Young teachers can sometimes feel frustrated with the realities and challenges of their new careers. There is no doubt that teaching, as a profession with all its associated skills, competencies, and accountabilities forces many educators into high stress environments, long work days, and pressure to live up to high standards. I’ve heard more than one colleague from various schools suggest that the learning they did after obtaining their first contract and spending a year teaching was arguably more useful than much of the theory they had learned while completing their degree in education. This may be in part due to the fact that a number of universities that offer degrees in education, don’t style their offerings as teacher training programs, but rather “teacher education programs”, a subtle distinction that increases theory, while leaving gaps in practical skills for juniors in the profession.
The University of Michigan is trying to change this, by altering their degree program to focus on the skills that effective teachers have and assessing how well these are possessed or achieved by students. The thought is that good teaching is something that must be taught and is not merely something natural that some people have and others don’t. In order to do this, there are “high-leverage teaching practices” that the university has identified as essential skills that teachers should have and there is ample opportunity given for students to develop these through practice, feedback and reflection.
The article from Mind/Shift is worth a read for anyone interested in the process of creating teaching interns or pre-service teachers and what is is being attempted in this part of the world of education. The high-leverage practices are referenced in the article, as well as what teacher training looks like in the Michigan example.
Teacher preparation in the United States hasn’t been focused enough on practice, says Ball. Traditionally, students in teacher prep programs spend a lot of time reading and talking about teaching.
“The assignments in the past were much more reflection, analysis,” Ball says. “In some sense, we could have been misled by people getting good grades for writing well. And, although it may sound a little too extreme, I think we’re more interested now in whether they can do it well, not how well they can talk about it.”
At Michigan, students are continually recording themselves as they practice teaching, and then watching the video and analyzing it. When teachers encounter a difficult moment in the classroom, like a misconception that they aren’t sure how to debunk, they have a tendency to just get through it and try not to think about it again.
“Many of us have had that experience of, ‘OK, phew, that’s over, I don’t have to do it again,’ ” says Betsy Davis, a professor in the elementary education program. That’s exactly what Michigan is trying to train its pre-service teachers not to do. Instead, the program tries to instill reflection for the purpose of improvement into everything, especially mistakes.
“By having the interns watch their own video of their teaching really carefully, they see things or they hear themselves saying things that don’t make sense or that are missed opportunities,” says Davis. “And that’s one of the things we ask them to highlight in their videos: What did you miss the chance to do that if you were doing this over you would do?”