Writing in the Washington Post, civil rights attorney and former teacher Jane Dimyan Ehrenfeld says she wasn’t surprised by the recent National Council on Teacher Quality report characterizing most teacher-prep programs as woefully inadequate.
Recalling her first years as a teacher, she explains that, despite having graduated from a prestigious school of education, she “wasn’t prepared to teach my students how tie their shoes, much less make up for years of institutional neglect, hunger, poverty, family transience, isolation and other ills.” In desperation, she enrolled in a well-regarded master’s program in special education, but found the coursework too theoretical to be of much help: “My professors seemed uninterested in teaching me anything practical.”
Even so, she believes that the debate over whether, for purposes of training, teaching should be viewed as a practical craft vs. a knowledge-based profession presents a false dichotomy. She points to the medical-school model as a more balanced solution:
In this country, medical students go to school for four years of highly specialized education. They spend their first two years learning the fundamentals and the theories of medicine. Their second two years are spent mainly in clinical rotations, learning the craft of patient care through observation and guided practice. Students also take the first two steps in a series of rigorous licensing exams that test their theoretical and practical knowledge. If they survive the schooling and the tests, they proceed to on-the-job learning under the tutelage of master practitioners and take more tests. Only after they have made it through the required intellectual and practical education are they considered qualified to practice medicine. No one would question that they are professionals. The hands-on portion of their training is also indispensable.
Why not adopt this model for education?
This may, incidentally, be an idea to watch: Part of the medical-school model is present, at least theoretically, in the growing number of “residency"-based teacher-prep programs popping up around the country. Though they don’t last anywhere near as long as medical school, such programs combine graduate-level coursework with extended classroom apprenticeships (or clinical practice) in which teacher-candidates work alongside master teachers. According to our colleague Stephen Sawchuk’s ever-on-the-ball coverage, a recent study out of Tennessee found that teachers who graduated from the Memphis Teacher Residency were more effective, in terms of test-score gains, than the average veteran teacher in the state. Earlier research on Boston’s teacher-residency program is more complicated, finding that it took a few years before graduates of the program outgained their colleagues in effectiveness.
Teacher blogger Ilana Garon, a high school teacher in New York city, also recently argued for redesigning teacher prep around longer classroom apprenticeships supplemented by more practice-based coursework.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.