building the 21st century teacher

All this talk (see earlier post) about reforming education rests heavily upon the preparation of a new kind of teacher and more broadly on a shift in the professional culture of teachers–and I include higher education in this as well. It is admirable, at least in theory, to seek to reform education as we have in the past few years with the goal of improving the experience for the students who are most at-risk. How successful these attempts have been is certainly debatable. The goal in this emerging reform movement, however, is to look at our average-to-best students and seek to ensure they are competitive in a global context. As Friedman quotes Bill Gates, it’s no longer good enough to be the "B- student from Poughkeepsie."

While there are many aspects to this education including learning a foreign language and acquiring strong math and science skills, in terms of English, the goal is developing information literacy, which means not only the ability to search for and evaluate networked media but also the ability to compose this media and communicate effectively with a diverse, potentially global, audience. This education begins with Language Arts elementary school teachers and middle/high school English teachers and must be continued in college. But to do this, you need to educate the teachers first!

In New York state, and I imagine most states, the requirements for teacher certification are extensive. Essentially our undergards are double-majors, with one degree in education and another in their content area. In our department, a preservice English teacher takes over 70 credits in the program to complete the degree, including 100 hours of classroom observation and a semester of student teaching. There’s no way you could add more to this degree. By the same token, students who take our Master’s of Teaching (MAT) take over 50 graduate credits. A few more and their degree is practically equivalent with a doctoral student! Obviously, in either case, we are talking about shifting not adding requirements.

So there are several areas where students take courses in English education. And I am going to use an example of a state college that is not my own, because this is not about my college but a more endemic issue. To my knowledge this example is fairly typical of schools in NY. So this is what people take.

  • 13 credits of educational theory
  • 6 credits of teaching methods
  • 3 credits of educational technology
  • 15 credits of observation/student teaching
  • 31 credits of literature courses (including some lit electives)
  • 3 credits of linguistics
  • 6 credits of writing courses
  • 3 credits of English elective

My point is that you can hardly be surprised if students come to college with poor communication skills and low levels of information literacy when their teachers have had few writing courses (and even fewer courses in writing pedagogy) and maybe one course on the use of technology, which may or may not even be specific to their area of specialty (though in our program it is).

I guess when you look at this breakdown, it’s a no-brainer where the courses will be shifting from. In this model, you’ve got 43 credits in technology, writing, and literature. In our program there are 36 credits on these subjects (and more credit devoted to observation/student teaching and linguistics/grammar).

While I’m not saying that you need to divide the curriculum into thirds, you certainly need to move it to where half of these credits are in literature and the other half devoted to writing and technology. Then maybe you’d graduate teachers who knew how to write and teach writing and had enough information literacy to be able to teach the subject.

If you were to do this, then you might start graduating teachers who recognized the necessity of ongoing professional development. If your idea of English instruction is teaching literature then it’s understandable that you wouldn’t see the necessity of professional development. After all, how much has changed in the way HS teachers teach Shakespeare in the last 30 years?

4 thoughts on “building the 21st century teacher

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  1. This seems exactly right to me. At my college, the education students take even more credits in English (45 or so). Yet the conversation often revolves around the fear that the students need “content.” If anything, the hope is to address information literacies with a single media class, inoculation style.

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  2. When I taught in the Childhood Program at SUNY Cortland, the educational/instructional Technology I taught was a stupendous 2 credits. When I tried to make your arguments (Alex) to my peers, they would not even consider raising it one measly credit to three. Needless to say our grads were generally not prepared to teach in a technology rich environment. And so, the next generation of teachers graduates to perpetuate “the way they were taught” to teach.
    The supposed plan was to “integrate” the ed tech course into other courses. Yet most of my colleagues (BK and TS excepted) were quite clueless at how to do this. Oh yeah, just use PowerPoint. That’s the ticket.
    sgh…

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  3. Yes this inoculation style is common for technology instruction… and all too familiar to those of us who teach writing (first-year composition anyone?).
    In theory integration into the curriculum makes a lot of sense. In fact it is likely a necessity in the long run for the success of technology instruction. However it only works if you have trained faculty who recognize the importance of technology instruction for preservice teachers…. And obviously if you had that then you wouldn’t have the types of problems we’re talking about here.

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  4. Doctors, nurses, and many other professionals are required to continue their education to keep up with changing technology and research. Why not teachers too? It seems even more important, as they are the ones who are relaying information. As that information changes, so should their cirriculum. I remember the my best teachers as the ones who were able to make technology easily digestible for us students.

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