Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Back to the Future: How and Why to Revive the Teachers College Tradition

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Back to the Future: How and Why to Revive the Teachers College Tradition

Article excerpt

I approach these matters somewhat differently from many, I suspect. I write from the perspective of someone who is part teacher educator, part educational historian, and part curriculum philosopher. I do my best to contribute to all of these fields, while at the same time remaining firmly embedded in the practice of teacher education.

There is good news and bad news for those of us who are teacher educators. The good news is that the teaching profession is still standing after another 25 years of relentless attacks, the most recent round beginning with a "A Nation at Risk" in 1983. The bad news is that our profession has been left demoralized, exhausted, uncertain, and even fearful about the future. We may be standing, but our stature needs a good bit of work. However, by drawing on a different tradition--one that we have been running from for at least 50 years--we can face these problems with confidence and strength.

My thesis is that we must return to the teachers college tradition if we expect to thrive. To argue this thesis, I will make three points while explaining what I mean by the teachers college tradition. First, we need a different and better understanding of our past. Second, the future of the teaching profession depends on our repairing our moral foundations. Third, I want to demonstrate how the revival of the teaching profession depends on the individual acts we take on our home campuses and within our local communities.

Point #1: We Need a Different and Better Understanding of Our Past

Regarding point #1, I want to begin with a question. What was wrong with Grandma's normal school? I am unsure where the idea comes from, but I have frequently heard contemporary teacher educators--when forced to defend education schools--make the point that "the good news is that we're not your grandma's normal school anymore." But is it really good news that we have rejected our normal school/teachers college heritage? Yes, we have distanced ourselves from our teachers college roots, but should we be proud of this fact? What does this dismissive statement about normal schools tell us about the way we understand our history? What does this attitude do to the teachers college tradition that was essential to building the teaching profession during the 20th century?

I raise these questions because I am convinced that we have an inadequate and even destructive understanding of our past. I am not referring to the scholarship that has been published on the history of teacher education, much of which is quite good (Clifford & Guthrie, 1988; Fraser, 2007; Goodlad, Soder, & Sirotnik, 1990; Labaree, 2006; Lucas, 1999; Ogren, 2005). I am referring, rather, to the commonplace assumption on the part of most teacher educators--as well as policy makers--that studying our past is unimportant and even a waste of time. Policy makers and teacher educators do not take the published scholarship on the history of teacher education seriously. Partly as a result, we have spent most of the 20th century running from the institutional tradition that I contend is the key to our future. We have let others tell our history--people who are not teacher educators and who do not understand teacher education. Major histories of higher education pay almost no attention to the teachers college tradition (Rudolph, 1990; Thelin, 2004), yet these institutions were essential to educating the majority of college students in the 20th century. In allowing the history of our institutions to be ignored and/or dismissed, we have bought into the idea that teacher education is a second-rate activity on our university campuses. This idea is wrong, and I want to argue that the future of our nation rests with high-quality teacher education rooted in the teachers college tradition. To revitalize the teaching profession, we need to embrace grandma's teachers college, not run from it. Grandma had a lot of things right, and I can defend the point that the decline in the status of the teaching profession is directly related to the transformation of America's teachers colleges into regional state universities. …

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