By Adrienne Scott
Teachers have the rare opportunity to mold a person’s life forever. It’s no wonder that with such a tremendous responsibility comes conflict. People are beginning to question if what teacher candidates are learning is effectively preparing them for their career. The question presentation by this issue is clear, “do the ideal training teachers receive match with the reality they will face?” The answer however, is not as clear. Critics believe that institutions fall short when it comes to equipping teachers, not taking into account certain factors. Some of these factors are gender, technology availability, classroom experience, diversity, and social issues. On the other side are those who support institutions and their teaching programs. These supporters believe that teaching programs are sufficient and to make the programs any more specific would be detrimental to future teachers. There is no clear right or wrong answer on this issue. This chapter will serve as a source of information on the topic at hand. The goal of this chapter is to educate you on the topic so you will be able to make a more informed decision concerning teacher training, the ideal vs. the reality.
Go Teacher U.!
Teacher candidates often receive the best building blocks from their institutions. These blocks are styles, methods, and techniques, which give teacher candidates a foundation to build on. Many people criticize institutions for how they choose to prepare future teachers. The critics believe that an unreachable image of what teaching will be like is painted. In reality, institutions equip future teachers with all the tools they will need to become an effective teacher. For example, a course on integrating technology into the classroom might not be practical for teachers who will teach in inner-city schools, low budget school districts, or in communities suffering from digital divide. However, institutions realize that technology is becoming more accessible and that teachers need to learn how to be flexible and adapt to whatever school district they are in. It is the job of the institution to educate teacher candidates on the basics of teaching. Those candidates will then be able to take their problem-solving and application skills, which they also learn in college, and tweak the basics to appropriate their school.
Institutions educate future teachers on how to be effective in their classroom. The bottom line is that there is no way institutions can prepare teacher candidates for everything that might happen throughout their teaching career. The U.S. Department of Education conducted a study of teachers’ reflections of their educational institutions. They found that most teachers believed “there were issues for which no college or university could have prepared them” (U.S. Department, 2008). Lisa Shipley, a seventh and eight grade teach in Missouri, believes that her university prepared her the best it could for the expected, but the unexpected is another story (U.S. Department, 2008). Shipley states “college did not prepare me for the student whose mother was murdered by a jealous boyfriend; for the student who witnessed a drive-by shooting; for the student who was removed from her home because of an abusive father. These realities do not exist in textbooks, yet they are, sadly, all too often the realities that people—with real lives and real problems—bring into my classroom” (U.S. Department, 2008). Teacher preparation programs prepare future teachers in an effective manner, it is unfair for third parties to criticize this preparation because there is no way which teacher candidates can be completely prepared for the emotional stress their new job will bring.
Even after participating in teacher preparation programs, individuals really must complete on the job training in order to become more prepared and effective teachers. One semester of student teaching generally does not adequately condition a future teacher in that it is impossible for them to encounter every possible conflict, just as Lisa Shipley had lamented (U.S. Department, 2008). It takes a fair bit of on-the-job training or roughly two years to become competent at classroom management, and around six to seven years to become an effective teacher (Wallis, 2008). This is where the harsh reality of the real world comes into play as many teachers struggle in their early years and consequently throw in the towel. “Between a quarter and a third of new teachers quit within their first three years on the job,” and this is due to how under-prepared the teachers are and what little support they receive from their respective schools (Wallis, 2008).
Welcome To The Real World
In college, students are taught that boys and girls should be treated the same at all times however, in the classroom it is important for the teacher to make the distinction between the two groups. This distinction should not be made to favor one group over the other but to target each group with the specific teaching styles that will best reach them. David Kommer, middle levels specialist at Ashland University, does not agree with what teacher candidates learn in college. Kommer believes that it is essential for teachers to be aware of differences in gender so that they are able to be “purposeful in the treatment of each, and so they are able to send the healthiest messages” (Kommer, 2006). In fact, Kommer doesn’t even believe that boys and girls should be treated the same, “Our goal is not to try to make boys and girls the same; we tried that several decades ago. We might have more success if we teach boys and girls to respond to each other as people” (Kommer, 2006).
Most colleges now require teacher candidates to take a course in technology integration. This course is wonderful; it enlightens future teachers on how technology is necessary and shows them how to use it to enhance the curriculum. The only problem with this class is that it makes the assumption that all schools will have up-to-date computer labs with various software and technology in every classroom. The reality is that many teachers will graduate college and begin their teaching career in an inner-city school, a school that doesn’t have the resources to provide students with constant access to technology, or in a community suffering from digital divide. Digital divide is “the gap between those who benefit from digital technology and those who do not” (Smith, 2008). Digital divide may not seem that important but in reality it has a huge impact on the poverty problem around the world. “Access to digital technology greatly enhances the effectiveness and affordability of efforts to improve the water supply, improve rural health and education, generate jobs and address any of the other interrelated problems of poverty” (Smith, 2008). It is important for future teachers to be educated on digital divide and ways to close the gap.
