America is failing its teachers.
Why? New teachers are not treated with the same level of professionalism, compensation, preparation, and reverence as other equivalent professionals. Yes—I typed reverence.
The good news is that if specific changes are implemented to dramatically change the process of preparing novice teachers to enter a classroom with the pedagogical, content, classroom management, and social skills to teach, our nation would be the envy of the world and produce the best and brightest students.
If we take a moment to examine how other professions successfully train their novice professionals much can be learned and, hopefully, emulated.
Freshly minted doctors do not enter their profession before undergoing a rigorous residency and internship. Why is that? Shouldn’t the awarding of an M.D. degree entitle a doctor to practice medicine immediately? The answer is no because the training future doctors receive in medical school does not prepare them for the real world of practicing medicine. What happens in the emergency or operating room is often vastly incongruent with what was taught in medical school classrooms. Novice doctors need to work under the supervision of experienced doctors to better understand how to diagnosis and heal myriad illnesses. And the same effective training principle applies to most esteemed professional occupations. Novice accountants are assigned to more experienced accountants; novice engineers are assigned to more experienced engineers; novice attorneys are assigned to more experienced attorneys. The professionalization of any highly skilled occupation requires both pedagogical training and the mentoring of experienced and knowledgeable practitioners. In fact, there is no professional occupation that expects success of its neophyte employee without the benefit of a meaningful internship or training program that begins after a diploma is issued.
Except, of course, the teaching profession.
Novice teachers are awarded degrees after spending four to six years sitting in college classrooms developing pedagogical skills, content knowledge, and classroom-management techniques, among other teaching prerequisites, and then are sent directly to the lion’s den. Neophyte teachers usually complete some type of truncated classroom observations or practicum, but the brevity of such courses does not compete with the luxury of working a meaningful or sustained residency or internship for at least a year with experienced master-teachers. Is it any wonder that almost 50 percent of novice teachers quit teaching within five years? And the vast majority of these teachers complain that they left teaching because of a lack of support.
How our nation prepares teachers has not fundamentally changed on the pedagogical front, although teachers can now be certified through a variety of non-traditional programs and methods such as online schools, Teach For America, Troops to Teachers, and countless other alternative routes that seek to place recent college graduates in mostly inner-city and rural areas. But none of these “innovative programs” provide meaningful or sustained teacher internships or residency requirements. And consequently the teacher retention rate is abysmal.
The majority of teacher education programs do a terrific job providing future teachers with a solid foundation to become an effective teacher. I could not have found success in my profession if I did not have the benefit of attending the school of education at Mercy College, one of the premier teaching colleges in the Northeast. But the problem of developing quality teachers who want to remain in the teaching profession is an entirely different quandary that will require a dramatic paradigm shift on how we as a nation prepare our teacher professionals. We can no longer treat the teaching profession as a lesser vocation than medicine, engineering, law, finance, or countless other highly paid and respected occupations. We must learn from these professions that novice teachers deserve job-embedded learning and mentoring before entering a classroom. A minimum of one year working with several master-teachers should be mandated before a novice teacher is given his or her own classroom. Sending a neophyte teacher into a classroom is a historic prescription for failure and students bear the burden of this antiquated system. Let’s invest in education and give our nation’s children the professional teachers they deserve.
Anthony J. Mullen is a special education teacher at the ARCH School in Greenwich, Conn. He teaches and mentors students diagnosed with significant learning and emotional disabilities. He was the 2009 National Teacher of the Year, 2009 Connecticut State Teacher of the Year, and the 2008 Greenwich School District Distinguished Teacher of the Year. He has blogged for Education Week Teacher and written numerous articles about education for various books and magazines. Mullen is also a special consultant to the dean of Mercy College, in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., where he works on professional development programs for teachers.
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