Uniting the Theory, Reality of Teaching

By Innerst, Carol | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 10, 1998 | Go to article overview

Uniting the Theory, Reality of Teaching


Innerst, Carol, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


This is the third of three reports

You've heard the complaints. Our children aren't learning anything in school because their teachers don't know anything. And whose fault is that? For years lots of fingers have pointed to the colleges and universities that train teachers. To find out exactly how schools and colleges of education are teaching our nation's future teachers, The Washington Times' education writer, Carol Innerst, sat in on college classes that prospective teachers are required to take and talked to deans, faculty members and students at institutions representing a cross section of academic approaches. Teacher training is moving out of the ivory tower and into local public schools.

The theory: More experience with youngsters in a real classroom will produce better-qualified teachers and better-educated students.

Sounds sensible enough. But for years, legions of prospective teachers never set foot in a K-12 classroom until their senior year, when they were assigned to a local school for an obligatory semester or less of student teaching. Instead of practical supervised study, they were lectured on theories and free to take snap courses to fulfill their degree requirements. Many avoided solid courses in math, English, science and history - precisely the subjects they would have to teach in public school.

Gary R. Galluzzo, dean of George Mason University's Graduate School of Education, recalls the training he received:

"It's not that it was bad. My professors were fine. But I didn't see students until the first day of student teaching. I didn't see a teen-ager until my first day in that school in 1973. That's wrong."

To correct that wrong, George Mason and a number of other universities began looking about 10 years ago for ways to bridge the chasm between the theorists at the universities and the practitioners dealing with real children in real classrooms.

The result was professional development schools. These are partnerships of public schools and universities designed both to improve public school education and the teaching universities by getting theorists back in touch with children.

"At teaching hospitals, you have doctors learning on site," Mr. Galluzzo explains. "That's what we wanted to try to emulate."

Whether the deliberate remarriage of education theory and educational practices will improve the training of teachers and, in turn, raise the quality of learning is still debatable. But it does represent a serious effort by the education hierarchy to deal with widespread criticism of public school teaching and learning.

Development schools were among the recommendations in a 1986 report of the Holmes Group, now the Holmes Partnership, which operates one of several national networks of professional development schools. The Holmes Group also recommended that prospective teachers get a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and obtain teacher certification in a fifth-year, graduate program.

While not everyone agrees on a five-year teacher training program, George Mason followed that prescription, dropped its undergraduate program, adopted the graduate model and also began setting up professional development schools. Today, the university has a "presence" in 19 public schools in Fairfax and Prince William Counties.

One of its professional development schools is Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston.

An arts and science magnet school, Hunters Woods this semester is helping to hone the teaching skills of five George Mason students. Like most enrollees in Mason's yearlong graduate program, they are mature career-switchers with a variety of backgrounds, including work in human resources and banking.

"You won't be able to tell the interns from the regular classroom teachers, they are so good," says principal Linda Goldberg.

She was right.

Beneath a canopy of mobiles strung from 23 wire coat hangers, student intern Amy Devine exuded confidence as she supervised half of a fourth-grade class prepping for a test on decimals. …

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