07 November 2010

Hi, I'm a Student Teacher, er, Teaching Candidate, er......

I work at a school which has a partnership with a local university. The university sends us what they call teaching candidates. These are students near the end of their university education in education. They come to us and observe for 16 weeks. Actually, they observe for 8 weeks with us, and 8 weeks in a middle school in our district. They do this in the fall. In the spring, they receive an assignment and become "student teachers".

They spend their spring paying to "teach". In reality, they'll get about two weeks of really flying free, and even then, the licensed teacher can step in at any point. As education programs go, this one is pretty good. Candidates observe in classrooms that are the same subject as that which they will one day teach. They watch for a long time before they teach.

It's still a terrible program. "Wait, what?", you're asking; you said this was a pretty good program. I did. As teacher ed programs go, this one is pretty good, but it's still pretty terrible. Teacher education in this nation is abhorrent. When I student taught, I taught for 8 weeks, was observed by my cooperating teacher daily, and by my university supervisor 3 times. Together, they decided that I was ok, and I got an A. I ended up interviewing against my university supervisor for jobs. I had superior qualifications to teach economics than the teacher who was my "mentor" in that class. All in all, I sank or swam on my own. Very rarely did I learn anything from the adults who were supposed to teach me. I learned mostly from experience, who is a bitch of a teacher.

I think we need to blow up the teacher education model we cling to in this nation. If we, as a society, want to pay more than lip service to the importance of teaching, we need to treat aspiring teachers, and their preparation, more like the way we teach another group of young people who get practice prior to their license, but after they get their degree; doctors.

That's right, I want teachers to be trained like doctors. Before I even explain, let me address the concerns that have immediately sprung to your agile minds.

1. You're worried that teachers will have debt comparable to doctors, without the upside of big pay later. This is true, but my plan attempts to address this problem. (we could just pay teachers like doctors, but that's crazy talk!)

2. You're worried that these "interns / residents" will need supervision in the schools, and that means more staffing. Ah, read on, I've come up with a clever solution, I think.

3. You're worried you'll be eaten by zombies. I can't help, but will remind you that zombies lead an active lifestyle, so cardio is important

Ok, on to the plan

I think that we should keep what we have now, observation, followed by "student teaching". Those student teachers that discovered that teaching was too hard / not what they expected / early in the morning / whatever, could get their degree and quit. They could go sell insurance. However, if you wanted to get a license to teach, you would apply to "teaching schools" which would operate like teaching hospitals. Teachers; selected by peers, or administration or the University (or a combination of the three) as master teachers would be in charge of a "resident teacher"

(These master teachers would not be selected by level of education, since a masters from the University of North Nowheresville's Online Masters in Instructional Modelling has never made someone a more effective teacher. More pay, yes, better in the classroom, no).

Now, I teach in a school with 8 hours, which makes this plan work. It would need some changes for those schools teaching in the straight 7, or the trimester, or the straight block. But, we run a modified alternating block, so this is what we would do:

1. In a year, a department of 8 people couldn't have more than one student teacher and one resident teacher. This prevents the school from being overrun by novices.

2. The resident teacher would get 3/4 of a normal load (right now, I teach 6 of 8 as a regular teacher. In this system, the resident teacher would teach 4 of 8). However, the resident teacher would also be required to complete reflections, observe teachers in other classes and disciplines, observe administrators, shadow the support staff, and be engaged in an extra-curricular activity. This would help them to experience the school culture.

3. There would be a master teacher (to keep with the medical analogy, an attending teacher). This teacher would also work 4 of 8 (though I would accept 5 of 8 to placate the schools and unions). The schedules of these teachers would be such that the attending would have planning hours during the resident teacher's classes, and would be required to observe, and to mentor this teacher.

4. As the department of Health and Human Services finances much of the salaries of residents in teaching hospitals, perhaps we could use some of that Race to the Top money to pay for resident teachers. They would receive a 3/4 salary and still be eligible for student loans and grants. Also, the University would waive all or most of the tuition for administering the program. 

For what it's worth, my first year teaching, I made less than the average medical resident in the United States, so I hope we can find money for 75% of that. Perhaps the Department of Education could do something useful and support this financially. In reality, the best we could hope for is probably going halfsies with the feds and the districts.

5. Once they finished their "residency", these teachers, now with a year of real-world teaching; the total experience, the hours, the grading, the extra stuff which student teachers are often excluded from like coaching, these people would have a true feeling of what teaching is and takes.

6. Obviously this puts huge pressure and responsibility on "attending" teachers. We would need to develop a program to help select and teach these people. They would need to be impeccably qualified, and would have to be passionate about both teaching, and teaching teachers. These people exist. I can name 10 in my building. They would have to be talked into it, but that extra planning time would help.

There are a myriad of benefits for a program like this. Since this is a post full of numbered lists, let me introduce another:

1. We increase the number of sections offered from 6 to 8 at a minimal cost to the district (Because the attending teacher would have had 6, but now the attending + the resident offer 8, or 9 if you force the attending to teach 5 of 8).

2. Teachers are better prepared, having actually honed their craft for a year under the supervision of people who have experience in the field.

3. With increased sections, class sizes shrink, which is shown over and over to improve test scores. It also, anecdotal evidence suggests, increases learning.

4. There are more adults to supervise, and to shine as role models for students. Different types of teachers reach different students, so the more types of teachers you have (and young teachers often connect very well with students), the more possible engagement. The more engagement, the more students learn.

5. New teachers, operating as peers bring the newest ideas to the classroom. This rubs off on older teachers. Student teachers are overwhelmed by being short-term visitors. Residents would, one hopes, feel like members of the team, and would share their knowledge with the permanent staff. This would lead to professional growth for all.

To be perfectly frank, I think that a system like this could, for minimal effort, make a fundamental change in both the quality of teachers we produce and the quality of the schools they work in. It would happen not just for the empirical reasons stated above, but for the much more subtle message sent by making it harder to get a teacher's license than it is to get a hairdressers license.

If we say to people, that to teach, you will spend a year of your life teaching, and being evaluated on that teaching, and then you may get your license, we have sent a powerful signal that we only want the best and the best qualified to teach. 

People will live up to that expectation.

1 comment:

  1. I have always thought the student teacher process should start the freshman year. Have the potential teacher try out some real life teaching right away. For my content (music) it is an eye opener to see hwat you really need to know. I think that would cause the teacher to actually learn from the classes they will take as a sophmore, junior, and senior. i do like the above mentioned system for seniorsl I just would like to see more before hand!