Magazine article Art Education

Today's Student Teachers: Prepared to Teach versus Suited to Teach?

Magazine article Art Education

Today's Student Teachers: Prepared to Teach versus Suited to Teach?

Article excerpt

Imagine it: American Teacfeerwould feature preservice college students competing for a chance at a lucrative teaching contract, albeit far less than a million dollars. Each week, viewers would vote the contestants out of the classroom instead of off the island. Student teachers not only need to demonstrate content knowledge and classroom management skills each episode, but the best candidates will ooze character, morality, compassion, and they would not get caught gossiping in the teachers' lounge. In summary, we would look for those intangible human qualities that make stellar teachers stand out from the rest. Although my scenario of American Teacher is farfetched, the point of this article is to address the growing concern about the chasm between student teachers' preparation to teach versus their suitability to teach.

Reconsidering My Role in Teacher Preparation

In spring of 2002,1 began a research project aimed at examining local art teachers' perceptions regarding typical strengths and weaknesses of student teachers (Bain, 2003). Although the study yielded valuable data that supported how the University of North Texas art education department was restructuring its preservice program, I quickly discovered that just as humans are individuals, "typical" strengths and weaknesses tended to be as difficult to define as people are themselves. One comment from an art teacher who participated in this study, however, made me stop and begin to reconsider my role in training preservice teachers. She wrote "some student teachers are not suited to teach" (personal communication, April 23, 2002). At first I felt that she had missed the point of my study, for I was attempting to discover strengths and weaknesses pertaining to the training and content knowledge that our program provided. I felt that it was not my responsibility to judge my students' suitability to teach; instead I was looking for concrete feedback on their content knowledge in relation to their ability to teach art.

Later, after a conversation with a local art coordinator who reiterated a similar sentiment concerning the "suitability" of some preservice students, I had cause to reflect that perhaps I was the one who was missing an important point about training preservice teachers. In addition, he suggested that the university should be responsible for "weeding people out" who were not suitable to be art teachers. Through further probing, I discovered that he was not referring to students' intelligence or to their artistic skills. Rather, the art coordinator was referring to a lack of specific interpersonal skills, such as friendliness, willingness to collaborate, positive attitude, listening, and compassion. At first I felt defensive, after all, I cannot control my students' personalities or interpersonal skills any more than I can control when they will show up for class. Furthermore, it is possible that universities could face lawsuits if they attempt to "weed out" potential teachers based on elusive criteria pertaining to personality traits or character. While I disagree with the art coordinator that universities should become more selective of teacher candidates based on their personalities, I recognize the fact that certain human qualities are vital in a teaching career. As a university educator I had envisioned my job as providing current theoretical and pedagogical knowledge necessary for students' preparation in the field. Had I overlooked the human element integral to teaching?

Consider educators who draw our attention to the importance of teaching students compassion and empathy through the visual arts (Raphael, 1996; Stout, 1999). Weber (1998) describes how universities could integrate character education more fully into their preservice programs. Education reformers such as Hargreaves (2001) call for educators to teach beyond subjects and standards. Should university preservice programs play a more active role in examining and inculcating "desirable" human qualities such as compassion, caring, and even the role of citizenship in their training of future educators? …

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