Teacher Educators, College Faculty, Education Deans, and Academic Deans: Do You Know What the Evidence Says About Your Profession?

21 Jan 2019
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This article will probably upset you. It may put you on the defensive. Nevertheless, it represents an opportunity to actually own your profession.

But as you read, please keep the following in mind. Centuries of teacher education, school and college practice and textbook writing have not resulted in establishing the three core elements required of professional operations. These elements have long been present in the medical, engineering, and legal professions. It allows them to own their preparation, practice, and certification. The three core elements are: (1) A common language for preparation, practice, research, and writing. (2) Foundation principles and skills. (3) Operational standards of practice. We will come back to these core elements later.

Here is what the evidence shows. And, remember this is not about you as an individual educator. It’s about a profession whose basic instructional practice has not evolved despite centuries of practice and research.

  • According to Paul, Elder, and Bartell (1997), “[T]he central problem is that most faculties have not carefully thought through any concept of critical thinking, have no sense of intellectual standards they can put into words, and are, therefore . . . in no position to foster critical thinking in their own students or to help them to foster it in their future students. [They will therefore] inculcate into their students the same vague views that they have. These are strong words but the research cited and the weak standards for Teacher-educa[t]ors and teachers make such words credible” (p. 5).

Based on the overall design of their study, Paul, Elder, and Bartell believe that the generally poor understanding and weak classroom application of critical thinking (and therefore, critical reading and writing) they found on the part of teacher educators “would be generalizable to all faculty preparing teachers across the state” (p. 1).

There is support for extending this conclusion as being applicable across the country.

  • According to Labaree (2004), teachers entering doctorate programs in education typically possess undergraduate and master’s degrees in education and professional experience as teachers. As incoming doctorate students, they are “stunned and offended to hear the [education school research faculty tell them] that they can’t write analytically, can’t construct arguments logically, or can’t read critically” (p. 102). However, education school faculty trained these doctorate students when they were teacher candidates.
  • According to Bok (2006), the lack of critical learning and instruction practice extends to all college faculties. “Despite their overwhelming support for critical thinking as the primary goal of undergraduate education, most professors . . . spend almost the entire hour lecturing to a passive student audience” (p. 120). With respect to teacher-education faculty, Bok writes “Instructors are charged with lecturing too much and providing poor models of teaching for their students” (p. 300). Bok adds, “It is curious that faculty members rely so heavily on [the lecture method, which is so] ill-suited for the goal [of critical thinking] they claim to value above all others” (p. 122). Bok sums up by saying, “Most professors were taught by lectures; lecturing [which is the prime example of roteism instruction], is what they feel they know how to do” (p. 124).
  • Faculty members at Harvard, Columbia, and Dartmouth (in Kane, Rockoff, and Staiger, 2007), found that “we must discard . . . the widespread sentiment that there are large differences in effectiveness between traditionally certified teachers and uncertified or alternatively certified teachers” (p. 61). This suggests the barriers for entry into the profession are so low that those with mere content knowledge can be admitted into classrooms. A profession so easily entered is not truly owned by its practitioners.

By way of summary, in their Beyond Knowledge Ventriloquism and Echo Chambers: Raising the Quality of the Debate in Teacher Education, Zeichner, and Conklin (2016), state “There is no dispute about the need for improvements in…teacher education. The field itself…has called for substantive changes in how teachers are prepared” (p. 2). “[W]e believe…teacher education programs need to change in significant ways” (p. 11). They cite the need to assess teacher education program outcomes including examining graduates’ “…abilities to promote students…critical thinking [and reading and writing]” (p. 12).

The foregoing shows that the profession continues to be defined by roteism instruction. It does not systematically and explicitly foster critical language-literacy in students. And so, the absence of core instructional elements that would minimize roteism subject matter practice in favor of critical instruction continues generation after generation.

How can the profession truly transform itself from roteism instruction to critical instruction? How can it own the profession? It can emulate the medical, engineering, and legal professions by establishing the three core elements that are the hallmark of professional preparation, practice, research, and certification. Dr. Victor P. Maiorana has established such a core and an associated curriculum and resources. They can be found here.

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