So I gotta hand it to Arne Duncan cause the man is not afraid to use pointed words and ruffle some feathers. His latest spear is aimed at teacher training programs. (BTW, I do not say "spears" in a condescending manner because when you look at the state of education today, you gotta admit, we need some "new stuff" and unless you are willing to break some eggs you're not going to be able to make a new educational omelet -- so a part of me salutes Arne Duncan in a BIG Ol' WAY simply for calling a pink elephant a pink elephant.)
Check it out
, Mr. Duncan is letting 'er rip against our teacher training programs.
He calls for "revolutionary change". On one hand, it's a bit of a political platitude but on the other hand, he's right. We do need MAJOR change. And why? Well, as Arne points out, many, many new teachers, "...say they did not get the hands-on teacher training about managing the classroom that they needed, especially for high-needs students."
I am not sure if there are going to be too many folks that disagree with this statement. I mean look, right now we pretty much throw new teachers to the wolves (that's a figure of speech, btw... well, kind of... kidding!) and the ones that survive the first three years are the ones that get to be part of the "club".
And the ones that shuffle away, shaking their heads and rolling their eyes, are the ones that got body slammed one time too often in the WWE of NCLB and the DOE.
Matter of fact, there are droves of these body-slam victims. I can't tell you how many people I know that hung up their spurs within the first few years absolutely baffled by the reality of being a teacher -- even after having earned a graduate degree to pursue this professional aim.
It's absolutely crazy. Too many teacher programs have devolved in far too many ways into mere classes on theory where book study and hypothetical scenarios are the foremost way an aspiring teacher learns about their craft.
You wanna learn what it's like to be a teacher in a "high needs" school -- and come on, we all know that the phrase "high needs" is a code word for low income, under-resourced, quite often high minority population institutions with all kinds of serious problems going on -- then you have to step inside a classroom.
There is simply no other way to prepare for the job of working in a "high needs" school without actually working in a "high needs" school.
This reminds me of one of my favorite Mike Tyson quotes of all time. Once, in his heyday, when asked to respond to the apparently smart and well-thought out pre-fight strategy illuminated by a forthcoming opponent (i.e. the guy had laid out his very tactically sound plan to defeat Iron Mike when Tyson was in his prime) Mike Tyson glibly responded, "Look, everybody's got a plan until they get hit."
And ain't that how it is for these new teachers? They come in with seating plans and behavior management plans and disciplinary plans and lesson plans and all sorts of plans... and then they get "hit".
--"Hit" by the reality of kids dropping f-bombs in the middle of class.
--"Hit" by the reality of having 39 kids in a room with only 33 desks.
--"Hit" by the reality of being charged with raising the literacy levels of students that come into their 10 grade classes with 4rth grade reading levels.
--"Hit" by the reality of low socioeconomic home lives, transience, absenteeism, violence, alcohol, sex, drugs and so on.
That's why I just love Iron Mike the philosopher... "Everybody's gotta plan until they get hit." Well, in "high needs" schools they do get hit...and nobody is properly preparing them for the inevitable kidney punches.
Come on, basically we are sending in an army of coddled, young, idealistic theorists into these "high-needs" places under the delusion that if a kid talks too loudly or profanely in class, you can actually send them to the principal.
Wait til they call a parent to discuss how "the poor linguistic choices of a student can be rectified" and the parent starts using more profanity than the kid ever did and thinks you, the teacher, are the real problem in the equation -- and not their little angel.
It'll make your head spin... especially if no one warned you (back in graduate school during your teacher training, of course) that it was coming.
Give a kid a book on riding a bike and have him study and study and study... it's not going to matter. Until that kid actually rides the bike, he is not qualified to call himself a "bike rider".
It's why the GRE's and such are simply preposterous. Has anyone looked at the subject area test for the GRE's lately? (I'll save that for another post.) Lu-di-crous!!
But ETS is on the job so no worries folks, right? (Garsh, do they irk me -- the tail that wags our educational dog on so many fronts and yet, who calls them out on it? Sheesh!!!)
look, you have to find your own sense of inner balance, whether it's bike riding or teaching -- and without real time in a real classroom saddle to do so, it's no wonder our national attrition rate in these "high needs" schools are so astronomical.
I just wonder why it's taken so long for Washington D.C. to recognize what appears to me to be a pandemic problem?
However, let's be honest -- to properly train new teachers we are going to have to elevate spending. The fact is, professional development is under seige at the same time that classes are swelling, money for academic resources are dwindling and teachers, who already struggle to make ends meet financially in their personal lives, are taking pay cuts all across the country. Me, I took a 3% cut this year and some furlough days... to work with more students with less supplies... but you can see why people would be beating down the door to jump on the this career train right?
Fact is, people become teachers because they want to give and because they want to teach. Educating others is a form of service to the community and dorky as it sounds, it just feels good for the soul. I mean if money was the foremost reason these people were in grad school, they'd head to Wall Street instead where a person who loses billions for their company gets rewarded with hundreds of millions in pay. (Because there's a limited talent pool, of course, for people with the deft skills to keenly navigate such elite waters. HA!)
I'd love to see a reinvention of teaching training programs because when I look out on the horizon and see how these places operate, I see that they are filled with scores of good, smart people who are fossilized and politicized.
Who is putting the kids first? And since so many of our "high needs" school can't seem to do that, why in the world did we ever expect to look up and discover that our farm system for teachers (the teacher training programs) were doing it excellently well?
I applaud your intent, Mr. Duncan. But platitudes don't feed the bulldog. We are gonna need to see action.
What we need are programs that are, first and foremost, about the K-12 students