I leave for Africa tomorrow to support our study abroad program in Tanzania.
We have been meeting since the beginning of the year to get ready for this trip. However, it has been stated many times by those who have gone before that nothing can completely prepare us for what we will encounter during our time there. This seems reasonable to me; how does one prepare for an adventure of a lifetime?
That is why I find the infographic recently shared by the U.S. Department of Education so strange. Teaching is also a lifelong adventure and nothing will completely prepare the new teacher for what they will encounter in their first classroom. Even the author, Arthur Levine, of the paper used for the top two panels states:
One plausible explanation is that no professional school can possibly teach its graduates everything they need to know before taking a job. Some things can only be learned on the job. (p. 33)
Prof. Levine goes on to refute this statement using results from a survey completed by deans of education schools, but I believe this ignores the point that all jobs require some on-the-job training.
In Part I and II of this series, I addressed the panels on the left. For the remainder of this post (briefly since I still have packing to do), I wish to share my thoughts about the statistics provided in the upper right.
Our teacher preparation program tries to address all three of these skills either through study or experience. We have two entire courses that focus on diversity and classroom management. As for the first skill, one of the expectations of student teaching is that our teacher-candidates will participate in parent-teacher conferences and make phone contact with parents during the semester.
Could we improve? Certainly! I have been begging for a lab school for years. That way preservice teachers would have more direct experience and support needed to learn the important skills and knowledge necessary for success in the classroom.
Still, I am not sure a lab school would change the principals' responses to the original survey questions. Especially if they are thinking solely about new teachers in their schools. You see, we are trying to provide teacher-candidates with a firm foundation in all these areas, but we cannot prepare them for ever possible situation they might encounter. Even in a lab school, the experiences would be specific to that setting. For example, if it were an urban school, then it might not adequately prepare them for a suburban setting.
If teachers are expected to be ready for every possible situation before being certified, then they will never be certified. That is the nature of an adventure - encountering the unexpected. Perhaps that is what the best education programs do; they prepare teachers to expect the unexpected and to handle it with grace. I believe that is what our work in Tanzania does for preservice teachers. Which is why I am excited, though not completely prepared, to begin this adventure.