Are Teacher Preparation Programs Dangerously Irrelevant? [guest post]
Seann Dikkers [Guest Blogger]
In my first year of teaching a veteran leaned over during a particularly dry workshop and said blandly, “If you spend a whole day in these things and walk away with even one idea, it was worth the day… Today is not our day.” Cynical? Yes, but true. After 15 years as a teacher and principal this veteran’s words came back to me twice a year during professional development (PD) workshops. For good PD the wisdom was decidedly more uplifting.
Yet, there has to be a better way. Doesn’t there?
Now I’m knee deep in research on new media technologies for learning at the University of Wisconsin – Madison under Kurt Squire and Richard Halverson; both of whom argue that there are better ways. As much evidence as we muster, (in support of new models for leading and educating for learning), those in the system must embrace new practices for any changes to occur. In other words leadership matters and teaching matters as much as (or more) than GamingMatters (shameless self promotion) or any relevant new ideas for education.
Many studies seek to inform practice by examining experts in a field. In this post, I want to share some of the preliminary findings in the 21st Century Teaching Project (21CTP) – a study of teacher professional development trajectories toward the integration of new media technology.
I’ll edit the study details a bit: This is a ‘best practice’ style qualitative study after Dan McAdams’ methodology. Phase one: find out relevant practices. Phase two: quantify them in a larger sample to see if they hold water. 39 of the nation’s award winning teachers (TotY, PAEMST, ING, AMF) and authors make up the data set. If these are the teachers we choose to recognize as excellent, then we should listen to what they have to say about their PD – especially when there are consistent messages emerging.
So what do they say?
The next five blog entries will cover five findings that popped out of the data from the 21st Century Teaching Project (21CTP).
21CTP Theme 1: Teacher Training
In the initial interviews the participants kept telling me, with a conspiratorial tone, that their training wasn’t like most teachers, “It’s a rather unorthodox journey”, said one. Then, one after another, they shared stories that all converged one one point. Traditional teacher education was at best – irrelevant; and at worst detrimental to being an outstanding teacher today.
“I don’t care what school you go to, it really doesn’t prepare you for what you are going to do in a classroom”.
One author/teacher has yet to get an official license to teach, another accidentally dropped out of high school, another manipulated the system to use certain technology regardless of the class content, and it went on. Each felt their story was unique – yet there was this common thread that was worth pursuing in the larger study with new questions:
Were you trained to teach in a teacher education program? What training most equipped you to teach like you do?
The results were striking. Stop for a moment and consider the following numbers from 39 of our award winning teachers.
- 10% credit their primary training to a traditional four year certification program.
- 21% credit their primary training to a hobby, game, or interest.
- 33% credit their primary training to another job/profession.
- 36% credit their primary training to another field of study.
- Only 31% completed a traditional four year certification program.
- 46% were employed in other fields or left the teaching profession for a time.
- 67% were trained in other fields of practice before getting a certificate in a 1-2 year program.
- Only 10%, or 4 of 39, affirmed that their official ‘teacher training’ was relevant to their current practice. The rest were inspired elsewhere.
There were no patterns on what these other field/professions were other than that they covered the gambit: Medicine, Aviation, Acting, Mortuary Work, Rock-n-Roll, Journalism, etc. etc. Commonly, these teachers felt their training in that field was what actually influenced their teaching.
Ironically, those that are being recognized as excellent teachers, were largely not trained as such. Moreover, they largely went out of their way to make sure the world would know it.
So what does this say to educational leadership?
Do we want more 21st century teachers? The most innovative teachers are drawing on experiences and skill sets they developed outside of education.
Later I’ll show results that 21st Century skills are a key part of what they are bringing into the classroom, while traditional education programs still reduce “technology training” to the use of an over-head or interactive whiteboard. The following posts will uplift the sources that positively affect teacher training.
Immediately, a few things… this data would suggest if you want to employ innovative creative teachers, you may want to consider:
1) Interview non-traditional candidates; those with other training, lifelong learners with avid hobby interests, avid readers, and yes, computer gamers. These seem to be better predictors of potential among the sample set.
2) Refine your interview protocol to uncover these interests outside of the profession. What do you do for fun? What other interests do you have? Have you ever worked outside of education? Where?
3) Encourage workshops and training outside of education and validate those experiences with modified accreditation. NASA led summer workshops for teachers that were brought up by three of the candidates – none of them were high school science teachers and two of them went on to get flying licenses.
4) When a teacher leaves to work in another profession, this may not be the end of their teaching career. It may be the beginning of an adventure that will return to teach in coming years and win awards for excellence. Stay in touch with teachers that have left to work elsewhere. Encourage them and keep the door open.
5) We can’t assume that teacher training is actually doing so. When the local prep program is redesigning, participate and vocalize what skills today’s teachers need. Ask for the things that worked for our nation’s ‘best’. Demand that professors are modeling new media pedagogical practices, out-of-field training, student teaching for every course, design work, and community building.
6) Finally, when planning your school’s professional development time, consider experiences over content area. I’ll speak more in future posts on the specifics that were useful to my participants. For now, weight 2-3 day workshops, conferences, curriculum connected technology, and buffet style PD considerably more than guest speakers, mandatory training, and mass technology purchases for the staff (drop-in tech).
More on those in the next post.