Vocational Teacher Education: At a Crossroads

Article excerpt

University leaders engage in soul searching to pinpoint reasons for a decline in programs and formulate an agenda for renewal

Past, Present and Future

Most of the last decade's reports on education reform imply that it is teachers-better educated, prepared differently, cast into different work configurations in school and "real world" workplace environments-who will essentially revolutionize classrooms and thus magically pop out graduates who are well prepared to face life's rich pageant.

It seems logical that, to fulfill this vision, the initial and ongoing preparation of teachers must change or at least improve. But frankly, the reports don't talk much about this-at least not specifically-and dollars have not gone to colleges and universities to help them reform their vocational and technical teacher education programs. Funds have been allocated for staff development, but usually it is local school systems or consortia of schools that have been funded and left up to their own devices to figure out how to "train" the teachers.

The fundamental question seems to be: Does vocational and technical teacher education need to change in our nation's colleges and universities? To me, the answer is a definite yes. And the changes must be substantial.

Double standard?

Vocational teachers, for the most partand certainly those who teach in trade, industrial, manufacturing and health occupations programs-did not (and do not today) have to follow the same teacher preparation or state certification rules as did other public school teachers. Throughout the 75-year history of federally supported vocational education, occupational teachers were employed primarily because they had years of extensive experience in a craft or profession-such as auto mechanic, cosmetologist, medical technician, carpenter, nurse, electrician or mason. When college degrees were deemed a minimal requirement for teachers in most states and in most subjects, vocational education was granted an exception. In effect, then, vocational and technical education always has had a nontraditional or alternative approach to preparing and certifying its teaching force.

This is an approach that dates to 1917, promulgated by Charles Prosser, the first administrative director of the board, who believed that teachers' trade experience would correlate with student outcomes.

Today, some vocational-technical educators subscribe to that philosophy, while others lean more toward John Dewey, who promoted a more general education to prepare teachers to help students ready themselves for a lifetime of learning and change.

This philosophical dichotomy continues today in vocational and technical teacher education. Some of the traditional programs-trade and industrial education and health occupations, for example- rely heavily on occupational experience as the primary vehicle for initial entry as a vocational teacher. Alternative state certification schemes are still in effect today to allow those with a high school diploma or its equivalency and extensive occupational experience (ranging from two to nine years, with an average of four years) to teach their craft or trade in public schools.

Some states require occupational licensing as a means for certifying teachers. College-level preparation is largely irrelevant, but the states usually require some professional training ranging from one to 576 clock hours, with an average of 120 clock hours.

Other traditional vocational programs-most notably home economics* and agriculture-rely heavily on collegelevel teacher preparation but usually include some "practical" or project-oriented experiences. They historically align administratively with their subject-matter colleges, such as a college of agriculture or home economics, and include strong subject-matter curriculums. Other more recent programs identified with vocational education-such as business education, marketing education and technology education-seem to include both employment or practical experience (often in laboratory environments) and align about equally with a subject-oriented college or a college of education. …