How Best To Train Teachers?

The Association of American Colleges calls for undergraduate programs that combine teacher training with liberal arts

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In 1986, two landmark reports strongly recommended shifting the professional preparation of teachers from the undergraduate to the graduate level. The reports argued that such a move was critical in elevating the stature of the teaching profession.

Now, the Association of American Colleges has come out strongly against such a shift, calling instead for undergraduate programs that combine the liberal arts with teacher training and allow students to complete requirements for a credential within four years. Such programs, the AAC argues, are the best way to encourage students majoring in the arts and sciences to enter teaching.

“As a primary national strategy, we're saying it makes an awful lot of sense to have students prepare for teaching while they're undergraduates,” says Joseph Johnston Jr., the principal author of the 174-page report, Those Who Can: Undergraduate Programs To Prepare Arts and Sciences Majors for Teaching, released recently. “We think it's the most effective way to increase the number of students who go into teaching and improve the quality of their preparation.”

The idea of emphasizing graduate training in teacher preparation gained prominence some three years ago in the reports of the Holmes Group, titled Tomorrow's Teachers, and the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, titled A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century.

Although they differed in their emphases, both reports proposed that the undergraduate education major be eliminated and that professional training be moved to the graduate level. Potential teachers would be required to earn an undergraduate degree in the arts and sciences.

The Holmes Group, which comprises 97 research universities that have pledged to reform teacher training, has reported mixed results from its efforts to gain adoption of such an approach.

The AAC represents 630 public and private colleges and universities, including some research institutions. But the group is most closely associated with small, private liberal-arts colleges that already have four-year programs to prepare arts and sciences majors for teaching.

The new report offers both philosophical and practical arguments in support of undergraduate teacher preparation.

It contends, for example, that teachers need to learn what to teach at the same time they are taught how to teach. That need is not adequately met, it says, in “a sequentially structured course of study” that “treats knowledge of the arts and sciences as preparatory to professional study, rather than as `central to the daily performance of classroom teaching.”

On the practical side, the report maintains the increased tuition costs associated with five- and six-year preparation programs would discourage low-income students from entering the field. “Many of these would be minority students—the black and Hispanic teachers we need most critically in the schools,” it warns.

“We need to think not about adding more courses, but about making the ones we offer more educative,” the report adds.

Says Johnson: “To the extent that we can eliminate the redundancy and start pulling liberal-arts and professional studies together, we can create a more powerful whole.”

The AAC offers several strategies for accomplishing those ends. They include:

  • Eliminating redundancy in various teaching-methods courses and supplementing the courses with clinical “laboratory” sessions.
  • Offering some education-related courses for general credit as a way of getting liberal-arts majors interested in a career in teaching.
  • Integrating more effectively liberal arts and education by providing incentives for faculty members to engage in interdisciplinary collaboration, by promoting team teaching, and by making joint faculty appointments to both liberal-arts departments and education programs.
  • Putting more emphasis on understanding child and adolescent development by drawing on the perspectives of anthropology and sociology.
  • Improving the supervision of practice teaching. For example, the report says, a liberal-arts faculty member and an education professor could both visit the school where the student was teaching.
  • Strengthening academic advising, possibly by assigning students two advisers: one from the subject area they hope to teach and the other in teacher education.

The report maintains that the teacher-preparation programs that would result from taking such steps would help attract to the profession liberal-arts students who might otherwise never have considered teaching. Such students are crucial to the field, according to the report, because they would improve the supply, quality, and diversity of the pool of prospective teachers at a time when many are predicting teacher shortages.

The report says that in 1986, liberal-arts and sciences majors outnumbered students majoring in education by four to one. And their numbers, it adds, include three times as many blacks and more than seven times as many men—groups vastly underrepresented in the teaching force.

Education-school officials reacted with caution, and some skepticism, to the report's proposals.

“Certainly, the report is going to inform the dialogue on the subject” of teacher preparation, says David Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. “Whether it's going to lead the charge, I'm not certain.”

Imig and others praised the report's emphasis on integrating courses in the liberal arts with professional studies. Some, however, expressed reservations about its proposal to prepare teachers in only four years of undergraduate study.

“If you think about what teachers should know and be able to do, there just isn't enough time to be able to do all that is necessary in a four-year program,” says Robert Koff, dean of the education school at the State University of New York, one of the research-oriented institutions that belongs to the Holmes Group.

“To a large extent,” he says, the report “will continue to put on the front burner the fundamental question of whether the public in this country wants to see teachers become true professionals.” If the profession is to follow the lead of medicine and law, enhanced professional status for teachers will only come with extended study, he argues.

In addition to its policy recommendations, the AAC report includes the results of the first major survey in recent years of undergraduate teacher-preparation programs for students in the arts and sciences. The survey, mailed to the approximately 1,400 colleges and universities that grant baccalaureate degrees in the arts and sciences, yielded responses from 804 institutions. Of the respondents, 601—or 75 percent—reported having a process by which students in those areas could be prepared to teach within four years.

Johnson emphasizes, however, that the AAC's position represents more than just a justification of the status quo in these institutions. Many of the colleges and universities, he says, do not come close to providing the kind of four-year program recommended in the report.

He notes, for example, that most existing programs provide little integration among the disciplines, and that few of the schools responding offer any education-related courses for general-education credit.

Those Who Can was funded with a $122,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Copies can be ordered for $15 each, prepaid, from the Association of American Colleges, 1818 R St., N.W., Washington, DC 20009.

Vol. 01, Issue 04, Pages 16-17

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