“Everyone should be treated equal”, this is a quote that many people pride themselves on, however, in education this declaration of equality could end up harming student’s education. Teachers against prejudice (TAP), is an organization devoted to erasing prejudice in school systems. TAP believes that future teachers need to be trained “to create a level-playing field respecting the inherent right of all to self-identify rather than be labeled” (Teachers, 2008). In the classroom, not every student is equal. Not every student learns the same way or has the same experiences, and teachers who treat them as though they do explicitly hinder their learning experience. Dr. Aretha Faye Marbley, an associate professor at Texas Tech University, believes that “the future welfare and the national security of our country depends not only on how well we educate our children, but also on how well we prepare teachers for working with racially and culturally diverse learners” (Marbley, 2007).
Institutions are not properly preparing teacher candidates for their future profession if they are not altering course content to match the present workforce. When teachers first enter a classroom they need to have knowledge about some of the social problems effecting children today.
Future teachers should have even more knowledge about the social problems affecting the specific age group they plan to teach. Melissa Luroe, a seventh and eighth grade teacher in Maryland, feels as though her institution failed to prepare her for the social issues her middle-school students were dealing with. Luroe confesses, “My children are dealing with issues I never imagined when I was a 13-year-old. AIDS, abuse, neglect, drugs, and sex are `buzz words' I overhear in the hallways, classrooms, lunchroom, and library” (U.S. Department, 2008). Luroe’s college did not prepare her for handling these issues, but that will not keep her from tackling the problems, “as a teacher, mentor and friend, I have to deal with these issues every day” (U.S. Department, 2008).
Bridging The Gap
As you may recognize from the information provided on this topic, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to figuring out if teaching training is ideal. However, choosing a stand on the issue is just the first step. Whether you support, oppose, or are just undecided on your view of teacher preparation programs, you must realize that many programs are not being finely altered. What this boils down to is that regardless of what teacher candidates believe, they must find a way to bridge the gap between the ideal and reality.
Teacher candidates can help their ideal education become more like their future reality by taking initiative. One way for them to bridge the gap is to make the most of the experiences they do have. For future teachers this mean devoting time to studying and researching their subject and grade level and then putting those efforts into application during observation and practicum. This also means that teachers should be experimenting with different techniques and methods of dealing with children during their field experiences. Another way for future teachers to take initiative is by seeking outside opportunities to work with children and gain classroom experience. For some this may mean getting a job substituting in public schools or working at a day care center while for others, it may mean getting a summer job as a camp counselor. Taking responsibility is another way teacher candidates can help bridge the gap. Future teachers should know about the social issues their students are facing. Some way to do this are by attending PTA meetings, attending school board meetings, communicating with experienced teachers and community outreach programs, or simply by watching the local news.
My opinion of whether or not institutions are properly preparing future teachers falls somewhere between the two extremes. I believe that many colleges and universities are doing a good job by equipping teachers with basics that they will be able to mold and apply to many situations. However, it would be beneficial if these programs could focus more on realities teachers will face and classroom management. Good teaching can only go so far if the teacher can’t reach the children, whether its gender, technology, diversity or social issues getting in the way. That said, educators need to stop blaming their teacher preparation programs for not being ready for the work force and except some of the blame themselves. Our generation differs greatly from that of our parents, so imagine how out of touch we will be with our students if an extra effort isn’t extended. I believe that this extra effort is essential in a classroom to achieve effective learning.
Kommer, David. (2006). Boys and Girls Together: A Case for Creating Gender-Friendly Middle School Classrooms. The Clearing House, 79. Retrieved January 30, 2008, from http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com.proxy.lib.odu.edu/hww/results/results_single_fulltext.jhtml;hwwilsonid=NG5C204ARNQRHQA3DIMSFF4ADUNGIIV0
Marbley, Aretha Faye. (2007). Interfacing Culture Specific Pedagogy with Counseling: a Proposed Diversity Training Model for Preparing Preservice Teachers for Diverse Learners. Multicultural Education, 14. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com.proxy.lib.odu.edu/hww/results/results_single_fulltext.jhtml;hwwilsonid=S2T1TXPJPD1O1QA3DIMSFF4ADUNGIIV0
Smith, Craig Warren. Digital Divide.org: Ushering in the Second Digital Revolution. (, ). Retrieved February 3, 2008, from www.digitaldivide.org/dd/digitaldivide.html
Teachers Against Prejudice-TAP into the Community. (2008, January 12). Retrieved February 3, 2008, from http://www.teachersagainstprejudice.org/
U.S. Department of Education. What to Expect Your First Year of Teaching. (1998, September ). Retrieved January 31, 2008, from http://www.ed.gov/pubs/FirstYear/ch5.html
Wallis, Claudia (February 13, 2008). How to Make Great Teachers. Time Magazine, Retrieved April 17, 2008, from www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1713174-2,00.html