Teacher Education Policies and Standards

Though some policy makers are well intentioned and informed, there are others who are not motivated by high ideals.  Nor do they understand the nature and complexities of educational reform. As a result, we have misguided and harmful policies for teacher education based on faulty worldviews. In some ways, these reformers are trying to change education to look more like the political and economic systems of which they are a part. What they may not realize is that these systems themselves are in tremendous need of reform and imposing their dysfunctional structures, ideas and practices on education will harm and not help.

In my career as a teacher educator, I have endeavored to see that only those students with proven character, intelligence and ability to inspire students in the classroom are certified to teach. I am increasingly concerned that the new teachers I have helped prepare will not be given the support needed to enable them to be successful in their classrooms. I feel that both teacher educators and teachers are facing attitudes and policies that actively denigrate them and diminish their role in both schools and society. They are being set up for failure.

Each teacher education program has unique characteristics, which interact in dynamic and complex ways. Policy reforms not based on some understanding of these many factors and their interplay and on a genuine concern for the best interest of all will be limited in their effectiveness. Many reform proposals work against what their proponents claim to be supporting and subvert the best interests of education and society. They are putting private agendas and gain over public welfare.

If leaders require traditional education programs to raise standards and requirement, while they allow alternative programs to bypass them, what are we to think? At the same time political leaders decry the poor quality of teacher education, they create policies that lessen quality and weaken schools of education ability to improve. While they call for brighter teachers, they eliminate one of the most proven and established methods of professional development by not requiring that teachers engage in and complete a planned program of graduate teacher education after initial certification. Based on the lessons from high-performing countries like Finland, we should be requiring more education instead of reducing the number of credits and expectations required for entry into teaching, and those for continuing service and professional development.

Many people aspire to be teachers, but only those who meet the standards set by a teacher education program and state are allowed to teach. About half of those who wanted to become teachers at my university were certified.  Of those certified in my state, less than half get a teaching job in the state. Nationally, only half of those with teaching jobs will still be teachers after five years. These numbers raise several questions. Do we need alternate routes to certify more teachers and administrators for our schools when we already have a surplus? Will those certified through alternative routes be more hard working and committed as teachers when they did not have to work as hard or commit as much to become certified?

Schools, departments or colleges of education who do not fulfill their duties in a responsible manner should be put on notice. If they are ineffective, they should be dealt with honestly, responsibly and justly, but to castigate all of teacher education and reform the system without sound or justifiable cause is not a wise or judicious use of governmental powers or foundation money. To sanction routes to teaching that allow easy entry into teaching and school administration are not solutions to our educational problems. However, that may not be the true intended purpose, which may be to solve some perceived political or financial problem.

I believe most teacher educators are hard-working and committed and want to partner with policymakers to help create a better future and the best education system possible, but feel they are being discouraged and hampered in doing so. If those involved in teacher education were given a greater voice, and their expertise, dedication, wisdom and commitment to excellence called upon, we would find solutions to our present and future problems. If we sought to uplift the human spirit and transform hearts, rather than promote selfish interests and biased worldviews, we would go far in solving our problems. In simple and practical terms, we need to champion the qualities of truth, love and justice.

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About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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