26 October 2013

My Teacher Preparation Program Didn't Teach Me Everything

"Are you sure you want to teach there--you should know they haven't had a teacher in months, only subs, and they've been turning over desks and not doing anything all semester."  Such was the comment uttered to me when I accepted my first high school teaching position.  "Absolutely" was my response.  I felt confident and prepared but also aware that I still had a lot to learn.

Teacher preparation has been on my mind for a few months.  Perhaps because a report this summer indicated many programs "have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity."  Perhaps because I taught a pre-service eight week course at the local university and will teach another course in the spring.  Perhaps because my state was one of seven selected for a new pilot program to transform teacher education.

 The teacher preparation program I completed 15 years ago did prepare me to enter the classroom, but it didn't teach me everything, nor could it have.  The most important thing I learned was the value of reflective and thoughtful practice.  Sure I learned theory (mostly constructivism) and pedagogy, but I also learned that I wouldn't know everything.  By situating myself as a life-long learner and accepting my responsibility to have a student centered classroom, I was well on my way to preparing my students to be thinkers and responsible community members who would be ready for life in the present as well as life beyond high school (the term college and career readiness had not yet been coined, even though the ideas behind CCR have been around for decades).

Pre-service teachers have an obligation, too.  It's not just the university or college that's responsible for their preparation.  You get as much out of a program as you're willing to put in, and if you are willing to be persistent, flexible, reflective, and student centered, you are more likely to possess the dispositions necessary in the teaching profession. 

Now don't get me wrong, possessing the dispositions to be an effective teacher is not all that's needed. In addition to teacher dispositions, I also needed to know how to listen to my students, how to have a classroom wherein my students helped create the classroom rules and helped to determine what we would learn, and how to adjust learning based on the individual needs of my students.

No, it (teaching) was never easy but I didn't expect it to be easy.  I expected, however, to be treated as a professional who was willing to learn and grow.   Sadly, that wasn't so much the case when I was in the high school classroom, and often still isn't the case for many teachers in America. 

What about you--did your teacher preparation prepare you to enter the profession? If you are a classroom teacher or were a classroom teacher--are you treated as a professional?