Now is the Time to Rethink Teacher Preparation

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As we move through the pandemic school year in slow motion, lots of people are recognizing that this new education model does not work very well. Unfortunately, too few people are recognizing that it wasn’t working too terribly well before the pandemic.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people have decried the effectiveness of American educational systems and sought to retrench. However, these are political movements based on some ideology or another and using manufactured tests to carve out a standard of success that suits the need.

I’m suggesting that we not try a structural reform, as they have demonstrated very little effectiveness. The problem with education is not that it is structurally failing. The problem with education is that it serves a learner profile that is less and less common while being callously indifferent to those learners who do not fit that profile.

The American educational systems simultaneously produce some of the best and worst results in the world. When we add the difficulties associated with virtual schooling and the pandemic, these disparities have become exacerbated.

It is time to expect different behavior for teachers and principals. For far too long teacher preparation programs have been perpetuating the status quo. This is probably not intentional behavior on their part, but these colleges are populated with preservice teachers who very much enjoyed the school experience they had in K-12. This leads to a teaching force that is homogeneous in their love of that traditional experience.

We need a teacher work force that is richly diverse in race, culture, thought, and practice. Potential teachers need to be recruited and sought after and prepared to do the difficult work that education represents. The task in front of educators has never been more complex and this complexity is growing at an accelerating rate.

Of course teachers must know content in a deep and thoughtful way. However, they must also understand trauma and how to design therapeutic environments for students, ensure that they are recognizing and disrupting oppressive patterns in their curricula, and have a wealth of pedagogical options to match with the content they are teaching. As if this was not a tall enough order, teachers must also identify which students have deficits in their prior learning and design interventions to accelerate their learning to catch up with their peers and be able to do all of this without ever actually sitting next to the student they are teaching.

Now is the time for preservice education programs to dramatically rethink how they are helping education recover in a post-pandemic world.

The simplest schoolboy is now familiar with truths for which Archimedes would have sacrificed his life.

— Ernest Renan is dedicated to improving organizational effectiveness through equity, focusing on education, health care, and government.

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