Last week, I attended the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Dr. Linda Darling- Hammond, a professor at Stanford University, was the rapporteur for the session on teacher supply and demand. She said something that caused me to sit up and pay closer attention.
Dr. Darling-Hammond reported on some data around the connection between teacher preparation and retention. You may know that the average attrition rate for the teaching profession is 25%. But--and this is big--for those who completed a teacher preparation program, attrition was 15%, yet for those who did not, the attrition rate was 49%. That is significant.
It makes perfect sense. Those who teach with great content knowledge and no pedagogical preparation are more likely to have difficulty with classroom management, identification of exceptional students, alignment of lesson plans with curriculum, knowledge of child development, parental communication, and, what is most important, a strong repertoire of teaching strategies to be used with the wide variety of students that come through the classroom door.
When I look back on my own preparation, I am so thankful for all those great teacher educators at Western Carolina University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They taught me how to teach phonics and to understand that the same strategy would not work on all students so they also made sure I knew how to teach whole language skills. By the time I got to college, my handwriting was all over the place, but teacher educators taught me how to teach students to print as well as to use cursive writing. Today, when I am asked to chart notes for a discussion group, people comment on my handwriting---which is better than it was when I entered college. I just smile and give a nod to that great teacher educator I had in my methods class. Before you judge methods classes, let me assure you my preparation was steeped in research, the psychology of teaching, and lots of practice with real students on teaching techniques and classroom management.
America has some of the greatest teacher education institutions in the world. Too often critics paint them all with a broad brush and declare all are inept. That is not the problem. The problem is that we have too many teacher education programs. The problem is that universities use teacher education programs as "cash cows" and do not invest their resources into schools of education. The problem is we do not tie teacher education programs to the greatest research universities in this country. We need to take a teacher education program like the one at Stanford University and replicate it in a limited number of research universities in the United States.
Finland and Singapore have done it right. Because of their success in the preparation of teachers, there is respect for the profession. There is status in being a teacher. They assure that their teachers are very knowledgeable about their subject matter and that they know how to impart that knowledge to every child. If we want to be high performing in teacher education, we are going to have to make some substantive changes in what we value and how we invest our money.
Teacher preparation matters. All parents should ask about the credentials of their children's teachers, and all teachers should display their teacher education diplomas on the walls of their classrooms. The pathway toward greater respect for teachers begins with the entrance into a highly respected and high quality teacher education program.