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.
Concurrent Education: Eat Sleep Teach Repeat
“Teaching is not a lost art but the regard for it is a lost tradition.
Hence tomorrow’s problem will not be to get teachers,
but to recognize the good ones and not discourage them
before they have done their stint.”
In the epigraph above, Jacques Barzun refers to the lack of well-trained teachers and society’s failure to support the good ones. A simple observation of our educational system today highlights the shortcomings of teacher education programs and people’s lost faith in the teaching profession. This paper presents my teacher education program, its strengths and weaknesses, and whether it prepared me to become a teacher. Do not be surprised, but I am discouraged.
As a child, I wanted to be either an entomologist or a teacher. As a teenager, I developed a fear of insects and a love for history. When I was 18 years old, I had officially been admitted to the Concurrent Teacher Education Program (CTEP) at the XXX. The CTEP program allows students to pursue two degrees (HBA/HBSc and BEd) simultaneously over the course of 5 years. Students are required to take education courses that provide them with a foundation for teaching before taking any BEd courses. They include topics such as conflict resolution, equity and diversity, and child and adolescent development.
The program prides itself in providing various opportunities for experiential learning, which include a 100-150 hour anchor subject internship, classroom visits and observations. The internship, considered part of the undergraduate degree and completed before any practicums, is intended to help teacher candidates develop teaching experience in their main area of study. Students participate in organizing extra-curricular activities, providing support, and working with a variety of teachers to deepen their knowledge of the teaching profession. Finally, candidates maintain an e-portfolio to help them track their learning as they progress through the program by encouraging reflection and promoting professional development.
Whenever I mention my program of study, I am told, “You do not have to worry about getting into teacher’s college in 4 years. It’s getting competitive and many people apply because they have nothing else to do.” This highlights one of the strengths of the program. There was a huge sense of relief and security in knowing that excelling in my courses and maintaining my professionalism meant that my dream of becoming a teacher was within reach and in my control. Candidates often saw themselves as part of the ‘lucky few’, but it definitely came at a cost. For example, the intermediate-senior program was only open to students majoring in chemistry, mathematics, or French (based on the needs of schools in Ontario). As a result, I ended up majoring in French Teaching and Learning when I may have enjoyed fields such as management.
Concurrent education was a commitment, which can be seen as both a strength and a weakness. The stipulation for entry also dictated what I studied for five years, which sometimes made my courses feel like a means to an end. It also meant sacrificing many of my undergraduate electives for education courses. The biggest assumption people made was, “It’s okay. You want to be a teacher. What’s the big deal?” The problem was that 18-year-old concurrent students were perceived as 100% set on becoming teachers, thereby ignoring the fact that, like most other first years, we were curious, had various interests, but were somewhat limiting ourselves because of the light at the end of the tunnel.
On the other hand, the socialization into the profession began almost immediately after the first few weeks of our classes. The many hours I poured into classroom observations, reflection papers, and inquiry before even stepping foot into YYY University was a test of my commitment. Exposure to various aspects of the teaching profession over a longer period of time allowed me to make more informed judgments. Some of my colleagues fell in love while others wanted to break up. There was no better way to realize my like or dislike for teaching without immersing myself in it. CTEP was all about immersion.
In addition to the analysis of commitment above, examining course structure and the social impact of the program shed light on its effectiveness. I am thankful that my courses allowed me to experience different grade levels before deciding on the Secondary School stream. By the end of my 3rd year, I had spent time with every age group and knew that Secondary was the right fit for me before beginning any official teacher training courses. These courses have contributed immensely to my teaching philosophy and my development as a practitioner. However, when comparing my undergraduate education to the BEd courses, I realized that the material had become repetitive. With the exception of my Curriculum Instruction courses, many of us saw little value in the teacher training courses because we had covered the same topics over the past 3 years. CTEP saw us as the most knowledgeable and immersed practitioners, when in reality, we were experiencing fatigue, feeling disengaged, and ruing the missed opportunities. Furthermore, the lengthy anchor subject practicum took place in my 4th year, thus leaving a significant gap between its completion and my graduation date. Thankfully, this has since been remedied and students now complete both practicums in their 5th year.
