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Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers

iStock_000007829849_XXXLargeHow well do we prepare new teachers for the profession? This has long been a concern of NCTE. In 1968, our Conference on English Education published Sister M. Philippa Coogan’s paper “The Well-Prepared Student Teacher.” In it, she lays out concerns about teacher training that may be just as relevant today.

While preservice teachers frequently cite student teaching as the most valuable part of their preparation program, Coogan finds shortcomings with the student teaching experience:

[T]hese experiences are really not as fruitful as we would like them to be, and for a variety of reasons. Let me recall to you just a few: a scarcity of outstanding teachers willing to sacrifice their own time and the time of their class to the training of practice teachers; the exigencies of the individual classroom situation, which demand that a particular set of operations be performed at a particular time, regardless of whether or not the student teacher will benefit from the experience; limitation of student teaching to a particular school which may serve an entirely different kind of student than the school to which the young teacher will ultimately be assigned; the impossibility of the supervising teacher’s keeping in close touch with all the teaching situations in which his student teachers are involved; and therefore his inability to guide them adequately in identifying good and desirable teaching experiences.

More valuable might be the methods class. Coogan writes:

The teacher of this course, well aware of the diversity of operations in which his student teachers are engaged or will be engaged, well aware of their urgent need for help, of the complexity of each separate teaching situation, is apt to violate all the principles of pedagogy to which he subscribes in order to give them immediate assistance. He lectures about the ineffectiveness of the lecture method, for instance; he generalizes about the importance of the particularizing or inductive approach; he pontificates about the desirability of learning by discovery.

How can teacher preparation be improved? Coogan offers a few thoughts. She argues teacher preparation should focus more on teaching future teachers about “the learning process rather than the teaching process” because the beginning teacher “is apt to be more concerned with putting on a virtuoso performance than with what actually happens between the ears of his students.” She also writes:

I should like to see most of the [methods] class sessions devoted to controlled observation of widely different teaching situations, different as to the kinds of skill and insight that are being developed, different as to the kinds of students being reached, different as to the kinds of teachers serving as catalysts in the learning situation. Since every member of the class will then have observed the same demonstration, they will be able to explore together the principles of psychology and pedagogy involved, with great economy of time and considerable sharpening of focus.

Read Sr. Coogan’s entire paper “The Well-Prepared Student Teacher.”