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How Do You Train A Teacher?

Judging from the reaction in her comments, Jenny D. opened up a big can of worms with her post today relating medical training programs to teacher training programs. It sounds like her friend the former teacher entered the profession the same way I did, by taking a variety of method and theory classes topped by a short period of "student teaching" (mine ran one semester). That is a much different path than the one followed by her other friend.

The question at the heart of her discussion is a very good one: what is the best way to train prospective teachers? There are some out there who say that anyone with the knowledge and desire can teach. The only qualification would be that the person has a degree in their subject area and send them in a classroom. Others of us would like to think that there is more to being a good teacher than expertise in a particular area of knowledge.

I’ve thrown this not-so-original idea around in this space before but here it goes again. How about the concept of building teacher training around the medical training model, like the one Jenny’s other friend went through? After getting the subject-area degree, a prospective teacher would enter an intern program in which they team teach with a master teacher and attend training sessions with other interns. That would be followed by a residency where they would have their own classroom but still under the supervision of a master teacher.

A foundation in Colorado is actually spending their own money to try such a system. But it’s not cheap and that’s where the problem lies. People entering a profession lacking in potential monetary rewards are not going to be willing to pay for a two to five year training program. School districts either can’t or won’t finance the costs of such a system either.

The bottom line is that almost all good teachers learned their skills by working with kids in a classroom. The lucky ones, and I suspect the best ones, also had someone to guide and mentor them. A person who was helping them out of a feeling of professional responsibility and probably not being paid for the extra work. If we were willing to cough up the money necessary to formalize such a relationship for every new teacher, I suspect the quality of American education would improve drastically.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m sure that, in the long run, states might be able to break even or possibly save money that they lose every year due to high teacher turn-over rates. I wish a program like that existed in my state. Student teaching is good experience, but it doesn’t really prepare you for your own classroom. You need more help and support for at least your first year.

  2. Jeff

    Just last year I went through a very similar program to the one Tim went through. I can’t help but bring out this quote from Margaret Mead to summarize my experience:

    “The most extraordinary thing about a really good teacher is that he or she transcends accepted educational methods. Such methods are designed to help average teachers approximate the performance of good teachers.”

    My program turned students that would have been terrible teachers into average or slightly below average ones…but had the good ones among us followed the techniques to the letter, we would also have been average rather than having the potential to be great. Frankly, it’s not hard to tell who’s going to be a good teacher just by looking for a short while…and my opinions about my fellow classmates changed little throughout the year we spent in grad school. The good ones were still good at the end, and very few of the “low-achievers” had made much progress.

    Frankly, I think teaching would be best served by having potential teachers watch a wide variety of established instructors. I know that my teaching style (while still being formed) is a conglomeration of the styles of all the great teachers that I’ve seen. Sticking with one master teacher through the year might overly bias us towards one method.

    And, once we become real teachers with our own classrooms, there’s almost no time to get out and see how other people are doing it. Ed school should be a time to examine how a wide variety of teachers do things- otherwise you’re limited in the approaches that you can take in a given day.

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