Teacher Training — Mediocre?

I was in DC Wednesday, taking a flight from the Akron/Canton airport. And fortunately I returned to Akron/Canton. I thought about that when I heard the incredible — and scary — story of the Northwest Airlines flight that missed Minneapolis by 150 miles or so. Wonder if the pilots were texting? I digress.

My trip to DC involved a meeting that touched broadly on education and jobs. And no matter how you cut it, as a nation we are failing a generation of young people who either drop out of high school, or graduate without the education or skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. Lot of reasons for all this — but more and more I see the fingers of blame being pointed at classroom teachers.

Wish I could accept that and move on. But nah. Much more involved here than classroom teachers — and there is plenty of responsibility and blame to be shared inside the classroom, in our homes, and in every community — rich and poor — in the nation. And saying that, teachers really do make a difference in the lives of young people. It is a difficult job — and not the most rewarding, financially.

Anyway, Education Secretary Arne Duncan raised an interesting issue in a speech yesterday essentially about teacher education and training. Here’s an excerpt from a NYT story by Jennifer Medina, “Teacher Training Termed Mediocre“:

During a speech at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Mr. Duncan said that too often the schools of education were simply seen as a “cash cow” for universities, because they are relatively inexpensive to run and have high enrollment.

“By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom,” he said.

I’m sure there will be plenty of debate over the “mediocre” charge. And I can’t speak for the quality of teacher training overall, but I wrote a story (“Teaching Teachers“) for a recent issue of Kent State magazine about Kent’s teacher education program and my view is that it is a solid approach — with good results.

But there is one exception at Kent — and elsewhere.

It is difficult — maybe impossible — to prepare teachers for the discipline problems they will face in the K-12 classroom.

Here’s from a WaPo article by Jay Mathews based on an advance copy of Duncan’s remarks:

Duncan’s speech points out two major deficiencies in education school teaching with which most critics would agree: They do a bad job teaching students how to manage disruptive classrooms, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, and they don’t offer much in the way of training new teachers how to use data to improve their classroom results.

Managing disruptive classrooms. That’s a key point often overlooked in the debate about the quality of education — and the ability to prepare students for work, college and life beyond the classroom.

Is teaching education mediocre? I expect in some — perhaps many — cases yes.

But the reality is that no matter how effective the training is teachers can’t solve all the problems they face in the classroom — and that students bring with them each and every time they step into a classroom.

I give Duncan credit for raising this issue. It’s an important one, without easy answers.

And ending the week on a more pleasant note, good luck to everyone running the New York City Marathon Sunday. I know that is something I won’t be able to do now — but gee, it sure is a nice thought heading into the weekend.

Update: Oops. New York City Marathon, in case anyone cares, is next weekend. OK. I’m losing it. And I can’t even blame it on my late afternoon meeting with John Jameson — since I posted this orignially early a.m.

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2 responses to “Teacher Training — Mediocre?

  1. Here’s a “for what it’s worth” thought that’s not especially current. When our elder son (now 27) was searching for colleges in 1999, we looked at one public university in Ohio (not Kent) that actually listed the average ACT scores of students admitted to the various programs. Education — at least in this one university — had the lowest standardized text scores of all the academic units, with an average ACT of 18/36.

    Is the problem teachers’ salaries? Sure, salaries are too low in most districts, but so are the standards for admission to teacher education programs.

    Disclosure: I am an educator and former colleague of Rob’s at Kent State. Teaching at the college level is seriously easy compared to what our K-12 counterparts face. And we make a lot more money! What’s up with that?

  2. Bill,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m convinced that teachers — to be successful — need training and mentoring when they enter the classroom. It’s a tough job, and the turnover rate for beginning teachers is high. And you raise a point I really didn’t touch on. In many ways it is more difficult to teach K-12 than at the college level. That reflects the discipline issue — among a host of others.

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