Wisconsin is thinking about letting anyone teach. No degree will be required to enter the classroom and work with students. Isn’t it bizarre to encourage young people to go to college but claim their teachers don’t need a college degree? Surely this is quackery.
But I thought it would be a good time to do a reality check, and provide a refresher course, as to what the role of teacher preparation should demand.
For anyone who loves groups like Teach for America, this is for you too. Five weeks of training and a degree in anything is also not sufficient to teach America’s children.
Becoming a real teacher takes long-term preparation. Here is what’s involved.
Unless teachers understand appropriate milestones, or steps for each age and developmental level including middle and high school, children will become frustrated. We already see problems with school reform that places an unreasonable burden on children in the early years.
Increasingly, despite pleas for restraint by child specialists, very young children are being pushed to learn more before they are developmentally ready.
Good teacher education includes serious study about timing for appropriate instruction according to where the child is developmentally.
Along with development, child psychology is critical to understanding student behavior in and outside of the classroom.
Child psychology and child development go hand-in-hand. Teachers should be able to analyze how a child acts on their own and with other children and whether the behavior is typical for the developmental level.
If an untrained individual doesn’t understand child psychology and/or child development, they might unnecessarily punish the child, setting them up for future failure.
A teacher should also be able to identify signs of abuse and troubled behavior. They should understand when to enlist the support of a school counselor or psychologist.
Public schools should be on the frontline for discovering and helping those who struggle with mental health issues.
Understanding practical techniques for classroom management—how to schedule, deal with discipline and coordinate class lessons helps a teacher optimize the best use of a student’s time and energy.
How teachers react to children is often tied to principles involving behavior modification.
Learning how behavior modification works, including positive and negative reinforcement, is important for teachers in understanding classroom organization.
Other classroom management techniques also assist teachers in avoiding confrontations and helping to run a class efficiently and fairly.
Learning to teach reading at the elementary level requires a good understanding of a variety of methods, skills and approaches. Being able to engage and encourage older children and teens in reading activities is important too.
Today’s direct reading instruction often involves using manuals to teach phonics and it makes it seem easy for those with no preparation in this area to teach reading.
But good teachers are able to identify reading disabilities and they are savvy at choosing the programs they understand will work best for the students who show up in their classes. They also understand the importance of whole reading and phonics.
Good teachers know about corrective reading. There are many methods and diagnostic techniques to assist students who have reading difficulties. Well-prepared teachers can pinpoint disabilities and find solutions.
Teaching teachers how to teach reading should be a large part of teacher preparation.
Along with teaching reading, teachers should understand children’s literature and be able to connect students with books that might help them with their difficulties.
Teachers in elementary school need to understand the order in which to teach young children math. There are many hands-on activities to teach young children math concepts while making math enjoyable.
Those who teach math at the middle or high school level need to learn not just math coursework. They need to communicate mathematics to students in a relevant and engaging manner.
An individual who has no understanding of the age group they are teaching will rarely be able to hold a student’s attention in meaningful instruction.
Elementary teachers require an understanding of a variety of subjects.
Middle and high school teachers should specialize in the chosen subject, but, as with math, they should be able to communicate the material to students.
Assessment has gotten a bad name due to the terrible standardized testing that has been used to villainize teachers, schools and even the children themselves! But professional teachers understand a variety of assessment tools that can be used to better understand their students.
Beneficial assessment should be at the heart of good teaching. Some of the best testing for children is observational. Good assessment does not involve making kindergartners sit for hours and days bubbling in test answers.
Coursework to provide teachers with an appropriate idea of what tests can and cannot do should be required. And I am not talking here about ongoing competency testing done online which pretty much excludes teachers.
Professional teachers might even create their own assessment.
Learning how to administer a variety of tests related to the subject/s to be taught, help a teacher understand how to analyze the tests and use the information to lift students to a better academic and social level.
Such testing is a tool and it should be private—between parents, students and teachers.
The use of retention is a sign that assessment is being misused. The research is strong here.
Sometimes those who fast track into teaching scoff at educational theory classes. But understanding the concepts of well-known theorists is critical to teaching.
For example, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Jerome Bruner provided similar, yet somewhat different conclusions concerning models about how children think and how they best move forward to learn new skills. It is interesting that they didn’t live close to each other and did not have access to the Internet, yet they came to similar conclusions.
Many people have contributed to our understanding of how children learn.
For example, Maria Montessori is popular for her ideas of placing independence at the heart of early childhood curriculum.
Future teachers require understanding of these theories in order to make sense of teaching. To ignore building blocks of knowledge means you live in the dark.
While disruptive education today is too aggressive and unproven, teachers should understand how technology can be used to assist them with instruction.
All teachers would benefit in generalized classes surrounding special areas. But teachers with more in-depth understanding of the special area is critical.
We need qualified teachers who study music, drama and the arts and are capable of communicating to children the beauty and wonder in these subjects.
Visiting artists may share a skill or technique but they are not real teachers.
As someone who spent a long time studying how to be a special education teacher, I am appalled to see those with no preparation, or little training, now enter the classroom to work with students who have disabilities and or gifted students.
It is also a disgrace that many colleges have dropped the area of learning disabilities. There is a need to understand the specific intricacies of learning problems. As a result we now see a growing cry from parents concerning dyslexia.
Schools which reflect diversity require English language teachers to assist students in acquiring their new language. This includes an understanding and respect for the culture from which students come.
Speech and Language
This is a sometimes overlooked course of study for teachers, but speech and language teachers require serious study and observation into speech difficulties. Students who get assistance with speech difficulties early will avoid tremendous hardship later.
Today’s counselors have too often been forced to focus only on college preparation and coordinating standardized assessment. But counselors should be on the forefront of helping students overcome their difficulties as they arise.
The research shows repeatedly students who have access to good libraries with well-qualified librarians get better test results. Librarians are great supporters of teachers and are teachers themselves.
Throughout the last thirty years politicians and those from the business community who want to privatize education have bashed current teacher preparation programs. But instead of strengthening those programs they have called for alternative fly-by-night certification that fails to get the job done and which does harm to students.
This will make in the long run weaker schools all around.
Isn’t it time to reevaluate and support a strong teacher preparation program for America’s students?