Saturday, March 10, 2018

Preparing the Future of Teaching

My student teacher starts on Monday, so I've been doing some informal research. I've been asking new teachers about their experiences and what I can do to make this one as valuable as possible for my student teacher. I'm hearing consistency across the board:

Education programs do not prepare teachers for the reality of teaching.
Actual footage of a 1st-year teacher
They focus very heavily on lesson preparation, content knowledge and organization, which is all important. Unfortunately, they skip or miss the most important aspect: Kids are kids

My own grad program did an excellent job helping us to develop cool lessons and understand the history of educational policy. Unfortunately, they gave the impression that a solid lesson will make everything great. Yeah, no.

I see this philosophy all throughout my educational interactions with people who are not classroom teachers. The idea of "if the kids aren't engaged, you need to a better lesson" is pervasive, foolish, misguided and dangerous. When teachers complain about how their students are not doing what we ask, the go-to response is (infuriatingly) that we should make the lessons more interesting.

Teaching is about interacting with students. A good lesson is the first step of a marathon. The rest is student interaction, knowing your kids, empathy, knowing your kids, improvisation, building a culture of safety, and knowing your kids.

My education program required 7-10 page lesson plans for each lesson, citing educational research, state standards, scripting interactions with students and multiple avenues of follow-up. Each plan took me 2-3 hours to write.

At no point in my program, did we have a discussion about what it means to interact with middle school students as though they are people. We talked about them in the abstract way of "clients."
We had long conversations about how kids change all the time, but my professors hadn't been in a classroom in decades.

We talked about the importance of making your lessons engaging, but not HOW to engage unengaged students beyond "make the lesson better."What we didn't do was have discussions about interacting with students beyond the surface.

At no point did we talk about what do when your students can't concentrate because they or their family members have court dates coming up and are worried about going to jail.

At no point did we talk about what to do when you have two kids in your room who simply will not stop throwing things at each other.
At no point were we taught how to interact with unreasonable parents. What to do when a first phone call is to the superintendent. How to survive when administration requires you to do something that YOU know is counterproductive to your students.

What do I do when I've spent weeks building up to a lesson and the day before, the loud, popular girls gets dumped and spends the whole period crying?
We never talked about how to deal with bullying in class. We never talked about what to do when a student dies.

Teacher burnout is a real thing. It's an epidemic and is doing awful things to our education system, to future teachers, and to our students. We need to provide teachers with support, but more so, we need to give pre-service teachers the reality of teaching.

Teaching is about students; first, last, and always. Yes, it deals with lessons, content, activities, self-doubt, homework, plans, stress, seating charts, rosters, and crying yourself to sleep. It deals with those, but it's about the students and their needs as people.

Education programs do observations throughout the programs, but student teaching is always at the end. When you discover the wonderful and horrid realities of what it means to ACTUALLY teach, you've been invested for years. This is a tremendous disservice to new teachers.
This is a metaphor!

So what do I want to do for my student teacher? I want to give her space and support. I want to let her deal with issues of walking the tightrope while remaining the safety net far below. Let her learn, fall, get back up and grow.

I want to remind her that just the way that school isn't a good representation life or learning, education programs are not a good representation of teaching. I want to help her become the amazing teacher that she can be.

I want to speak with more pre-service teachers about the reality of teaching, but I think the first time I did so in an education program, I wouldn't be invited back. Colleges, like any other school, are so invested in their curriculum, that any slight push sending them crashing

There are amazing teacher prep programs out there, but they are few and far between. I've met teachers as college students and watch them leave teaching in less than 3 years because of how unprepared they were.

You will cry regularly during your first year. You will be scared and sad and questioning. You will be angry at your coworkers, your students, your parents and your admin. You will be elated when a lesson goes well and crushed when it doesn't.

Teaching is hard as hell. Anyone who says otherwise is either doing it poorly or works in the recruiting office at a University.

I just hope she can write a good lesson plan, otherwise her classroom management will be up the creek.


  1. Very well said. Good luck. Please keep us posted on how this goes.

  2. I love how dedicated you are to help your student teacher. She is lucky to have you.
    Just a thought....“I want to give her space and support. I want to let her deal with issues of walking the tightrope while remaining the safety net far below. Let her learn, fall, get back up and grow.” Isn’t this the same thing we do with our students? This is a part of teaching ��
    Thank you for sharing and I look forward to updates.

    1. Thank you!

      Ideally, yes it's the same as what we do for our students. Unfortunately, the constraints of public schools often keep us for this. I want my students to be to able to explore at their own pace, but there are so many things we have to do to get them ready to move on, so many requirements handed down to us by people who know nothing about education.

  3. Justin, Not every teacher program is like that, thankfully. In the program I teach in, we make explicit the fact that great teaching is a combination of knowledge of 3 things: pedagogy, content, and kids. If you only focus on 1 or 2 of those things, you may be an okay teacher, but never an effective or great teacher.

    Knowing your kids, their strengths, their weaknesses, their hopes, and their goals, and weaving that into your lessons is mandatory. Yes, I still require 10 page lesson plans to be written, but 1/2 that is focused on how to work with the kids in the room.

    Your criticism is strong, relevant, and accurate. I would love to have you in my program teaching with me. We would build an entire cadre of amazing teachers together!

    1. You know if you can convince my wife to move to Reno, I'm SO in!

    2. All you can eat sushi is standard, Lake Tahoe is 30 min away, San Francisco is 4 hours away, surrounded by mountains. The list goes on. Bring her to TMC, and I will work my magic on her. :)


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