Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Responding to Our Critics: From Crisis to Opportunity in Research on Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Responding to Our Critics: From Crisis to Opportunity in Research on Teacher Education

Article excerpt

   A reorganization of teacher training and certification
   requirements along the lines here outlined
   would ... end the preposterous overemphasis upon
   pedagogy that produces teachers who can talk
   glibly about how to teach, but who know too little
   about any given subject to teach it satisfactorily.
   (Bestor, 1953/1985, p. 136)

   Barriers to entry are too high. Confusing and cumbersome
   procedures discourage many talented
   would-be teachers from entering the classroom.
   (The Teaching Commission, 2006)

   The most insidious hurdles involve lengthy training
   in pedagogy. Although some policymakers and
   parents view "certified" teachers as synonymous
   with qualified teachers, being certified generally
   means little more than having endured state-approved
   training at a school of education. Yet
   there's little evidence that this leads to effective
   teaching. (Finn, 2001, p. 138)

   Teacher educators do not offer programs based on
   data. Like schoolfolk, their programs reflect custom,
   tradition and the convenience of faculty. We in teacher
   education quack about the need for making policy
   based on evidence but we act in ways which are not
   only baseless but frequently in contradiction to the
   evidence. (Haberman, 2004)

   And now I come to a red-hot question: How about
   those terrible methods courses, which waste a
   student's time? (Conant, 1963, p. 137)

   Teacher education right now is the Dodge City of
   education: unruly and chaotic. (Levine, 2006)

Given comments like these, it's hard not to feel defensive as a teacher educator these days. Teacher educators are being blamed for the burdensome barriers of certification, even as states have created these barriers in the service of raising standards for prospective teachers. Courses in pedagogy are criticized as largely irrelevant compared to classes in the subject matter, consisting more of seat time than substance, even as teacher educators have struggled to incorporate more subject-matter learning into ever-briefer programs. A closer look at these critiques, however, reveals that these criticisms are not new. Some were written 50 years ago and others in the past year. Critics on the right wrote some of them and critics on the left, others. What has changed, perhaps, is the volume of these critiques. In his vice presidential address, Ken Zeichner (1999) claimed,

   There is no more important responsibility for a
   school, college, department or faculty of education
   than to do the best job that it possibly can in preparing
   teachers to teach in the schools of our nation and
   to support the learning of teachers throughout their
   careers. If we are not prepared to take this responsibility
   more seriously and do all that we can to have
   the best possible teacher education programs, then
   we should let someone else do the job. (p. 13)

Zeichner was more prescient than he may have realized, because today many would like to take the job away from university-based teacher educators. Increasingly, school districts from Los Angeles to Boston are taking over the task of preparing teachers for their schools. My purpose in this article is to suggest a way of thinking about how teacher educators might shift from the defensive posture of defending the status quo to a more productive response.


University-based teacher educators, and the profession of education more broadly, are facing a sharp attack on their ability and their right to control the preparation of teachers. Although these attacks are not new, as the introductory quotations illustrate, the challenges to our professional jurisdiction have intensified during the past two decades. University-based teacher educators are dangerously close to losing their responsibility for overseeing the preparation of new teachers. …

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