Who’s Teaching the Teachers?

September 29, 2010 at 10:07 am 6 comments

This new report from the FDR Group and Thomas B. Fordham Institute has put its finger on something really important.  What are pre-service teaching professors emphasizing in their classroom? From the report: “The professors see themselves as philosophers and evangelists, not as master craftsmen sharing tradecraft with apprentices and journeymen. Stanford University’s David Labaree, a respected historian of education, explains that as far back as the early twentieth century, school system reformers were pushing for efficiency and utility, while education school professors wanted schools to help individual children blossom and develop a lifelong love of learning. eventually the professors lost that argument and the K–12 system embraced the efficiency movement. But this outcome cast education professors as little more than vocational instructors, preparing their charges to enter a uniform teaching force and school system—a system which eschewed the professors’ idealistic educational values. ”

This meshes with my experience as a graduate student in education. I found several of my education classes to be surprisingly boring — much more interested in talking about education than innovating in education. On average, my education professors were less likely to have interactive classrooms where they tried new teaching approaches than were my teachers in other disciplines (including computer science and statistics). On the other hand, I don’t share the sense in the report that if we “fixed” teacher education, we would “fix” teachers. I learned when I was an Education graduate student that pre-service teacher education is amazingly hard to fix. You get a new undergraduate who wants to be a teacher, and you say to him or her, “Here’s what it means to be a good teacher!” And they think, “I just went through 12 years of being a student! I know exactly what it means to be a good teacher!” It’s really hard to dissuade a student from their 12 years of experience that there is a different model for being a good teacher.

The last point in the quote above is particularly relevant for us as computing educators. Education professors seek to avoid being merely “vocational instructors,” so they emphasize being “change agents” (a term from the report) rather than focusing on developing the tradecraft of teaching. Doesn’t this sound a lot like the tensions in computing education? Are we merely vocational instructors, passing on the tradecraft of programming and software development? Or should we be teaching new ideas, so that these students can be “change agents” in the software industry? And if we emphasize the latter, does that mean that we do a bad job of the former?

When it comes to teacher education, pragmatism beats idealism. But most education professors — save for a small minority — are complacent with antiquated teaching philosophies.

These conclusions, released today in a report by FDR Group and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the views of education professors, summarize the “sobering data” gathered from surveys distributed at colleges and universities across the country.

“Idealism, good intentions, and progressivist thinking suffuse what education professors strive to impart to prospective teachers, despite tension between these values and the policies pursued by school districts and states,” the report says. “Teacher educators show only modest concern for real-world challenges…. even though K-12 teachers often say these are among the most difficult elements of teaching.”

via News: Who’s Teaching the Teachers? – Inside Higher Ed.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Garth  |  September 29, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I have a secondary education degree, a Masters in Math Ed and, just to be kinky, I have taken a number of courses in elementary education. While taking the courses it always amazed me how little real teaching experience my education professors had. (I do not count teaching at the university level as being experienced with what happens in the K – 12 classroom.) My primary advisor for my masters had three years as a middle school math teacher in a university school. Not exactly an extensive background. My secondary math methods prof had not been in a high school classroom in twenty years and, as a result, was a bit out of touch. They all had great ideas that would work with the perfect classroom with the children of angles. That first year of teaching was a major reality check for me, and I was in a small rural school with involved parents. My next job was at a large school with a lot of uninvolved parents. Somewhere in all that education philosophy I missed the part on how to handle the parent that got a DUI on the way to a parent/teacher conference or what to do with the junior boy who was kicked out of his home and was living in the back seat of his car in a camp ground, working 8 to 10 hours a day and wanted to get a high school diploma. That was an educational year.

  • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  September 29, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    I can’t speak to the issue of education professors’ experience in K-12, Garth. (I’ve never taught K-12 full-time.) But I find interesting parallels between how you’re talking about education professors to how Bjarne Stroustrup and others are talking about with respect to their CS professors. “How can they teach us to build systems if they’ve never built systems?!?

  • 3. weilunion  |  September 29, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    The Fordham Foundation is of course a right wing think tank. Nevertheless,. look at their claims. The problem seems clear, we do not teach children how to reason. this goes back to the historical debate between John Dewey and Walter Lippmann in the 1920’s.

    School is obedience training and it will be crafted as such until we understand what it means to be an educated person. As long as the anorexic bulimic learning model coupled with forced regimentation imposed by ignorant adults replaces childhood with beweilderment, this is what we can expect.

    Read John Gray’s work on ‘play’ and its role in education. We now build schools without playgrounds and force testing as a model of petri dish learning.

  • 4. Elizabeth Patitsas  |  September 29, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    The link to the report isn’t working for me – is there another link that might work? Thanks!

    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  September 29, 2010 at 10:19 pm

      No — the link from the Inside Highered article is failing now, too.

  • 6. Gilbert Bernstein  |  September 30, 2010 at 2:01 am

    The dichotomy feels false to me. I can immediately see at least one bifurcation of the dichotomy into two different issues: 1) Is the goal efficiency and utility or development and motivation? (I’m not even sure what this dichotomy is) 2) Do you pursue your goal via idealism or pragmatism. The quoted sections of the report conflate the efficiency/utility goal with a pragmatic modus operandi.

    I’m inclined to agree with weilunion that this report seems biased, since the conflation of goal with method seems to be a convenient rhetorical trick to argue for “efficiency and utility” instead of helping “individual children blossom and develop a lifelong love of learning.” Jjust that choice of words will bias the reader to be sympathetic to efficiency and utility, since the other option is described as frou frou touchy feely nonsense.

    As a counter-example to the report: Do you want teachers who drill students into shape and produce high test scores, or teachers who inspire and produce understanding?


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