Mr. Duncan's oncoming assault on Teacher Training Programs (and it's about time!)

So I gotta hand it to Arne Duncan cause the man is not afraid to use pointed words and ruffle some feathers. His latest spear is aimed at teacher training programs. (BTW, I do not say "spears" in a condescending manner because when you look at the state of education today, you gotta admit, we need some "new stuff" and unless you are willing to break some eggs you're not going to be able to make a new educational omelet -- so a part of me salutes Arne Duncan in a BIG Ol' WAY simply for calling a pink elephant a pink elephant.)

Check it out, Mr. Duncan is letting 'er rip against our teacher training programs.

He calls for "revolutionary change". On one hand, it's a bit of a political platitude but on the other hand, he's right. We do need MAJOR change. And why? Well, as Arne points out, many, many new teachers, "...say they did not get the hands-on teacher training about managing the classroom that they needed, especially for high-needs students."

I am not sure if there are going to be too many folks that disagree with this statement. I mean look, right now we pretty much throw new teachers to the wolves (that's a figure of speech, btw... well, kind of... kidding!) and the ones that survive the first three years are the ones that get to be part of the "club".

And the ones that shuffle away, shaking their heads and rolling their eyes, are the ones that got body slammed one time too often in the WWE of NCLB and the DOE.

Matter of fact, there are droves of these body-slam victims. I can't tell you how many people I know that hung up their spurs within the first few years absolutely baffled by the reality of being a teacher -- even after having earned a graduate degree to pursue this professional aim.

It's absolutely crazy. Too many teacher programs have devolved in far too many ways into mere classes on theory where book study and hypothetical scenarios are the foremost way an aspiring teacher learns about their craft.

You wanna learn what it's like to be a teacher in a "high needs" school -- and come on, we all know that the phrase "high needs" is a code word for low income, under-resourced, quite often high minority population institutions with all kinds of serious problems going on -- then you have to step inside a classroom.

There is simply no other way to prepare for the job of working in a "high needs" school without actually working in a "high needs" school.

This reminds me of one of my favorite Mike Tyson quotes of all time. Once, in his heyday, when asked to respond to the apparently smart and well-thought out pre-fight strategy illuminated by a forthcoming opponent (i.e. the guy had laid out his very tactically sound plan to defeat Iron Mike when Tyson was in his prime) Mike Tyson glibly responded, "Look, everybody's got a plan until they get hit."

And ain't that how it is for these new teachers? They come in with seating plans and behavior management plans and disciplinary plans and lesson plans and all sorts of plans... and then they get "hit".

--"Hit" by the reality of kids dropping f-bombs in the middle of class.
--"Hit" by the reality of having 39 kids in a room with only 33 desks.
--"Hit" by the reality of being charged with raising the literacy levels of students that come into their 10 grade classes with 4rth grade reading levels.
--"Hit" by the reality of low socioeconomic home lives, transience, absenteeism, violence, alcohol, sex, drugs and so on.

That's why I just love Iron Mike the philosopher... "Everybody's gotta plan until they get hit." Well, in "high needs" schools they do get hit...and nobody is properly preparing them for the inevitable kidney punches.

Come on, basically we are sending in an army of coddled, young, idealistic theorists into these "high-needs" places under the delusion that if a kid talks too loudly or profanely in class, you can actually send them to the principal.

HA!

Wait til they call a parent to discuss how "the poor linguistic choices of a student can be rectified" and the parent starts using more profanity than the kid ever did and thinks you, the teacher, are the real problem in the equation -- and not their little angel.

It'll make your head spin... especially if no one warned you (back in graduate school during your teacher training, of course) that it was coming.

Give a kid a book on riding a bike and have him study and study and study... it's not going to matter. Until that kid actually rides the bike, he is not qualified to call himself a "bike rider".

It's why the GRE's and such are simply preposterous. Has anyone looked at the subject area test for the GRE's lately? (I'll save that for another post.) Lu-di-crous!!

But ETS is on the job so no worries folks, right? (Garsh, do they irk me -- the tail that wags our educational dog on so many fronts and yet, who calls them out on it? Sheesh!!!)

look, you have to find your own sense of inner balance, whether it's bike riding or teaching -- and without real time in a real classroom saddle to do so, it's no wonder our national attrition rate in these "high needs" schools are so astronomical.

I just wonder why it's taken so long for Washington D.C. to recognize what appears to me to be a pandemic problem?

However, let's be honest -- to properly train new teachers we are going to have to elevate spending. The fact is, professional development is under seige at the same time that classes are swelling, money for academic resources are dwindling and teachers, who already struggle to make ends meet financially in their personal lives, are taking pay cuts all across the country. Me, I took a 3% cut this year and some furlough days... to work with more students with less supplies... but you can see why people would be beating down the door to jump on the this career train right?

Fact is, people become teachers because they want to give and because they want to teach. Educating others is a form of service to the community and dorky as it sounds, it just feels good for the soul. I mean if money was the foremost reason these people were in grad school, they'd head to Wall Street instead where a person who loses billions for their company gets rewarded with hundreds of millions in pay. (Because there's a limited talent pool, of course, for people with the deft skills to keenly navigate such elite waters. HA!)

