I (Clare) am currently teaching a graduate course Current Issues in Teacher Education. The first assignment asks students to:
Write a reflection paper on your experiences in a professional program (teacher education, Teaching English as a Second Language ….). Provide a very brief description of the program. Some questions to consider are: What were the strengths/weaknesses of the program? How well did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher? What were the limitations of the program? Have your views of the program changed since graduation? How could the program have been improved? Did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher (or other position)? Do NOT respond to all of these questions. Select one or two and respond to them. In the fourth class of the course, you will work in small groups and share your paper with your fellow students.
Since all of the students in the course are teachers they have a good perspective on their program. Their assignments were so stellar I felt these would be of great value to share with other teacher educators. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing these papers. I learned much and I suspect you will too. I have changed the name of the university so that no school of education is identified.
After reading about several teacher education programs in North America I have decided to shed some light on one of Lebanon’s leading teacher education programs that of the University XXX, my Alma Matter. After graduating, I experienced first-hand that the theories we were learning at university could come alive in the classroom. I was able to rise above what Linda Darling-Hammond describes as the “apprenticeship of observation” (2006,p.35) and that the shift from the teacher-centered approach, which I was taught in at school, to the student-centered approach, that I learned about in university, was actually doable and not just a bunch of fancy theories in thick American text-books. I expended my energy building connections in the classroom as well as in the students’ brain synapses, instead of wasting that energy lecturing to a bunch of bored twelve-year-olds. The practicum was where it all came together for me. Even if it was not the major part of the program, it was the most meaningful and vital in making me the teacher that I started out as. My focus, however, will not be on my experience per se, but rather on University XXX’s teacher education program and how it is today rather than 25 years ago. This would open a window for you to look into a developing country’s perspective on the teacher education program at University XXX and show you how it aims to raise Lebanon from the ashes of its civil strife.
On the university’s website, the Department of Education describes its future graduates as those who “aspire to become agents of change in their community” and ones who “develop into reflective teachers who believe in children as critical thinkers and independent learners” . They also promise to make of them “reflective practitioners, literate in information and communication technology, and critical thinkers committed to the human and moral values of lifelong learning, integrity, innovation, civic responsibility, and leadership.” From these statements we notice that this university program focuses on the school student as well as the student-teacher and the community as a whole. Classes at the university have a lot of hands-on-experiences. Professors make sure that their students are active participants in the class instead of passive listeners to lectures. This is mainly done by having reflection groups, thinking aloud about issues encountered in the literature or in the field. Case studies are also used to dissect certain issues and find viable solutions that are practical in the classroom. However, knowing the teachable subject well is not enough if not coupled with a strong basis in pedagogical knowledge of how to teach a certain subject matter and manage a classroom and practical hands-on field experiences in actual classrooms. At university XXX a student needs around 30 courses (each is one semester, 5 months long) to graduate with a BA in Education. 7 of those are university breadth courses. 8 courses are dedicated to subject matter like Math or English or History, for example. 7 courses are core education courses such as “Educational laws, Learning and Human Development, School and the Social Order” to name a few. 1 is a seminar. Finally, 5 courses are method courses that are the bulk of the field experience. So, if we look closely, subject matter and core pedagogical courses are almost equally balanced, but field experience only makes up a quarter of the total education course load and is usually concentrated in the last year of the program. However, I think this comes late in the program and is not enough to give the prospective teachers enough hands on experience or ample confidence to manage their own class when the time comes for it.
The placement in schools is usually done with partner schools after coordination meetings between the teacher-mentor and the professor. There are also meetings with representatives of the schools to follow up on how student-teachers are performing and giving student-teachers the opportunity to correct and design exams, give mini lessons and then eventually full lessons. Student teachers must also get acquainted with all classroom practices in the hosting school. The Professor then assesses the student-teacher ‘s teaching capabilities in the school classroom only once. The teacher-mentors are paid, sign for student-teachers’ attendance at school, and send official sealed reports about the student-teachers’ performances. However, student-teachers have the right to report to the head of the practice teaching committee in case the mentor or school does not cooperate or support them. This gives both parties a sense of accountability. So, the advantages of such a program are adding professionalism to teaching, familiarizing student-teachers with teaching experience ahead of time and putting them in direct contact with students, which gives the student-teachers a chance to see in practice what they learned and to practice teaching in existing schools. However, the quality of pre-service programs depends on the quality of mentors and the follow up on student-teachers in schools. As a teacher who has mentored for that university’s students before, I don’t remember anyone from the university interviewing me to see whether I would be a good role model for the student-teacher assigned to me. Furthermore, in my opinion, for the professor to just go to the school once and grade the student-teacher is not ample for there are several variables at play in a classroom. What if the class students were tired after a long day and not responsive to the activities, or what if the student-teacher was having a bad day?
