Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Which of these things is not like the other?

Finally, something from this US Department of Education (US DOE) infographic that I can agree with. [In prior posts, I: (1) pointed out that it was unclear what "unprepared" meant to new teachers; (2) wondered how the ease of an exam could be determined simply by the pass rate; and (3) explained that it is impossible to completely prepare new teacher for every school-specific situation.] We do need to increase the diversity of the U.S. teaching force. Unfortunately, a recent Supreme Court ruling makes it difficult for colleges in Michigan to take intentional actions to address this issue. 

And the US DOE is not helping. Instead, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, is focusing on "accountability" for education schools.
The goal: To ensure that every state evaluates its teacher education programs by several key metrics, such as how many graduates land teaching jobs, how long they stay in the profession and whether they boost their students’ scores on standardized tests. (Politico, 4/25/14)
A possible consequence will be that education schools will be more selective in their admissions, thereby reducing the number of teachers they train.

How does this help to address the lack of diversity in our teaching force? It doesn't. Perhaps, this panel of the infographic was never meant to be included in the US DOE's latest policy push. They simply needed something to balance out the picture. The result is a warped game of "One of These Things is Not Like the Others."

Sadly, in this case, the "thing that doesn't belong" is the thing that is most important.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Am I ready for this?

I leave for Africa tomorrow to support our study abroad program in Tanzania.

We have been meeting since the beginning of the year to get ready for this trip. However, it has been stated many times by those who have gone before that nothing can completely prepare us for what we will encounter during our time there. This seems reasonable to me; how does one prepare for an adventure of a lifetime?

That is why I find the infographic recently shared by the U.S. Department of Education so strange. Teaching is also a lifelong adventure and nothing will completely prepare the new teacher for what they will encounter in their first classroom. Even the author, Arthur Levine, of the paper used for the top two panels states: 
One plausible explanation is that no professional school can possibly teach its graduates everything they need to know before taking a job. Some things can only be learned on the job. (p. 33)
Prof. Levine goes on to refute this statement using results from a survey completed by deans of education schools, but I believe this ignores the point that all jobs require some on-the-job training.

In Part I and II of this series, I addressed the panels on the left. For the remainder of this post (briefly since I still have packing to do), I wish to share my thoughts about the statistics provided in the upper right.

Our teacher preparation program tries to address all three of these skills either through study or experience. We have two entire courses that focus on diversity and classroom management. As for the first skill, one of the expectations of student teaching is that our teacher-candidates will participate in parent-teacher conferences and make phone contact with parents during the semester.

Could we improve? Certainly! I have been begging for a lab school for years. That way preservice teachers would have more direct experience and support needed to learn the important skills and knowledge necessary for success in the classroom.

Still, I am not sure a lab school would change the principals' responses to the original survey questions. Especially if they are thinking solely about new teachers in their schools. You see, we are trying to provide teacher-candidates with a firm foundation in all these areas, but we cannot prepare them for ever possible situation they might encounter. Even in a lab school, the experiences would be specific to that setting. For example, if it were an urban school, then it might not adequately prepare them for a suburban setting.

If teachers are expected to be ready for every possible situation before being certified, then they will never be certified. That is the nature of an adventure - encountering the unexpected. Perhaps that is what the best education programs do; they prepare teachers to expect the unexpected and to handle it with grace. I believe that is what our work in Tanzania does for preservice teachers. Which is why I am excited, though not completely prepared, to begin this adventure.