Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Revitalizing Teacher Education by Revisiting Our Assumptions about Teaching

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Revitalizing Teacher Education by Revisiting Our Assumptions about Teaching

Article excerpt

Revitalizing teacher education is best tackled as part of the effort to reimagine and reshape teaching for the realities of 21st-century schooling. The state of teaching and teacher education is the result of more than a century of compromises and adjustments demanded by the exigencies of another era (Cuban, 1984; Fraser, 2007). During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the teaching profession was designed to match the rapid expansion of schooling. It relied on a captive pool of inexpensive, educated female labor and assumed little in the way of a professional knowledge base, and teacher preparation and development were designed accordingly. Today, would-be reformers should recognize that the machinery and assumptions that once made sense may be ill suited for contemporary opportunities and challenges (Hess, 2004, pp. 101-132).

Existing arrangements hamper efforts to attract, prepare, and nurture effective educators in crucial ways (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Ingersoll, 2004). First, preparation programs are constructed with the expectation that most aspiring teachers will decide upon a lifelong teaching career while enrolled in college. This made sense 40 years ago, when typical college graduates would hold only a small number of jobs in their careers and most teachers were college-educated women with few career options. Today, however, the average college graduate holds 11 jobs in a lifetime--the majority of those before the age of 30--making it hard to be confident that new hires can be retained for an extended period, much less for decades (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008a).

Second, the bulk of teacher preparation is overseen and crafted by institutions of higher education--even as reformers of various stripes bemoan the lack of good classroom mentoring and call for more school-based preparation (Walsh & Jacobs, 2007). Yet, rather than rethink institutional roles in preparation, the same voices disgruntled with most college-based teacher education nonetheless expect that professors in tweaked college and university programs will begin to prepare their students much more successfully (Hess & Kelly, 2005).

Third, the job of a K-12 "teacher" has remained markedly undifferentiated over much of the past century. The vast majority of teachers in a given subject area or grade level are treated as largely interchangeable, with beginning teachers and experienced teachers taking on the same responsibilities with little or no regard for a given educator's particular expertise or training.

Finally, the notion of what it means to be a public school teacher has remained remarkably static, even as advances in technology and communications, changes in society and lifestyle, and demographic developments have altered the tools available to educators and the roles that teachers are expected to play (Ingersoll & Perda, 2008). The expectation that teaching should be conducted by more than 3 million full-time educators sharing a rather homogeneous job description makes it unduly difficult to attract, retain, and nurture quality educators.

Indeed, many of today's "cutting-edge" efforts to reform teaching and teacher preparation are little more than attempts to repackage outmoded assumptions (Hanushek & Rivkin, 2004). For instance, in perhaps the most widely discussed "critique" of teacher preparation of the past decade, the 2006 study Educating School Teachers simply appeared to presume that tomorrow's teachers will and should look a lot like today's, that teacher recruitment ought to be geared entirely toward new college graduates, and that aspiring teachers should be required to complete a supersized version of today's training before being cleared to teach (Levine, 2006). Missing was any attention to whether students ready to commit to a career in teaching at age 22 are the optimal target population, to the dearth of evidence that most teacher preparation makes a consistent difference in outcomes, to whether the teaching role should perhaps be reconfigured, or to whether degree programs in colleges and universities are the optimal place to train the next generation of teachers. …

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