Six premises, seven ideas for better teacher training

As always, remember that John’s book The Influence of Teachers is for sale at Amazon.

At the Twitter Town Hall with Education Secretary Arne Duncan (related: the full transcript of that dialogue is online) on August 24, he promised some new initiatives regarding schools of education. In the hope that the suggestion box is still open, I have a suggestion — not for the Secretary but for schools and colleges of education.

Full disclosure: I do write as a graduate of one (Harvard) and a Trustee of another (Teachers College at Columbia University), but nothing I say should be construed as either representing those institutions or having their stamp of approval.

Regarding both undergraduate and graduate schools of education, I begin with six premises so the reader knows where I am coming from.

Premise No. 1: The world of teaching has to change — and is slowly changing. Despite the harsh attacks on the profession by too many shrill voices, others are working to improve pay and working conditions. When these changes take effect, the exodus from the profession will slow down. That will change the economics of training, simply because the system will not need as many new teachers. Right now, too many schools and colleges of education resemble diploma mills that actually benefit from the churn in the profession. That’s a disgrace, and the leading colleges and schools of education must be working for teachers. Teaching and learning cannot be beholden to ‘the three Ts’ — companies that sell technology, tests and textbooks — or anyone else.

Premise No. 2: Schools of education are an endangered species. Somewhere around 1,400 institutions now prepare teachers, and that’s about twice as many as we will need in the future, because the profession is changing — even the best are at risk if they don’t adapt.

Premise No. 3: The old way of paying teachers — based on years of service and graduate credits — is dying, with only the date of death yet to be decided. That means the end of a ‘cash cow’ for the schools and colleges of education that now get a lot of cash from teachers who take a course here and there to get a pay boost. Moreover, no reputable school of education can afford to be seen as hanging on to this way of doing business just because it’s currently profitable. In some districts, contracts are being negotiated that ‘front-load’ the rewards, a practice in countries and regions that are now outperforming the United States.

Premise No. 4: Today most schools of education, especially graduate schools with their subject-specific ‘silos’ and tenure-driven organization, are insufficiently nimble to survive and prosper. They are constructed around tenured professors, a small tenure track, and lots and lots of adjunct (part-time) teachers. Leadership must challenge this structure, but not head on. Instead, schools and colleges of education should create an alternative path in addition to the tenure track and adjunct appointments.

Premise No. 5: Schools and colleges of education don’t do enough to develop brand loyalty among their graduates. Most students enroll in order to have their tickets punched and not much more. They may leave with loyalty to their ‘silo’ or their professors, but they have not been sufficiently changed or challenged by the experience in ways that make them loyal graduates (and contributors, as donation records reveal). That can be changed.

Premise No. 6: The time to change is now. Soon many ‘baby boomer’ teachers will be retiring and need to be replaced. The new generation will be digital natives, of course, but they must also be drawn into the profession because it promises opportunities to make a difference (not to ‘raise achievement’ or some other mechanistic formulation). Higher pay will help, but of greater value to teachers are opportunities to collaborate, to develop curriculum and to grow professionally. Colleges and schools of education need to take the lead in attracting this new breed, but they cannot do this by merely making cosmetic changes.

Enough of premises and preaching. Time for specifics.

There are numerous ways in which our current model of teacher training could be more effective.

I suggest a seven-part strategy.

1. “Agents of change and inspiration:” Visits to the campus by people like Sir Ken Robinson and Tim Brown of IDEO, who will spend a week (at the very least) in close contact with students. For this series to be meaningful, the graduate school must host at least five of these thought leaders every year. Each of these bright lights will be paid handsomely for their week and will be expected to be enthusiastic and responsive. This is the epitome and exemplar of “Nimble.”

2. Taking on tenure: A significant number of five-year contracts for men and women who want to do cutting edge work at the intersection of teaching and policy and don’t care about tenure and the accompanying restrictions of that track (publish or perish, do research and so on). While this won’t end tenure, it will reduce the institution’s dependence on tenure and adjunct faculty, which has budget and pedagogical implications. It will also attract a new breed of teacher.

