she is now in. Then you test for knowledge of subject matter and not competence. During teacher preparation, teachers should be tested for pedagogical knowledge as well as subject matter.

It is also important that prospective teachers have continuous field experience, not just the six-week stint of practice-teaching. It should be something that is started after you find out what area a prospective teacher wants to go into-then you start giving that person actual experience with a practitioner so he or she can see the reality of the situation.

I was not trained for the reality of my teaching situation. I thought I was really ready to teach because I wanted to so badly. But I went into a school that was completely different from anything I had ever been used to. I went into a school where children wore the same clothes every day.

Maybe I was naive, but I should have been taught how to deal with children other than those that are the norm. I was not taught the benefits of teaching disadvantaged children. I wasn’t taught that children have different learning styles and that we have to try different approaches with different children to see exactly what that learning style is. And that a child’s learning style may be different in reading than it is in arithmetic.

Those are the kinds of things we need to do a much better job on in education schools. And we could do a much better job if practitioners, those who are actually in the classroom, were teamed with teacher educators so that reality and research would be coupled together.

Ms. Monroe: Preparation for people teaching in elementary school has to be not vastly different from that of people going to teach in secondary school. A prospective teacher should major in an academic subject. Methodology courses really have to be looked at. The people who teach them have to be in touch with what is happening in the field. And if not, then colleges and universities are going to have to develop links with public schools so that they have something like a public educator on staff who will be a reality-therapy person for them and can come into the room and say, ''This is what it really is.”

This is not negating theory, but you cannot send people out if they don’t have the reality. They will be crippled teachers. Kids come to know about learning and to love learning because they have a teacher in front of them who loves learning.

Mr. Gray: Let me start my answer to your question about teacher preparation by telling a story. It involves one time when I was listening to a wonderful speech about Ron Edmonds’s school-effectiveness research. It was given to an audience of lay people by a teacher educator from a prestigious Philadelphia university who didn’t know that I was in the audience or who I was when I asked my question. I said, ''That is really interesting information. Tell me how you are changing the curriculum of your teacher-preparation program to take advantage of all that information.” She replied: “We couldn’t do that. It’s a matter of academic freedom. We can’t tell the professors what to teach.” And that occurred about seven years ago.

There has got to be some sort of restructuring of the way teacher preparation takes place. And I cite two extant examples of the direction I would take.

One is Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, which is, in effect, a clinical teaching school on the model of a clinical teaching hospital, with constant rotation of teachers through there who work with master teachers.

It is a working high school, and there is now an elementary counterpart that is just starting this year.

Another good example is the Gheens Professional Development Academy, which is in the Jefferson County public-school district in Kentucky, the district that contains Louisville. Their objective is to have this school district run almost as an independent entity and to provide all of the preservice and inservice training for local teachers. If university-based people are brought in to it, it is because the governing board of Gheens invites them in on a contract basis to supply that education.

And the third example I would cite is not yet in being but a gleam in Ted Sizer’s eye in connection with the Coalition of Essential Schools. What he is discovering is that the big obstacle to realizing the goals of the coalition is the inadequacy of teacher preparation. So what he is having to do, along with all the restructuring and redevelopment of curriculum, is to retrain teachers who despite goodwill and all the planning time in the world, are not really up to the task of teaching without retraining.

Ms. Carini: There is a notion that once you are prepared to teach, that’s the end of it, and that teachers can be just left there unsupported forever after.

It is crucial that teachers have forums where they can talk together. Teachers will re-educate each other in ways that mean something to them, once they know that possibility exists and they can find some ways of doing that.

In Philadelphia, a group of teachers from all across the city meets on their own with no school support, with no financial support, to discuss children and to do so in a serious and professional way.

There is a comparable group in Boston called the Boston Laboratories for Teachers, and one in New York State called the Ithaca Child Study Group.

Samuel Sava: We have some excellent training institutions, and we also have some very poor training institutions. When I talk about teachers, I am talking about principals as well.

In any preservice program, there needs to be a way to determine early on if the individual truly love teaching or wants to go into teaching. Prospective teachers and principals need to be schooled in child development, curriculum, and instruction.

I don’t have a problem with methods courses. I am against giving three credits to hook up a VCR and things like that, but methods for teaching children need to be taught.

A prospective teacher needs to be taught how to work with children, how to diagnose needs, et cetera. A teacher needs to be schooled in group processes, motivation, expectations, accountability, and communication.

But the one thing that you can’t be taught as an educator is to care about kids, to love kids. You won’t like them all, just as they all won’t like you. But loving kids is all-important. And we just ignore that completely.

I’ll tell you where there is a complete breakdown: We do not have ways and means of upgrading the profession; we do not have ways and means of holding the teacher-training institutions accountable for the products they produce. The evidence of that has been the proliferation of principals’ academies, principals’ centers, and teachers’ centers, which are not turning to the colleges and universities for help because the education schools in most cases are dated in the information they have to offer. It is not relevant. And it is not the real world.

Principals and teachers are turning to their own colleagues for that kind of information. And some of these academies now are going to legislatures asking to be allowed to award credits. So here we go spending more money to develop new institutions because we are not happy with our teacher-training programs.

We should change them. But before we come down too hard on education-school faculty, we have to remember the reward system. Professors are not rewarded and promoted for going into the schools and working with teachers. When you ask deans of schools of education why they don’t move toward a clinical process in educating and training teachers instead of the mass-lecture system we have, they say: ‘We can’t get the money. You think we don’t want to do this? We can’t get the money.”

I accept that. As educators, on-line principals and teachers, we should team up with our colleagues in higher education and use our political clout, working with our strongest supporters to change that.

I would also recommend that every five years a trainer of principals should spend a year as an assistant principal in a school. I We should do that with teachers, too. They should go right in and begin to teach in a school just to see the major social changes I that have taken place and that will continue to take place.

Terry Peterson: Teachers and principals also need training in working with parents. We tend not to deal with that in professional preparation. In the survey I did of new teachers in South Carolina, what really shocked me was that the major concern of beginning teachers was working with parents. Despite all the other pressing problems, that is one of their biggest. They had no idea how to get volunteers in, how to use volunteers, how to reach out to parents.

A version of this article appeared in the April 16, 1986 edition of Education Week

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