Where Do Teachers Come From?
As summer days give way to school days, you may find yourself asking, “Where do teachers come from?” Many of them come from ed schools, institutions that get little respect. They are portrayed as intellectual wastelands, as impractical and irrelevant, and as the root cause of bad teaching and inadequate learning.
During August, Jay Mathews, the Washington Post education columnist, wrote on the debate surrounding ed schools. In “Learning from the Masters: Some of the best lessons in teaching happen after ed school,” Mathews did an informal email survey, asking some education schools if they were teaching “winning classroom strategies.” These strategies included visiting students and parents at home, paying students virtual dollars based on their work, and having students call teachers on their cell phones after school if they had questions about homework. Mathews remarks that “these practical, if unorthodox, teaching methods have helped produce some of the largest achievement gains in the country, yet none was learned at an education school.” These methods were developed through trial and error or watching other teachers.
The response to Mathews’ survey was scant, but he noted that it was summer break:
“The few ed school people I heard from seemed unfamiliar with many of the strategies, and more than once I was told that teaching methods in the curriculum must be confirmed by research. The problem is that education research is often so vague, impractical and controversial that it isn’t much help to a new teacher.”
In a follow-up article, Mathews said that many of the education school people [who responded to the article] said that “as interesting as such methods were, they could not teach them until they had been verified by research.”
“At least half of readers said much of that column was wrong. Willis D. Hawley, professor of education and public policy at the University of Maryland, said he thought the unannounced visits were more likely to offend than please parents. When he checked with Kathy Hoover-Dempsey, chair of the department of psychology and human development at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, she shared his view, although like the good social scientists they are, both acknowledged they have seen no research yet on the issue.
…But several teachers said they shared my impatience with the ed school love of theory and research. One ed school instructor said she was told to stop using several practical methods in her class because her supervisors felt the students weren’t ready for them. This was after she heard from several students that it was the most valuable course they had taken. . . . So are the ed schools right to keep their distance from the ideas of the most effective inner city teachers, at least until their methods are proven by research? Or should they do everything they can to make sure our teachers in training know exactly what works for the best veteran instructors?”
In The Trouble with Ed Schools, now available in paperback, David F. Labaree explains how the poor reputation of the ed school has had important repercussions, shaping the quality of its programs, its recruitment, and the public response to the knowledge it offers. He examines the historical developments and contemporary factors that have resulted in the unenviable status of American schools of education. He also looks at the historical developments and contemporary factors that have resulted in this unenviable status and offers valuable insights into the problems of these beleaguered institutions while maintaining an ambivalent position throughout the book, admiring ed schools’ dedication and critiquing their mediocrity, their romantic rhetoric, and their compliant attitude.