A commentary in the Los Angeles Times (you’ll need to register) discusses proposals to actually reduce the requirements for new teachers in California. The Ryan Act, which was enacted in the early 70’s, mandates that prospective teachers first get a bachelors degree in a real subject area before spending a fifth year getting their teaching credentials. Now there are bills in the state legislature, including one recently passed and signed by the governor (Davis not Ahnold), which cut the requirements for content classes to allow additional units in "teacher education".
But it gets worse.
Some critics say future grade-school teachers, for example, shouldn’t have to pass undergraduate math or science classes to teach at elementary and middle schools, and they needn’t take English classes in order to lead a story hour. "Content" classes, critics say, needlessly prolong teacher training and should be dropped or shortened. Instead, emphasis should be given to practical classes on how to teach.
Wrong, wrong, wrong! Teachers at all levels need to know more than just the material they directly teach, they also need to know where that material leads. Grade school teachers need to know the topics middle school and even high school teachers will address so that "story hour" is not an isolated exercise but provides a continuum into the next level. That’s true for English as well as math, science, social studies, even art, music and PE.
As to those "practical classes on how to teach", sorry, that’s not something you can teach in a college classroom; it’s something you learn by doing, hopefully guided by an experienced mentor. The concept of the Ryan Act always made sense to me: learn your content, then learn how to teach it to a 14 year old. The only problem is that they didn’t take it far enough. Those fifth year education classes (some of which should be killed), ought to be mixed with guided practice in a real school. Then, however, prospective teachers should enter an intern program (not unlike the kind doctors go through) for at least the following two years.
In another rant we can go into the concept of a career professional development program for teachers. Such radical talk!