Finally, it is important to consider the impact CTEP has had on my interpersonal relations. I have developed many friendships with my colleagues over the period of 5 years. We became a close-knit community that struggled and celebrated together while sharing countless experiences and horror stories, all of which made CTEP very enjoyable. However, I did feel isolated from my university community because we were required to attend courses at the downtown campus for an entire semester in 4th year. After months away from my home campus, it was back to ‘normal’. The main difference was that I now felt like a teacher, having completed 80% of my teacher training, but was once again a student taking an undergraduate course. Not surprisingly, this has now been remedied since it hindered professional development and students now attend XXX University full time in their 5th year. I was a guinea pig, and after all of it, I am discouraged.
The program prepared me to be a teacher the same way military education prepares a soldier for the battlefield. It is a simulated experience, rich in theory and strategies, but devoid of the reality. Before we can consider admitting that teacher education programs are preparing us to assume the duties of a teacher, we are in need of great reform and rebuilding, from the ground up. On the topic of commitment, I am pleased that CTEP admission has stopped. Instead, XXX University has introduced a minor in education, which enables students interested in the field of education to complete foundational courses that help them develop their leadership skills while completing placements and participating in reflective inquiry. It is a step in the right direction.
In terms of coursework, teacher education needs a wake up call. I do not recall discussing topics such as classroom management, navigating the first year of teaching, realities of the teaching market (beyond “no jobs unless you’re in French”), the politicization of education, the history of education in Ontario, and the lack of support for new teachers. The topic of assessment in teaching should receive its own course; however, it was limited to a few hours in our Curriculum Instruction courses and many of us entered the classroom in September feeling overwhelmed, disjointed, and unprepared. We have all heard the saying, “Teacher’s college is a joke. If you can use a projector, you’ll pass.” My most inspiring teachers have told me that when I become a teacher, I will have to teach myself everything. While I am committed to learning as a lifelong process, I am disappointed that in theory, I have received specialized training deemed sufficient to assume the duties of a teacher; yet, I still feel incapable.
I am angered when people say, “If it’s your first year teaching, good luck. It’s going to be hell.” I am willing to challenge myself as I aspire to become a more experienced practitioner; however, I am more reluctant than ever to sign my French permanent teaching contract. Where are the mentorship programs for recent graduates? What happened to pride in our profession? For example, occasional teachers who have not completed an long term occasional contract longer than 97 days are not eligible for the New Teacher Induction Program. I vividly remember my principal telling me, “I cannot assign you a mentor because you have been here for a week, but report cards are coming up; you should reach out to a colleague.” The individualistic nature of the teachers at the school meant that no one was willing to help me. If I cannot help myself, how am I supposed to help the students? Teacher education programs and professional associations should play a more effective role in the induction of teachers into the profession.
Last but certainly not least, I never fully understood why my program only admitted students majoring in French, mathematics, and chemistry. Ironically, when I applied to the school district with teachables in French and history, I was hired as a social sciences occasional teacher and not for my French proficiency. My point is that teacher education programs have become more concerned with ‘filling holes’ in the Ontario system as opposed to developing teachers that can take their practice anywhere in the world.
In reforming teacher education programs, we need to examine why people want to be teachers and what they need in order to succeed in the classroom. It is as simple as asking for input from teacher candidates instead of delivering a predetermined curriculum that satisfies objectives in a document. Teachers are often told to include their students as partners in learning, but I do not recall being asked for any input until I had completed my program. What if teacher education programs were improved through collaboration with school boards and other stakeholders to gain a deeper, richer understanding of what students need in the classroom? An example is teaching 21st century skills, which require a thorough examination of the curriculum, teacher quality, and assessment. Initially, CTEP sparked a fire inside me, but my teacher education program and the school board have slowly extinguished it. Although I am grateful for everything I have learned, I am discouraged.