Revitalizing Teacher Education by Revisiting Our Assumptions About Teaching

Dec. 25, 2009

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 60, No. 5. P. 450-457 (November/December 2009).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The state of teaching and teacher education is the result of more than a century of compromises and adjustments demanded by the exigencies of another era.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the teaching profession was designed to match the rapid expansion of schooling. It relied on a captive pool of inexpensive, educated female labor and assumed little in the way of a professional knowledge base. Teacher preparation and development were designed accordingly.

Today, would be reformers should recognize that the machinery and assumptions that once made sense may be ill suited for contemporary opportunities and challenges.

Questions for a More Vital Field

The author considers four design assumptions that frame today’s teaching profession. The author argues that these assumptions should be challenged.

The first assumption is the expectation that the typical recruit will be a recent college graduate, implying a vast shift in resources, delivery mechanisms, and program orientation.

The second is the institutional presumption that the vast majority of teacher education should take place in institutions of higher education rather than at schools or in other venues.

The third is the notion that teaching should entail a relatively homogeneous job description, without significant specialization or differentiation of roles.

The fourth is the expectation that teaching should be conducted by 3.2 million full-time educators rather than a smaller number augmented by additional personnel and tools.

These assertions amount to a frontal assault on established notions of teacher professionalism and the familiar role of teacher education.
Therefore, allowing ourselves to revisit these assumptions will offer up enormous opportunities to revitalize teacher training and preparation.

The author argues that rethinking the shape of the profession calls for a shift from the assumption that teacher preparation and training should necessarily be driven by institutions of higher education toward a more variegated model that relies on specialized providers, customized preparation for particular duties, and a “just-in-time” mindset regarding skill development and acquisition.

The author concludes that the job of a K-12 “teacher” has remained markedly undifferentiated and static over the past century, despite advances in technology and communications.

Updated: Mar. 14, 2010