The Education department at the university is a close-knit community, especially since the department is not very large. I asked a professor there to describe the relationship between fellow colleagues in the department, and between the university and schools in the community. She said that direct colleagues meet to compare, evaluate and exchange ideas about how to ensure that students apply and use knowledge across the courses they teach. But, she says that there is a disconnection between the university and the schools. In my opinion that is due to the fact that the university is thinking about the utopian school or maybe the Eurocentric ideal school that is trying to exist in Post-colonial Lebanon. But that is not the demographic of all schools in Lebanon. For example, the University is in West Beirut and is a very expensive private university, so it caters to the elite of the community with its student-teachers graduating to teach in the most prestigious private schools. Rarely do its graduates go and teach in the public sector, so the program is not geared towards that demographic. Furthermore, Lebanon is known for being Francophone, with half of its schools teaching in French the language, the Sciences and the Math programs, with the other half of the schools teaching them in English. Only Arabic language, Social Studies (not always), and Civics are taught in Arabic. But the university does not offer French pedagogy courses for literacy, Sciences, or Math, even though its main partner school has 50% of its program in French! I wonder how effective AUB graduate teachers are when they go on to teach Math or Science in French. Wouldn’t their colleagues who did their degree in courses designed for French do a more effective job?
There are many challenges and obstacles to maintaining a high level teacher education program. It is ideal to follow up on student-teachers after they graduate to make sure that the program caters for the teachers and the community of schools; however, many politics come in the face of that. At the university they do not follow up on where their student-teachers go after graduation. They might only hear from them if they come back for recommendations. Furthermore, they can’t follow up on them without an official invitation from the schools they teach at. There must also be more rigorous conditions for students to be admitted to the university program. If they raise the standards of the student-teachers they are recruiting, then they have to worry less about maintaining quality teaching and teachers as mentioned by the Curry School study. In that regard, the university does have high standards in recruiting students. For it is still not an easy feat to get accepted into the program. A prospective student needs at least a B average to get accepted there. Furthermore, establishing a network for exchanging experiences and expertise between universities in the country is important, as well as giving more incentives for research oriented efforts in the universities to see what that demographic needs instead of getting pre-bottled programs from North America or Europe that might not always cater to the Lebanese future-teacher or schools. Furthermore, I personally think that a teacher educator who has actually taught in a school will have more to give to student-teachers for then he/she would not be preaching from an ivory tower but rather would be a fellow comrade of sorts for the student-teachers. I have a problem with the view that the “ex-school teacher” cannot un-pack the teacher educator’s role and do a good job as Dinkleman’s study, that was written about in Loughran’s book, “Developing a Pedagogy of Teacher Education,” states. Why can’t the ex-school teacher have “an understanding of teaching that goes beyond being a good teacher” (p.14), but the teacher educator who has never taught can? The “ex-school teacher” who is a teacher educator and the teacher educator who has never taught, both have to do their unpacking and self-study and learn how “to be able to articulate the what, how, and why of teaching and to do so through the very experiences of teaching and learning about teaching” (italics in original) (Loughran, 2006, p. 14)
In a developing country like Lebanon, its young generation is its biggest asset. Making sure they grow up learning how to become critical thinkers is the stepping stone that will make them rise from the quagmire of ignorance that is pulling them down and keeping them entrenched in a world of brainwash and civil unrest. In order to do that, qualified and enthusiastic teachers are needed. If this particular university program can fulfill its aspirations to graduate teachers who can make critical thinkers and independent learners of their students, while at the same time producing teachers who aim to change their society for the better, then it is hopeful that Lebanon will be in better hands in the future.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2006). Powerful Teaching Education:Lessons from Exemplary Programs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Loughran, J. (2006). Developing a Pedagogy of Teacher Education: Understanding Teaching and Learning about Teaching. London: Routledge.