COMMENTARY | It took me one year to become a teacher. In the spring of 2010 I applied to enter the post-baccalaureate teacher certification program at Texas Tech University, where I was currently pursuing a Master’s in Sociology. That fall, I took my post-bac classes and worked as a substitute teacher. Being a substitute teacher, especially at a junior high, is an adventure in and of itself! The following spring, I did my student-teaching at a high school in town, being guided (and then left to run the show) by two World History teachers. It didn’t take long to see where the College of Education had not given enough instruction!
According to USA Today, the Obama administration is calling on the Department of Education to overhaul how teacher preparation programs are evaluated and track graduates’ data. The administration is worried that too many new teachers are underprepared and that there is currently little tracking of how adequately teacher preparation programs are doing…and which programs are churning out what caliber of new teachers. Though I disagree with Obama’s “Race to the Top” in K-12 education, and his plan to begin “grading” colleges, as well as George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind,” I do agree that teacher preparation in the U.S. could use some work.
As a high school teacher, I have some suggestions to improve teacher training for the secondary classroom. The only problem is, they might not be the sunshine-y, politically-correct suggestions Washington is looking for.
First and foremost, one of the biggest challenges facing new high school teachers, and one that is hardly discussed in College of Education classes, is student discipline. Many young twentysomethings are thrust into the classroom without knowing the best tips and tactics for dealing with student misbehavior. The training I received, if I recall, was a video of a professor saying not to get into an argumentative power struggle with a student. “I’m not saying don’t handle the problem – handle it,” he insisted. That was it. He did not say how to handle it.
So I went into the classroom with the advice of not to get into a power struggle during class. No information on protocol regarding calling the office, filling out a disciplinary referral, etc. I guess they figured the schools that hired us would go over these things.
Well, they don’t always…
Sure, I got the disciplinary referral forms and sheets of paper with rules and procedures. What I wanted to know was what, exactly, to do when some kid lost it in the classroom. Started dropping the f-bomb, being a nuisance, acting aggressively, that sort of thing. The “training” we new teachers got was on the steps we had to go through before sending a student to the office. You had to give students 43 warnings, call their parents a dozen times, get documentation in triplicate of the student’s continued misbehavior, and then you could write up a disciplinary referral, try to get the kid to sign it, and leave it in an administrator’s box.
Many new teachers in high school classrooms struggle to develop good classroom management, especially when they may not be that much older than the teens they teach. You stick a 25-year-old in a room of high school seniors without good training and procedures on how to handle teenage misbehavior…what do you think is gonna happen? Classroom management suffers and then grades suffer. The class becomes a blow-off class that teens feel they do not have to do any work in.
Colleges of Education should also set up networking between teachers-in-training and experienced teachers. While those who go through student-teaching programs have mentor teachers, it would be preferable to have college classes where experienced teachers are brought in and matched with students who need advice before embarking on their student-teaching or rookie year in the classroom. I heard very little hands-on tricks, tips, and advice before beginning my student-teaching.
States and Colleges of Education should also try to get formalized mentor relationships between rookie and veteran teachers established in all schools. While many schools do this well, some do not. During my first year of teaching I did not have a mentor teacher, which would probably have helped.
I agree with the Obama administration’s call for more technology training for new teachers, though it should be incorporated into classes with “mock classrooms” where students can practice drills and procedures for setting up, running, maintaining, and adjusting a classroom. Many incoming teachers are obviously quite tech-savvy, with most of them being Millenials, but many might lack knowledge of technology rarely used by casual consumers like digital projectors, remote control clickers used to quiz classrooms, and smartboards.
Spending lots of money on technology training is unlikely to be necessary – a little bit of tailored technology training will suffice. We need to make sure Colleges of Education are not wasting their time “teaching” twentysomethings how to use the Internet or word processing, but rather instructing aspiring teachers on the quirks and intricacies of projectors.