Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Become a teacher. Your country needs you.

President Obama made a noble call to our young people in yesterday’s State of the Union Address:  

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child – become a teacher. Your country needs you.

Before we call in the droves of young, eager men and women ready to take on the classroom, we must consider whether teacher preparation programs are up to the task at hand.  As it stands, the answer is an overwhelming NO.  When our President called upon students to become teachers for the sake of our nation, by implication he called upon our teacher preparation programs as well.  The problem is that our teacher preparation program are not up to the task of meeting the demands of"high expectations and high performance" and that must change.  

Our country needs new teachers who will rise to the challenge of setting high standards for learning and making sure that their students achieve them.  But we need to do more than just encourage our young people to become teachers; we need to improve the schools of education that prepare these teachers to educate our children.   As it stands, they are mostly profit centers for universities that espouse unproven theories at the expense of content-knowledge-- in this scenario our children lose.  Instead, our nation's teacher preparation programs must be transformed into the content-rich, demanding centers of excellence our future demands. 

We need schools of education that teach proven teaching strategies and effective methods instead of useless theories that have been failing our children for decades.   We need to demand more of applicants to our schools of education:  more skills, deeper content knowledge, and higher aptitude (yes, I'm talking higher SAT scores) if we expect better results than what we've been getting.   We need to be honest about what isn’t working in our classrooms and open to considering ideas that really do work.  We need to prepare professionals who seek to grow and rise to the challenge as the bar gets moved higher and higher for the benefit of our children.

Back in October 2006, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan said:

By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges, and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom.  America’s university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change--not evolutionary tinkering.

Clearly, we need to do more than just reform our schools.  The reforms required go much deeper than that.  We need to do much more than just train an army of eager, new teachers.  We need schools of education prepared to educate them to be effective and efficient educators.  We need to restore teaching to a place of honor in our society-- a profession with all the rights and responsibilities that this career choice should entail.  

I couldn’t agree more with what Arne Duncan said at Columbia Teacher’s College over two years ago:

           “[T]he bar must be raised for successful teacher preparation programs.”

Yes.  The bar must be raised and it must be raised now.  It's all well and good to encourage our youth to consider a career in education, but we must be prepared to give them they tools they need to become the "nation builders" our children need them to be.  Our country needs teachers who want to make a difference in the life of a child, but that's just not enough. We need teacher preparation programs that properly prepare our educators to meet the challenge of giving "every child a chance to succeed".  

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