Solving Real Problems in Teacher Education

Students often complain that college professors talk so much about theory and not enough about how to learn specific skills. OK, I am definitely guilty of that. I discuss some theory of teaching literacy without asking the students what particular problems or challenges they are having in the classroom. And so students dutifully listen and respond in chat or breakouts (with Zoom) not wanting to challenge my authority. We all know that challenging a professor’s authority can turn the professor against the student resulting in low grades and classroom humiliation of the student. At worst, in our program, failure in a class might cause a student to have to repeat the semester costing time and thousands of dollars, not to mention the long term effects of humiliation. So students are kind of programmed to be quiet, listen, and replicate the information the professor has on exams, in projects, or in lesson plans (they will theoretically use to teach children in student teaching).

Students (which we refer to as ‘teacher candidates’) do have experience and prior knowledge about being in the classroom. By the time they work on their teaching credential, they usually have 17 years of observation of different teachers teaching (i.e. K-12 plus 4 years of college). Dan Lortie (in School Teacher, 2002) calls this the “apprenticeship of observation” and it’s hard for teacher candidates to ignore. Basically, teacher candidates learn about new methods based on new and updated education scholarship in class, but then when they get in with the classroom and with the socialization of their mentor teachers, they often unthinkingly revert to how they were taught. They don’t take up with new strategies taught to them in the university classroom. They simply replicate the old methods of teaching. So teacher candidates have a kind of schizophrenic existence having to please their professors at the university with these new methods the university professors espouse, and then pleasing their teacher mentors in actual field placements and doing what they have seen done for 17 years in the kindergarten through twelfth grade classroom (K-12). In that case, teacher education has little effect on transforming K-12 education.

The conceptual change model taken from science education is helpful here. To change a teacher candidate’s misconceptions of what good teaching is, first the teacher candidate needs to tell the teacher education professor their prior experience with the teaching topic to be addressed. The teacher educator has to know what the teacher candidate’s ideas are about teaching, for example teaching reading to young children. This is hard because their ideas might be in their own subconscious understanding. It’s like fish seeing water. It’s there but you don’t really think about it. So first, the university teacher educator needs to know the teacher candidates understanding of how to teach young children to read. In many cases, their understanding of teaching reading to young children is not consistent with the best models of teaching reading. To actually make a change in the teacher candidates behavior, two things are necessary. First, the university professor has to find out what the student’s understanding of teaching reading is, then help the student see why that method is less effective. That disequilibrium allows the student to be open to a new method. Second, the new method of more effective teaching is introduced. Theoretically then, the student has to try that new method several times before they can shake their misconceptions about effective teaching for good. Unfortunately, in teacher education there are other variables to contend with such as the social context and the curriculum (materials in the classroom and goals of instruction). More on this later.

In Teaching to Transgress bell hook advocates the idea of praxis which is learning WITH others (i.e. not TO others or FOR others) includes the need for others (teacher candidates in this instance) to be conscious of their own misconceptions, problems in teaching, and the social context. When learners know their own problem, they have conscientization or consciousness about their need and the social context. When the professor asks them about their understanding and clarifies their understanding and the social context, then the teacher candidate can work WITH the professor to develop next steps to address the problems they face or conscientization.

OK, so while I write this I recognize that there are still some differences in the way Paulo Freire thought about praxis, but I will have to get to that in another post. The upshot for my own teaching is that I need to do a better job at finding out: 1) what teacher candidates’ understanding of teaching is based mostly on their 17 years of observation, 2) address their understanding by showing ineffectiveness, 3) understanding what their social context and the curriculum is (more later on that also), and 4) work WITH the teacher candidate to come up with the most effective method of teaching reading.

OK, there are still tons of issues to work out. Be patient. This is a blog, not a book.

1 comment

  1. Great post, Glenn! One of the things I got from hooks’ book corresponds to what you wrote (… the need for others (teacher candidates in this instance) to be conscious of their own misconceptions, problems in teaching, and the social context.) To me, it boils down to humility. To be honest – and vulnerable – enough with oneself to admit that learning is a lifelong voyage. That we don’t come to teaching full-formed but are always learning – and re-learning – how to teach. In other words, to put oneself forward as a fellow-learner. I am always delighted when I learn from my students. James Scarborough

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