To Fix Public Education

I've been asked several times what I think the number one problem in public education is. More specifically I've been asked if I could change one thing about public education what would that be. Most people are going to assume that I would said we need to get rid of standardized testing or get rid of homework or get rid of the bloated curriculum the we are required to teach. Some might think I would say we need more technology or that every kid should have access to a device every single day they are in school. Any one of those ideas would be worthy of discussion and certainly have been. However, if we want to make real change in education I think we may have to start at square one. By square one I am referring to our teacher preparation programs.

You don't have to look very far to see first year teachers in classrooms with the deer in the headlights look. Many of them are ill prepared for the challenges of the daily job of a classroom teacher and are frankly scared out of their mind. Now that's not to say that the colleges and universities are not doing the best they can. However, what they are doing is just not good enough anymore.

For starter, let’s look at the time these individuals actually have to practice the art of teaching. How long are most student teaching experiences and how many hours are preservice teachers required to be in a classroom before they student teach? While this number varies greatly, a majority of student teaching experiences last one semester. If the college or university is on trimesters, the time is significantly shorter. While many other professions require intense internships, why is that teachers do not? Why do we not have a minimum requirement of a one-year internship for all teachers? What better way to prepare them for their first year then by giving them a first year with an experienced mentor teacher?

Another issue that comes to mind is that way in which preservice teachers are pushed on through the program regardless of their abilities. I have seen first hand student teachers that should not be left alone in a classroom with children and leave me scratching my head about how they made it this far. Why is it that we feel an obligation to push these students through even though they are not cut out for the job? Are we feeling we owe it to them because they have invested an insane amount of tuition money? Should we push a student through just because they have put their time in and “earned” it? Why not give them more experience earlier in programs and provide more critical feedback to help improve these future teachers or provide them an opportunity to seek another career path?

One issue that may not win me many fans is with the college professors themselves. Frankly, a lot of these professors are poor teachers. For me, I was a history degree major when I was studying in my undergrad. I will tell you I had some of the most brilliant historians teach my history classes. Yet being a master of history does not make you a good teacher. Nearly every single professor I had stood and delivered everyday, every class for four years. Any teacher work their paycheck knows that is not good pedagogy and certainly won’t work in a K-12 environment. Again these people were brilliant historians and scientists and mathematicians but they were not trained as teachers.

Education professors by in large are working on a model that has existed for 100 years and are continuing to perpetuate these ideals through their undergrad and even graduate programs. While the professors are pushing methods and procedures thought best practice in the 1920s, our future teachers are not in touch with current trends or movements. Do we have a place for healthy debate about educational theory in practice in our undergraduate programs? Should we? Are we more concerned about the way in which a college senior is writing a lesson plan or about what they believe about student learning and instructional practice? That is not to even mention the lack of technology training that is a whole issue unto itself.

If we want to change the system of public education in this country, it has to start at the college and university level. These are the students that will come out to be the future teachers in our country. These are the ones that have not been jaded or beat down by curriculum or incompetent administrators. They have yet to be burdened with education politics or incessant hoop jumping. Colleges and universities have a tremendous opportunity to do this.

We don’t need programs like Teach for America or any other one-stop shop cookie cutter convenient drive thru teacher prep programs. We need colleges to adapt to the changing landscape of public education. Colleges have value and have a place in preserving education in America and pushing it to where it should be.


Jeff Layman said...

I love this, Josh, and I feel the same way. My dream job of the future is to teach middle school in the morning (part time) and teacher prep at a local college in the afternoon/evening. My middle school can brag that they have a college prof teaching their kids and the college can brag that their teacher prep program features teachers that are currently in the classroom. It's a win-win-win.

I'd be really interested to see the data on college professors in #of years of experience in education vs. # of years out of an actual classroom. I'd be willing they are both very high numbers, and I think that's the issue you're getting at.

Holding a potential teacher back is tough, because so many lessons on your way to becoming a decent teacher stem from in-your-face-on-the-job-failure, and that can't always be easily replicated. I'm not sure what the solution is there.

Anonymous said...

Although I went through an alternative path to teaching, I am still with you that the teacher prep programs need some serious change. Universities aren't preparing teachers for teaching in K-12. And in K-12 education, what are we preparing our students for? Life or lecture-heavy college courses?

It definitely makes sense to me to put teacher candidates in the classroom MORE during their prep years. But what about also evaluating WHO their mentor teachers are? There are some amazing mentor teachers, some average ones and some down-right crappy ones. No matter how long the student teaching experience/internship is, making sure that the mentor teachers are the highest quality possible seems extremely important to me.

Another thought that came to me while reading - could a 'connected' course be part of a teacher prep program? A class where students learn how to utilize twitter to their advantage, get involved in #edchat & #ntchat, start reflective blogging... Just a thought but in my head it seems like it could be incredibly beneficial to get teachers connected early!

Thank you for the post Josh!

Anonymous said...

I know some people aren't big fans of alternate certification programs, but that's how I earned my teaching certificate (Transition to Teaching was the grant that funded the 5 college-level classes I took.) My classes were made up of people, like me, who got placed in the classroom right away, while we took our classes. The program director, who taught 2 of our classes, was fantastic about spending time talking about what was going on in our classrooms. We got to collaborate on classroom management, teaching styles, and tips and tricks to support us in developing our teacher skills.

Anonymous said...
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@MrBrettClark said...


