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Tell Teacher Candidates the Truth

A candid exchange between a new teacher and a professor of teacher education should be required reading for all teacher candidates ("Preparing [or Prepared] to Leave? : A Professor-Student Dialogue about the Realities of Urban Teaching," Teachers College Record, Aug. 15).  I make that recommendation because of the frankness that permeates the entire conversation.  

An outstanding new teacher who wanted to "have a positive impact on the lives of children, particularly children at risk of dropping out of school later on" decided to quit because of factors that she had not been prepared to handle.  As many other "teacher leavers" have explained, they didn't leave the teaching profession.  Instead the teaching profession left them.  What they meant is that teaching today has been stripped of its professionalism because of the demands of the accountability movement. In other words, it's not what they signed up for.

I think it's important at this point to make a distinction between the disillusion that affected new teachers in the past and the disillusion that   affects new teachers today.  When I started teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1964, I was filled with dreams of what I wanted to accomplish.  But reality soon made me realize that I would never be able to achieve my goals. I don't think I was unique in this regard.  All teachers have to make adjustments.  Today, however, teachers have been reduced essentially to script readers because of the importance of producing ever-higher standardized test scores. As a result, dreams have not just been modified, they have been vaporized.

That's what happened to the new teacher I'm writing about in this column.  She explained in copious detail how preparation for a "singular test in April" determined her evaluation and - by extension - her worth. Good intentions mattered not one whit.  Nor did good ideas.  She said that she felt she had been "lied to."  She was referring to the failure of professors of teacher education to tell teacher candidates the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Instead, these professors were "selling the dream."

I don't mean that candidates should be overwhelmed with gloomy details.  But I think we do them a terrible disservice by persisting in sugarcoating what they will invariably have to face in the classroom. The name of this column is Reality Check just for that reason. 

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