On Training

Too many teachers land in the classroom with inadequate training – that is, if they have been trained at all. While the easiest example of this problem to cite and blame is “fast-track” programs like Teach for America and NYC Teaching Fellows, I don’t want to talk about these programs right now (soon, though, I promise).  Instead, I’d like to get even closer to the root, which is the lack of consistently rigorous teacher training programs at the university level.

The lack of uniformly rigorous teacher training programs from university to university has created a huge disparity in teacher preparedness and, therefore, teacher quality. While great teacher training programs of course exist, many teaching programs in the United States do not have rigorous enough course and program entry requirements to weed out persons who could be too unfit or uncommitted to teach. Stated more bluntly, it isn’t too tough to become a teacher.  This mentality quickly leads to the lack of respect that is so prevalent when discussing the teaching profession

Compare, for example, an education program at any given university with, say, a pre-med program. I think even the surface level findings of such a comparison would be striking. In particular, I believe that the level of course rigor in the pre-med program would naturally weed out those unfit or uncommitted to pursue a career in the field, whereas I do not know if the same could be said for an education program. Crossing the sea, we can compare our teacher training system with Finland’s system, where entry into education programs is competitive, the program itself is rigorous, and the teaching career is respected. Pretty different, huh?

Inadequate teacher training programs at the university level lead to warped perceptions of the teaching career.  Teaching programs that are inadequate lead to the idea that “anyone can be a teacher,” which naturally leads to the thought that it must not be too hard to be a teacher. When this mentality persists, the teaching profession is disrespected, underappreciated, and people, quite simply, don’t want to be teachers. As a result, “fast-track” programs pop up and are, in some ways, able to justify themselves by filling a social need.

Consistent and rigorous teacher training programs will lead to meaningful change in teacher quality, in the view of the teaching profession, and in student achievement. As any half-decent teacher knows, kids love to be challenged and pushed (in the right ways, of course). College students, and adults, are no different. By creating education programs at the university level that are rigorous and competitive, students will be more drawn to these programs and, once through the program, will be better prepared to start their career in education. And while the first few years of teaching will be tough regardless, with more training (and more well-trained teachers in the school), teachers will be better equipped to deal with and overcome these natural challenges. And, furthermore, after years spent teaching successfully, these very same teachers could become the experienced leaders that schools, and our education system, need. Or maybe they’ll stay in the classroom because that’s where they feel they belong.