Opinion
Teacher Preparation Opinion

What Teacher Education Programs Don’t Tell You

By Otis Kriegel — June 10, 2013 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It was time for dismissal. I did my best, organizing my class of 23 1st graders into a line with partners. It’s what I was taught to do. Some of them stood still and quiet, listening, while others bounced around, chatting and giggling with each other.

I led them in two lines across the schoolyard to the dismissal area, where they would shake my hand before leaving for the day. I stopped at our “spot” and turned around, expecting to see 23 pairs of eyes focused upon me. But I did not.

The front of the line was intact, as was the back. But the middle chunk was gone. It looked like someone had scooped up a group of my students and thrown them around the yard. They were everywhere, running, playing tag, or rolling around on the concrete in fits of laughter, backpacks tossed midstride. Frustrated and embarrassed, I yelled after them, but my voice landed on deaf ears. I abandoned the line of kids who had walked with me and ran across the yard to chase the others back over.

BRIC ARCHIVE

By the time I returned—my shirt unbuttoned, undershirt damp—my other students had dismissed themselves. What had gone wrong? My principal looked at me, half laughing, half serious, and said, “You’ll get the hang of it.”

The question I had was why, during two years of graduate school, including a year of student-teaching, didn’t anyone tell me how to avoid a problem like this? Moving a classroom of kids from one place to another was just one of the many practical aspects of the teaching profession that I had to learn on the job, along with how to be prepared for a new student to walk in the door on a Wednesday afternoon halfway through the year, or how to organize and run a parent-teacher conference.

What would it take to teach these skills in teacher-preparation programs alongside those all-important theories and curricular skills? Is it really necessary for new teachers to reinvent the wheel every September?

We all know the statistics. Twenty-four percent of teachers leave after two years, and nearly 50 percent leave the profession within five years—a burnout rate that costs our nation’s school districts more than $7 billion a year in turnover. Why do only half of teachers survive the learning curve?

New teachers enter the profession scared. There are many reasons for the feelings that paralyze them, but one issue stands out beyond the rest: They are not prepared to deal with the many practical aspects of running a classroom. So they teach scared. And when people are scared, they don’t rely on the skills they know. They feel shaken and their self-esteem is low, which doesn’t help them to teach well or be effective.

Effective teachers rely upon far more than just a strong theoretical background and an understanding of the material they’re supposed to teach.”

Most teacher-preparation programs assume the practical skills will be absorbed when teachers are in a student-teaching position, if the programs even require that. (Some don’t.) Although very important, student-teaching is an inconsistent practicum. There are many dedicated cooperating teachers who do all they can to show the new teacher the ins and outs of running a classroom. But many student-teachers are paired with a so-called veteran master-teacher who has already implemented most of the routines needed to run the classroom smoothly. The student-teacher helps with some daily planning and teaches a few lessons, but doesn’t have the opportunity to fully understand what makes that classroom run, beyond seeing that the teacher is “really good.” These veteran teachers are often too busy to take the time to reveal what it is they do that makes them effective. Then the following fall, the new teachers are expected to hit the classroom floor running, ready to go.

Effective teachers rely upon far more than just a strong theoretical background and an understanding of the material they’re supposed to teach. Their secrets of running a successful classroom are pragmatic things, such as knowing how to set up desks for easy traffic flow and leaving a spare set of clothes in the closet so they can change out of wet pants when an art project goes awry.

I have spoken to hundreds of preservice teachers and those new to the career, and they all say the same thing: “I wish someone would have told me how to ... fill-in-the-blank (with a practical skill).” Many teacher education programs turn their noses up at skills-based teaching because it isn’t “academic,” but any teacher will tell you it’s these very skills that save them, day in and day out, and allow the breathing space for them to successfully educate their students.

New teachers should feel excited and anxious to start this amazing career that involves making a difference in the lives of young people. But because they are plagued by so many unanswered questions, such as how to set up a field trip or prepare for an observation, or how to stay on their principal’s good side, the first years of teaching are a frightening time.

Until teacher-preparation programs begin to take this issue seriously, we will continue to send new teachers into the classroom with a boatload of theory and an understanding of curriculum, but no idea how to implement any of it because they are too busy being bombarded by parent requests and student needs that have nothing to do with the academics they are required to teach. Teachers need to be taught these practical skills to feel more confident and self-assured and to be more effective.

See Also

For more opinions on teacher preparation, visit the OpEducation blog. This week on the roundtable opinion blog, six education thought leaders tackle this question: Are New Teachers Ready to Teach?

It took me a year and a half to learn how to keep my students in a line. I tried different ideas: walking in one line, two lines organized by height, three lines, no lines, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, I figured it out. I remembered as a kid watching a covey of quail navigate their way across the road. The quail-in-charge would establish herself in the middle of the road, stopping traffic, while the others crossed the street safely. The flock would wait until every bird had crossed, and then the quail-in-charge would catch up and join them, leading the pack once again. Why don’t I try that?

I adopted the “quail strategy.” I told two kids at the front of the line—the “line leaders"—to stop at a physical landmark, such as a parking meter or an exit sign. While the leaders led the group to the next destination, I walked up and down the line, talking to the kids as we made our way, making sure they stayed in line. It worked far better. I never had to chase a kid or remind one to stay in line again. It saved me time, energy, and my voice. I felt confident, which had a positive effect upon my teaching. Most importantly, I was successful. But why couldn’t someone have just told me?

The 200,000 new teachers graduating this spring don’t need to learn a trick from the birds to make them better teachers. Incorporating practical strategies and skills into teacher-preparation programs, alongside curriculum and theory, would make the first years in the classroom infinitely easier and help teachers feel more prepared and confident, and in turn more effective.

A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 2013 edition of Education Week as ‘You’ll Get the Hang of It’


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teacher Preparation Opinion First-Year Teachers Need Support This Year. Here Are 5 Ways Prep Programs Can Help
Do the teachers and administrators stepping into the classroom or school office for the first time during the pandemic have what they need?
Linda S. McKee
3 min read
A group of people help each other out.
iStock
Teacher Preparation First-Time Pass Rates on Teacher Licensure Exams Were Secret Until Now. See the Data
The National Council on Teacher Quality published first-time pass rate data on teacher licensing tests, which had been hidden for years.
8 min read
teacher 1276371740 stylized
Drazen Zigic/iStock/Getty
Teacher Preparation The Complicated, Divisive Work of Grading Teacher-Preparation Programs
As the two national accreditors for teacher-preparation programs evolve, the battle over market share heats up.
9 min read
Illustration of checkmark
Getty
Teacher Preparation Remote Learning Is Changing Schools. Teacher-Preparation Programs Have to Adjust
For schools to leverage lessons learned during the pandemic, new teachers need better training on how to work in online environments.
8 min read
A teacher tries to keep up with her technology training
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images Plus