Does teacher education need to change?

It all started with this tweet by @CriticalThinkEd

I replied:

And I asked:

Well, here’s the blog post!

What is teacher education?
If we need to answer a question whether something should change, we need to make sure what that something is. I can imagine many answers to the simple question ‘what is teacher education’? And, the answer to the ‘should it change?’ question also largely depends on how you view teacher education. Since this is my own blog, I will keep to my own opinion and the teacher education I know (since I am a part of it): the postgraduate teacher training. After their subject master (English, Mathematics, Biology etc), students come to our Graduate School of Education for one year to receive their “educational master”. So, all our students have an academic degree already, and devote one year to earn another one. With this educational degree they are qualified to teach secondary education, including pre-university education (vwo). (We call this ‘eerstegraads’: first level.)
This means that their subject matter knowledge doesn’t develop a lot, but the learn how to teach this subject matter knowledge. We focus our teacher training on three roles: the subject matter specialist, the pedagogue and the professional. The first role is about subject matter and how this is best taught. What are common misconceptions, how do I teach historical reasoning, etc. The role of the pedagogue involves dealing with adolescents, how they learn, how to motivate them, what instruction should (not) be like, how to guide them and help them etc. The last role deals with your role as a professional: how do you develop yourself, who are you as a colleague, how do you maintain your knowledge and skills, etc.

Teacher education in my opinion involves, is made by, and is a responsibility of the teacher training institute, schools and the students (the pre-service teachers). For teacher education to work, all parts of this triangle should work together. All parts need to communicate about their expectations, wishes, troubles, needs and ambitions. Some people say: you learn the most at school, in practice. The institute can be left out. I disagree. I disagree because I have a certain view on ‘being a teacher’.

What is a teacher?

A teacher is a professional. Someone who possesses knowledge and skills. On content, and on ‘the art of teaching’, and on developing both content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge. That last one includes what we in Dutch would call: ‘onderzoekende houding’, something like ‘a research attitude’.
And that last part, the research attitude, knowing how to find out what you did ‘works’, wanting to know if you’ve done the right thing and if you did it the right way, willing to develop, adapt, and reflect, that is a crucial step in teacher education. This is what should happen most at the institute. Of course, you need lots of ‘flight hours’ in the classroom. But flight hours without a goal, and without looking back to see how it went, will result in taking the same route every time, with the same plane.
Students may not always see the advantage of a clear goal and looking back. Their goal is simple: to learn to teach. “Tell me what I need to do, show me the tricks”. Most of the time, students are busy enough with learning to fly this one plane on one route. When we bother them with other planes and routes they often feel this is useless for their learning. It is up to the institute and the school to make clear to the students that they need us both (in the Netherlands, it seems we also need to make this clear to our government, but that will be a next blog post in Dutch 🙂 ).

What should change?

In my opinion, this is what should change (or become better, because a lot of this is already taking place)
– Both institute and school should work together and keep in mind that their MUTUAL goal is to train teachers
– This means that not every student has to follow the same path, but every student ends up with at least certain skills and a certain attitude.
– This means that everything we ask pre-service teaches to do, should benefit their development as a teachers. Sometimes the next day, but also the coming months, or even the coming years. We need to plant the seeds, and the seeds can grow at different speeds… but let’s be sure to plant only the right seeds 🙂
– Both school and institute need to be sure about what can be expected of a student in this year of training. There are a lot of things that are really important, but you can’t deal with everything in one year.
– This means when someone graduates the institute, they are given a degree, but both school and institute need to play a role in guiding this novice teacher in becoming an expert one.

I’m not done, there’s more to say, but I don’t want to make this post too long. I do want to make a final remark. Some people say they ‘haven’t learned anything in teacher training, and use nothing of what was learned there’. Interesting right? If this is true, we have a huge problem. But, I would (of course!) beg to differ:
It’s not easy to see what you actually learnt during your training when having been a teacher for several years. Experienced teachers also have difficulties remembering what it was to be a novice. The questions you have as a novice are not the same questions you have as an expert. The fact that you do not write all your lesson plans down anymore, and oooooh how you hated to do that in training, doesn’t mean it was useless writing them down. By writing them down, you actually developed the skill of teaching, and aligning goals with actions. The fact that you can do that now, is the result of what you learnt during teacher training. The fact that you are able to analyze if you’re doing the right thing and doing it right, able to fly different routes and different planes, is because of your training. If everything there (and I mean institute and school!) was mostly useless, would you be the teacher you are today?

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