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Improving teacher prep—what are we waiting for?

“A doctor, a lawyer, and a teacher walk onto a plane,” began a recent blog post by Justin Minkel. This was no corny joke—but the lead-up to Minkel’s compelling account of a conversation among professionals from different fields.

“We each talked about our profession,” Minkel recalled, “what we love about it, what’s hard about it, and how we get better.” The trio discussed how “teaching requires a level of expertise on par with the medical and legal professions,” yet has a far less practical trajectory for preparation.

Reading Justin’s words, I couldn’t help but think of the work done some years ago by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) as part of the Preparation of the Professions program. Lee Shulman, the intellectual father of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, led a CFAT investigation into the preparation of physicians.

American medical schools have taken seriously the recommendations presented by this study, including:

  • With “early clinical immersion” residents should have “more intense exposure to the sciences and best evidence underlying their practice”;
  • The fundamental pedagogy of medical education must focus on ensuring that future doctors “develop the motivation and skill to teach themselves, stimulated by their clinical experiences, information about the effectiveness of their care, and interactions with others in the clinical environment”;
  • Doctors should “not be obliged to spend time unproductively repeating clinical activities once they have mastered the competencies appropriate to their level”;
  • Future doctors, while learning the practical aspects of health care, must also engage in “inquiry, discovery and systems innovation”;
  • Medicine must continue its focus on intensive clinical preparation, but should provide future doctors with individualized learning and experiences in research, policy, education, etc., reflecting the broad role played by physicians; and
  • The “backbone” of medical education must be on “professional identity formation” and the development of “professional values, actions, and aspirations.”

Many of these recommendations are rooted in the model of medical education put forth by Flexner almost 100 years ago—but they reflect new technologies and breakthroughs in the science of healing.

The science of learning has changed, too, as researchers have continued to investigate human cognition.

And some of our nation’s best education schools are engaged in innovative pedagogical practices that make the most of new technologies. In fact, top-performing nations like Singapore design their teacher preparation programs on some of the best university-based preparation in the U.S. (e.g., Stanford, UCLA, Bank Street College, etc.) as well as, intriguingly enough, the medical model.

Meanwhile, there has been no shortage of reports about promising preparation strategies, grounded in research. (A CTQ TeacherSolutions team penned one earlier this year — filled with provocative recommendations.)  

But—curiously—these developments and efforts go unrecognized (or intentionally ignored) by American education policymakers and pundits.

Few among us would condone a lackadaisical attitude toward research-based efforts to improve medical education. And why would we see preparation for the teaching profession—the profession that makes all others possible— as any less vital an undertaking?

 

1 Comment

Justin Minkel commented on October 31, 2013 at 3:32pm:

Secretary of Education Barnett Berry

Barnett, beyond being deeply honored by your reference to my last Career Teacher post, these principles you outline have helped me to visualize in detail a possibility that was previously fuzzy.

I love this recommendation in particular:

"Future doctors, while learning the practical aspects of health care, must also engage in “inquiry, discovery and systems innovation”"

Isn't this what Finland has figured out?  That professional development should earn that description "professional" by treating teaching as a knowledge profession, in which action research is central?  That instead of having two camps of "reformers" and "teachers" we should have "teacher/reformers" who help to shape the systems in which our students learn and we teach?

Salary matters, but research on different generations shows that much of what generations X and Y care about is described in that recommendation--the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues on meaningful work, and somewhat democratic systems in which professional responsibility is paired with professional autonomy.

Making this recommendation a reality in teaching has a trifecta payoff: more effective teachers, more functional policies and systems, and a positive impact on recruitment and retention.

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