Tuesday, September 08, 2015

On the making of teachers ...

Until I joined graduate school, I had never thought about where school teachers came from.  All I knew about school teachers, especially the awesome ones, and the awful ones too, was from the experience as a "lifer" in that wonderful school, and from two relatives from my father's generation who were high school teachers.  I had never spent even a minute into thinking about the making of a teacher, and questions like: Who trained them?  What makes people wanting to teach?

In graduate school, depending on my mood, I would wander into any one of the libraries on campus and either do my own work or read something from the collections there.  Others perhaps call this as "wasting time" but I enjoyed such intellectual wanderings.

USC Doheny Library, summer 2009

One of the libraries was at the School of Education, which is also where I got into the habit of reading The Chronicle of Higher Education.  It fascinated me that there was a School of Education.  There were even undergraduate students who were on a teacher preparatory path.  All through my years in India, I had never known of any young person who was studying to be a school teacher.  This was all getting to be really interesting.

When I started teaching in California, it turned out that quite a few students who were in my economic geography class were there because it was required for their teacher-prep majors.  Now, I started getting some insights into the making of a teacher.  I was impressed with a few of them.  And was disappointed with most of them--if their attitude towards learning was this awful, how would would they ever inspire their students to learn!

Here in Oregon, a math colleague, who a few years ago moved across the continent to be closer to her family, once remarked at a faculty senate meeting about the immense responsibility that we faculty have.  "We blame high schools for the bad quality students they send us; the high schools blame the middle schools; the middle schools point their fingers at elementary schools.  We forget that we are the ones preparing teachers for all those schools."  I was the only one who was impressed with her plea--the rest couldn't care; I suppose they could not wait to get back to writing their journal articles and books and here she was wasting their precious time!

The interest in making sure we have good teachers is huge outside the academic walls.  Everybody, from the President to the kid on a skateboard has firm beliefs on what is wrong about teaching and teachers.  Some opinion writers even claim that a high school diploma is all one needs to teach kids.  How can we make sure that we have wonderful teachers for kids?
Policy makers have debated the best way to evaluate teacher effectiveness, but have shown little interest in the training that is supposed to make them effective in the first place. That’s changing, but it’s not obvious where and how to intervene. Tougher entry requirements for teacher training? A more challenging certification test? New accreditation standards for teacher training programs? The problem is that many different organizations influence various aspects of the teacher training process. 
It is cacophony out there!

Meanwhile, I am now left thinking about yet another issue: how come in the vast extended family we have engineers and doctors and MBAs and college professors and whatever else, but no school teachers?  Is it because it is not considered worthy enough a profession?  Nothing makes sense the older I get!

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