The Dilemma Box of Teacher Preparation

Admittedly, I did grad school ‘much’ after the fact. I took time off between undergrad and graduate school to pursue all the random things out there in the world.  I was pretty sure before I attended grad school  the stakes were going to be much higher financially, time wise, perserverance and outcome  (it was – squared then cubed – still owing on student loan).  Grad school in my mind was an educational feast to be partaken when you knew what you loved to eat (besides dessert first!).   The plethora of jobs and varied W-2’s for taxes served as a kind of funky personal/sequential/interval/numerical time line  leading up to grad school and when I attended, it paid off in spades.  First off, I was ready for the big questions, the ideas, the thoughts and most importantly, weighing two or more ideas simultaneously and exploring the potential merits of all.  In no small part, my greatest preparation came from being a Peace Corps Volunteer which challenged my thinking at every turn. 

Graduate school was indeed a feast. I had wonderful professors, classmates and worked my bottom off to enjoy said feast.  I graduated and was pretty self assured questions were a part of the bigger picture of life – the more you thoughtfully asked, the more you gleaned.   In some respects I was more fortunate than my counterparts pursuing education as I earned an undergrad degree in Communicative Disorders (speech pathology/audiology) instead of general studies.  My science experiences were far more in depth and my appreciation of the dilemmas for learning disorders well above what the average teacher learns.  In some respects I was very unfortunate – I asked a great deal of questions and challenged what many people said about the learning process in graduate school.  I actually had the temerity to believe   Algebra taught behind a hut in Namibia while drawing in the sand  was of equal quality to that in a city classroom with 35 students.  I questioned ridiculous curricular programs (FOSS kits at the middle school level), memorization in lieu of learning a concept, grinding the numbers for Algebra (yes, you have to as there are no short cuts or easier methods), text books instead of actual science labs (wrong and ridiculous) and so forth.  Those who were willing to join the fray of debate became my closest friends; those who were too afraid to join the debate or (literally) had nothing to say became my acqaintances until such time they desired opening their minds and standing up for ideas/experiences they believed in.  Instead of being fearful, I was always exploring new information – the more to choose from the better.

I found the closed mouth, closed minded people willingly drank Kool Aid (with or without sugar) without question  and followed the group think.  It is now all of sudden these self same people which are questioning whether or not U.S. News and World Report should rank teacher preparation programs.   The horror they must be facing is the very fact that some one or group of  ‘ones’ is going to start asking some very challenging questions about their teacher preparation programs (curriculum, experiences, supervision, etc.)

Imagine if you will, a teacher prep program where FOSS kits were donated to the science department, so, that is what was taught…..or some (if not all) text book companies from TX decided to re-do their Algebra text books to ‘align to state standards’ and so that is what was used to ‘develop’ new math teachers.   Imagine where the ‘five paragraph essay’ came from and you should be horrified (it is the absolute minimum standard of writing deemed necessary to graduate high school and in many cases, enter college).   Think about all of those teachers who obtained a graduate degree while serving time in a charter school (where you absolutely must follow group think) and you begin to see why fear is a reality for so many schools of education.

We should ‘know’ what best practices are and they are not the same for every situation and every student. We should know the difference between learning, applying and synthesizing a concept versus memorizing a bit of information to take a multiple choice test with a 25% given success rate upon guessing.  We should know what a good education looks like as we seem to be getting students from foreign countries who have one.  And yet we are afraid to have some one look at our book shelves, peer into our teaching methods, evaluate our ‘sacred’ teacher development practices – on what grounds might some one be afraid if you are RIGHT??

In the last 10 years, I became the ‘go to’ person for friends and friends of friends for various potential questions to ask employers during an interview as I have the audacity to believe it is just as important what a potential employer asks you, as you ask them – you are going to be working together for awhile (hopefully) so get it all out on the table.  I have found over and over by painstaking experience, those people who follow the party line/pitch/game, etc.  at the interview are the self same people who will turn on a dime when led to the new Kool Aid as they are too insecure and/or desperate to have their own thoughts.   It is these people I fear and avoid because they do have something to hide.  Anything right out in the open, up front and to the point is not  hidden.   People who have the ability to discern the difference of right/wrong zero sum games from different/equal benefit and broader scope do not fear people looking in their bookshelves AND are willing to do things to improve for they know they do not have all the answers.

We have all manner of tests for teachers to prove they are highly qualified. We need to start having some methods for demonstrating the higher ed institutions are qualified to prepare teachers.  In fact, there should be a ranking, like the Michelin Stars for restaurants.  This is the result of what happens when you don’t teach people to think – they forget how and become fearful when asked.

As for me, I am going to watch from the sidelines. I did not think ‘From Good to Great’ by Jim Collins, varied state standards, Wendy Kopp and Teach for America, charter schools or Michelle Rhee and Students First was the whole picture.  This new reformation is going to be very interesting indeed.