Oh, it is so easy to place blame than to uncover solutions. We are all guilty of it. While no one will disagree that some schools of education fail to prepare future teachers adequately, most classroom teachers today will admit very quickly that it is impossible to prepare teachers for everything they will encounter in the classroom, particularly when most colleges only have two years to work with students.
How much time should schools of education devote to teaching about multiple types of intelligence? How much time to maintaining good classroom discipline? How much time for coping with and preparing students for myriad standardized tests? What about creating exciting lessons, working with apathetic students, maintaining high academic standards, modifying lessons for special needs students, using appropriate technology in the classroom, and what about completing all of the paperwork that pops up in teacher boxes, breeds in teacher email boxes, and seems to grow each year? And, how much time should schools of education devote to preparing future teachers to address all of the changes in schools, students, materials, laws, administrators, and curriculum requirements they will experience when they enter their own classrooms?
And, let's not forget that along the way it might be an excellent idea for these college students to actually learn the material that they will teach in the future!
Is it even possible to prepare college students to become successful K-12 teachers?
Just as society often has outrageous expectations for teachers, it also appears that we may have unrealistic expectations for schools of education.
Yes, there are many, many things that good schools of education can do to prepare future teachers; however, when those optimistic, caring, and talented teachers enter classrooms of their own, they often confront situations they are not prepared to handle. When you have learned to create dynamic lessons that worked beautifully in student teaching, what do you do when you present that same lesson to students who are apathetic, or hostile, or unprepared to handle the academic rigor of the lesson? If teachers have prepared an outstanding lesson on a new novel that they know will interest their students, what do they do if the school has insufficient copies of the book and no money to purchase new copies? How many wonderful, energetic and caring young teachers are able to teach appropriately when they must teach the most challenging students in the most impoverished schools and provided few, if any, mentors to guide them?
Yes, new teachers do indeed need to know how to read test scores and how to assess the progress of their students, but sometimes that can be an ambitious goal to young teachers who are just trying to survive the day and keep kids on task and engaged in learning.
Instead of criticizing schools of education, I wish educators and policy officials would realize that it is time to revamp how we prepare teachers, and, most importantly, I wish we would recognize that preparing teachers only BEGINS in those schools of education.
If we really want to improve schools and train young people to become inspiring, proficient, and dedicated teachers who help students make tremendous progress, we need to pair new teachers with successful experienced teachers who will mentor them for the first 3-5 years that they teach. Most importantly, these dedicated, successful, and experienced mentors would not agree to mentor a new teacher in addition to their existing duties. Instead, they would be given a free class period to work daily with the young teachers they mentor.
This process would ensure that when new teachers experience the multitude of problems, frustrations, irritations, and challenges that all teachers face, they will not have to face them alone because they will have caring mentors nearby who will help them navigate the challenges instead of having to muddle through the morass of problems on their own.
We may not know for sure how to create excellent teachers in college. We do, however, know that some dynamic experienced teachers continue to inspire, challenge, and motivate students each day regardless of the obstacles. Why not give them the opportunity to teach a new teacher one-on-one what they have learned through many years inside America's classrooms?