Mar 10, 2013

How To Train A Teacher As A Professional

My first year of teaching was awful.  I've written bits about it from time to time, but the short version is that I was completely in over my head.  I had wonderful veteran teachers to turn to for help, a supportive administration and a cadre of new teachers to share my pains.  However, I still feel that I was completely under prepared in every way.

For any new readers it is worth pointing out that I do not hold a degree in education.  So my experience is not reflective of how well education programs prepare teachers for the classroom.  I have my BS and MNS in Biology.  I didn't transition into teaching.  I was just hired, at the last minute, because of a desperate need.

If it wasn't for the comments and compliments by a few of my former students I would have left teaching behind forever.  The comments by those students is what made me reconsider teaching and led me into a transition program.  I have felt, since the beginning of my transition, that the main reason I didn't crash and burn is because of my prior experience.

I've given this long introduction because since then I have been saying that teachers should be trained like like doctors.  The horror of new teachers is rarely said out loud.  The reality, the elephant in the room, is that new teachers are constantly experimenting with their students.  There is no guarantee of anything.  They have not yet proven themselves short of taking a test, which only supports their expertise in the subject not the classroom.

You would never consider taking a freshly graduated medical doctor and putting them in direct care of patients.  You would never take a freshly graduated lawyer and make them public defender.   Just the same we should not take new teachers and place them as head of a classroom.

I'm writing this post in response to a blog post, by Diane Ravitch, I just read.  It says, in more detail, what I have been saying all along.  Not only should they have an accredited degree and experience, they should go through a strict intern and residency program before being handed the reigns of their own classroom; before being responsible for the education and future of our children.

I've quoted in part and given emphasis (bold):
What a Professional Teacher Preparation Program Looks Like:
Candidates applying for the program needed to have a BA, with preferably several years of post graduate employment.
Experience before teaching?  Look at schools throughout history and you'll notice that is exactly what makes one a teacher.  Their experience.  You do not just simply get a degree and suddenly teach, yet that is what our educational system has become.  Sadly, we marginalize our veteran teachers and fail to recognize that the single greatest factor in the improvement in my teaching abilities is the time I've spent teaching.
First year interns were placed with master teachers in three different classrooms at three different levels. During this first year, they functioned much as a traditional student teacher under the direct supervision of their mentor teachers.
Exactly!  There are mentoring programs, but they all are nothing more than paperwork.  Very little time is given for even the opportunity to observe each other.  New teachers are given complete control and the mentor can not even be in the classroom to critique and guide.
The second and third years these interns became residents and were assigned their own classrooms, but still connected to a mentor teacher at their same grade level. 
Wow, so even after 3 years you are not completely on your own?  How very professional.
I’m sure many would say that this is too time consuming and expensive a process, but until we decide that teaching is a serious profession that demands long-term commitment, we will not produce the skilled teachers that are needed to address the needs of our children.
I want this on a poster.  It sums it all up perfectly.  Our teachers are not respected as professionals and with the current model of teacher training it is no wonder everybody thinks that teaching is just a fall back career when other jobs don't pan out.
We currently have a system that invites anyone with a college degree and a pulse to be a teacher.
Bingo.  Which is why effective teachers go unnoticed.  How can a high school teacher be truly effective if their students have been left in the hands of unprepared, under trained and naive teachers prior to entering their classroom.
That’s the other major challenge. Even when an effective system is developed, it is terrifically difficult to replicate and to sustain because the societal commitment is not there.
It really isn't there.  There is parental support, but rarely community/societal support.  You have to commit to having smaller class sizes and longer training programs with money and frankly that is just one area people don't want to change.

The whole letter isn't too long and worth a read.

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