I'd love to see a reinvention of teaching training programs because when I look out on the horizon and see how these places operate, I see that they are filled with scores of good, smart people who are fossilized and politicized.

Who is putting the kids first? And since so many of our "high needs" school can't seem to do that, why in the world did we ever expect to look up and discover that our farm system for teachers (the teacher training programs) were doing it excellently well?

I applaud your intent, Mr. Duncan. But platitudes don't feed the bulldog. We are gonna need to see action.

What we need are programs that are, first and foremost, about the K-12 students

Views: 49

Comment by Barb Clark on October 24, 2009 at 2:11pm
I think my teacher training was generally quite good. I graduated from University of Alaska Anchorage's MAT program in '99, and last year had an intern who was doing the same program. Classes happen in the evening and over one summer. During the day, for all but, I think, two weeks of both school year semesters, the intern is in the classroom: semester one for practicum - mostly observing - and semester two teaching - for the last six week alone: the mentoring teacher is asked not to even enter the room - five classes. (The mentoring teacher continues to teach the sixth period so that the intern will have time to eat, etc, before his or her evening classes.) Good mentor teachers arrange for the intern to observe and interview a wide range other teachers as well. There's also a two-week placement at a middle or high school (whichever you didn't intern at) and an optional two-week placement at a rural village (my intern was on St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea.) My intern led parent conferences, learned the gradebook program and kept on top of grading, dealt with some big discipline issues on his own, planned long-term lessons, and wrote his own semester syllabus. (Some of his rules weren't the same as mine! Good for him; he'd already begun to develop his own philosophy of teaching.) He was pretty familiar with overcrowded classes, the effects of poverty and disrupted families, absenteeism, etc., by the time he finished. I think he, and I, were both pretty well prepared for the "realities" when we were hired. (He's working in a Native village near Bethel this year.) Our district also offers a voluntary mentorship program for first-year teachers. You can sign up, for free, for a series of meetings and observations with a trained veteran; I'm one.

What I do miss, and I wish I'd had more of, in my teacher training - and subsequent continuing training - is more in-depth classes in my subject area, and more challenging continuing ed classes around educational theory and, frankly, education politics. When Ted Sizer, the founder of the Essential Schools Initiative movement, died, I passed along a quote by him from my Facebook page, but couldn't quite recall who he was. Pretty embarrassing, for a teacher. His name doesn't come up in the ... honestly, largely pretty insipid ... continuing ed classes I take. Not many theorists' do. The big focus this year is on technology. We're all being sent to learn MyAccess - a computerized essay-grading program. I am not in love with it.

I would like to be better equipped to engage the people attempting to shape educational policy - and I'm dismayed to see Arne Duncan among them - who more and more define learning as that which is measured by standardized test scores, proposing less pay, and possible dismissal, for teachers whose students don't "perform" well on short-term measurement instruments in which they have no personal stake or interest. We need programs that do *not* "teach to the test," or accept the Test as the only valid assessment of teacher worth. I'm good at my job because I'm good with kids and can get them to love reading and writing better, yes. But I'm also good at my job because I know and love my subject area (I kicked butt on those GREs) and have a body of knowledge and background I can tap into, synthesize in a way that works for 14 year olds, and share gladly because it's something I love and know well.

I'm glad that the Obama administration is turning its attention to education, but the solutions it's proposed so far, merit pay for standardized test scores, and more money for school that teach to the test "successfully," are not helpful.

Barb Clark
West High
Anchorage, AK
Comment by Terry Smith on October 25, 2009 at 8:39pm
You oversimplify, Alan. First, I came out of the Texas teacher education program 15 years ago armed with a bag of tricks for tackling the tough situations you describe above, very clear on how kids learn or do not learn, firmly against standardized testing, and the credo of our graduating class was - We are agents of change. I took that to heart and have kept that attitude ever since. I feel I do a good job, but I am among the exhausted veterans, sperad too thin and charged with too much clerical work related to testing.

So don't jump on Duncan's bandwagon and think that all schools of education are totally screwing up. Teachers like other occupations get the real action when the real job starts, not in the practice time, not in the internship. That is a fact of how things work. You are wrong to think that getting the new teachers into the classroom more quickly will solve the problems. Poverty will not change because the teachers are there sooner. Overcrowding and understaffing, and under resourcing won't change because the teachers get their earlier to learn the ropes. The ropes will be waiting for them no matter what time they come in the door. Note - even veteran teachers cannot handle this exhausting mix of student/parent apathy and government testing pressure. Take a look at the data of AYP across the USA -In most states, 90% of schools are not meeting NCLB testing requirements, but this does not mean that kids are not learning. We are not concerned with learning - we are concerned with test scores and believe me, those are two different things, something that Mr. Duncan woefully does not understand. We have two kinds of schools in the US: posh schools and poverty schools. A wise educator, whose name I cannot recall right now said something to the effect of -- "tell me about the incomes and situations of your families and I'll tell you everything about your school." Some choose to believe the cinderella stories of high risk poverty schools that are turned around by hard working principals - fairy tales are always with us, especially among politicians. If Duncan wants to do something, then he has to get off this misguided attack on teaching and teacher training. Our society needs help, our schools need to supply outstanding learning opportunities to all kids, not just kids who live in higher real estate areas.

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