I think you bring up a lot of good points. I like the idea of giving preservice teachers a 1 year internship in the classroom with a mentor teacher. I wonder how difficult it would be for schools to find enough mentor teachers to do this.

Also, I think colleges and schools need to do a better job of identifying mentor teachers. I know I was unfortunate and got stuck with poor mentor teacher when I student-taught. It honestly almost made me second guess if I wanted to do this or not.

So, I think we need to give college students a longer period of time in the classroom and it needs to be throughout their college career. Also, I think we need to do a better job identifying quality mentor teachers and not teachers who just want to take time off while they have a student-teacher.

On the other side of this, as a parent, I honestly cringe when my kids have a student-teacher. I worry about the impact it could have on my child. I have a 4th grader and a 2nd grader and my kids have already experienced 4 student-teachers and 2 long-term subs. Some good and some bad.

I have some thoughts on the preservice teachers being pushed through the system but this comment is long enough. Good post. I enjoyed reading it. It sparked some thoughts and I wanted to share them.

Brian Bennett said...

Well said, Josh. We've also had this discussion (in brief) on Twitter in the past, and you're spot on with each of these.

I do want to add, though, that some colleges are beginning to make the change. I graduated in 2008 from Asbury College (now University) just outside of Lexington, KY. Their teacher preparation program is recognized nationally as one of the best, and I never realized why it is one of the best until this year.

First, we were in the classroom each semester from our sophomore year on through. We weren't always teaching, but we were observing and being mentored by teachers in the classroom every day. Second, our professors pushed us beyond the status quo. We were challenged about our choice to stand and deliver when we taught. We were forced to differentiate and personalize as much as we could. All of that, of course, was to help prepare us for what real teaching is like. Third, they had very high standards for the program. Not that GPA is everything, but we had to maintain a threshold level to even remain in the program without intervention.

Again, I say all of this to reiterate the fact that yes, we do need to look at college programs that prepare teachers. But, there bright spots of good things happening in places.

Do you invite college students into your class? That's one thing I've done in the past to help expose them to things that they might not be getting the in classroom.

Dave Meister said...

I would have to agree with what nothingblowsupinbiology (what fun is that?) Alternative certification programs need to be explored in more depth. I have limited experience with them, but what little I have had has been very positive. The teacher I have who entered the profession this way is sure they want to teach, is more mature, and was very prepared to teach on day one of their full year internship.

I also think that preparation programs need to be held accountable. I was trained a long time ago in a far off land. Most of my education classes were either taught by professors who had never been in a public classroom or had failed in their attempt to be a public school teacher.

Anonymous said...

I graduated two years ago, and am currently in my first year teaching. My biggest problem with the University I went to, was the lack of time required to spend in classroom. We had one semester of student teaching, and a few other 'snapshots' of classroom experience, but that was it.

I was fortunate enough to find part-time employment in different schools throughout my college education, so I had some experience and understanding going into student teaching. However some of my peers did not. Many of them struggled greatly with the two 6-week placements of student teaching. Others did okay during student teaching, but are changing careers after only 1 year of teaching.

Sure, teaching isn't for everyone. But that is something that should be figured out in the first few years of college, not during your first year teaching. I believe the best way to do this would be to get more experiences in the schools throughout college. I know, with over 30 students per class I teach, I would make very good use of an aspiring teacher, even if it was only for half an hour.

Sure, it would take time, and effort, and many more things. But even half an hour a few times a week from a model teacher like many of my colleagues where I work would be beneficial to everyone, including the students, both present and future.

concretekax said...


I think schools also deserve some of the blame here. Most have mentor teachers for new staff (by law in Michigan) but those are often a joke. My suggestion is that schools should move to a team teaching model for new staff. I explain it in a post

Unknown said...

I had to post your link to this post on my FB page. You are so right on many, many levels. Teachers did not always have the best mentor teachers to learn from (even in their education classes!). I work part-time with TEACH Charlotte, a program for career changing adults to enter the field of education. I am so honored to help "Groom" these teachers because I know what it takes. College did a poor job of educating me to become a teacher. Student teaching was paramount on my learning journey, but it was not long enough. On the job training... lonely, but effective. Is this what we dream for ourselves or our future? Figure it out on your own? Of course not! We have to do better. We can do better. Invest in better teacher preparation programs. AMEN !!!


Always A Lesson

Ms Gerow said...

Very eloquently expressed. Thank you. As I read your piece, I could have written the same thing for here in Canada.I keep saying to whoever will listen that the change has to be at the entry level. That if I could wave my magic wand, the teacher training of today would be blown up and started by scratch.

Why is it that we can't get this heard? We can do better and we need to fight to do this. The will is there it just needs to be driven more by the grassroots.

Anonymous said...

There are so many great, reasonable ideas out there (like yours) by teachers in the field, about how to fix education. It is a shame that it takes so long for things to change, and even with amazing innovative leaders (teachers and principals) I can't help but feel hopeless about it all.

Keep on keeping on Stump.

Unknown said...

You made so many great points in this post. I am currently an Elementary Education major at the University of South Alabama. Quite honestly, I feel I would be extremely more confident about teaching on my own if I had interned for a year under a mentor. I have often worried if I will be prepared to be in charge of my own classroom once I graduate.

I also agree with your statement that some student teachers should not be left alone in a classroom. I've yet to start candidacy, but even in my core classes I can spot some of those future teachers that frankly are not cut out for it. This is a complete injustice for their future students.

Great post!