3. A new course for students: A required one-year course for all students, to be recreated each year by leading faculty (including some of the five-year folks in No. 2 above). One year this course (call it something like “The Heart of the Matter”) might focus on neuroscience and the brain, the next year on schooling’s public purpose, and so on. It will be cutting edge. Every education student must take this, but the small group seminars will be arranged randomly and not by department, so that students with different interests are forced to work together. Part of the curriculum will be lectures by the Agents of Change and Inspiration, above. This is not a dreaded ‘core course’ in the History of Education. Instead, it will be new every year, and it will be up to the President or Dean to select the men and women who will work together to create this course. To be chosen will become a badge of honor among faculty. If this is done well, this course will change the thinking and perspective of students (and create the kind of loyalty that, eventually, will be reflected in annual giving).

4. Engagement: All of the school’s graduates must be invited to share in this new curriculum electronically. They will be able to ‘attend’ the lectures by the likes of Sir Ken and others on line. Because these will be scheduled in advance, everyone will be able to submit questions electronically.

5. Necessary changes: Teacher training must change, because the world of education has changed. Prospective teachers must spend more time in real classrooms, working with capable teachers who themselves are not locked into ‘direct instruction’ but who practice collaborative teaching. Since we tend to do what was done to us, future teachers must be taught in ways other than direct instruction. Eliminate lectures on the importance of not lecturing! The job of the teacher of the future is more complex, but their focus will on formulating questions, helping students separate wheat from chaff. Those who train teachers must themselves change. One step would be for their classes to meet AT the public schools where the education students are doing their practicum. And — to repeat myself — much, much more training of the fledgling teachers must occur in real schools!

6. Evaluation: What school districts do now is inadequate, but it’s not enough to be cursing that darkness. Schools and colleges of education need to be in the forefront of developing complex measures of student learning and teacher effectiveness. Teach for America ‘walks back the cat’ to see how well its teachers do. Why can’t schools of education do this?

7. Payment: Because the old way of paying teachers is dying, graduate schools of education must get out in front on this issue as well. They should be able to say “Because you are attending our graduate school, you will be a BETTER teacher, and therefore will make more money under the new system.”

May the nimble and deserving survive and prosper. To the rest, adios, sayonara, farewell.

Editor’s Note: If you live around the New York City area and would like to see John in conversation with Eva Moskowitz and Dave Levin on September 21, click here for tickets.

23 thoughts on “Six premises, seven ideas for better teacher training

    • I don’t get your point. We need well-trained teachers and most places are not producing them. This is an effort to bring about change. What are you for?


  1. Excellent article. One last suggestion: Innovation. What have Graduate Schools of Ed done to innovate teaching, the classroom, technology, assessment methodology or anything for that matter. What do we give out Ph.D.s for? Every discipline in the graduate world awards advanced degrees to individuals who create a unique piece of work that advances the state of the art in their domain, except Ed. If they have been trying, we certainly haven’t seen the results.

    Perhaps it goes back to the pay issue. I guess no one is getting rich off of innovations in education.


    • In a better world, schools and colleges of education would be working to develop richer measures of learning. They would be fighting against ‘test prep’ and our obsession with test scores. They would be taking the lead. So, by the way, should university presidents. Can you name a SINGLE university president who is speaking out nationally on this–or any other important–issue? That’s another story, and perhaps a more important one.

      Changes in the ways teachers are paid will change ed schools, because they won’t have that cash cow.


      • I agree completely. At New Tech Network we now have 86 public high schools (not charters) nation-wide where teachers teach and students learn in a completely different way. It has taken 12 years of hard work. We will surpass 100 schools in 2012. Every teacher must be retrained and then has access to ongoing coaching resources. We are starting to engage with colleges of Ed but it is heavy lifting. Like everything involved in working for change in education.


    • 150 school districts and their unions met in Colorado earlier this year to address those issues. That was the cap on attendance, and I believe there were many more that wanted to participate. That’s just one indication.


  2. This piece is confused (and confusing).

    It’s almost like you are arguing that ed schools are pretty-much worthless (they are), but we should still have them and make them more important, because they can be made to be something other than worthless. But in the process you’re talking about teacher pay, professor tenure, video classes, and some odd non-core core class that is relevant because “it will change the thinking and perspective of students”.

    Look, the problem that Ken Robinson, Roger Schank and others bring to light isn’t really a matter of having lectures or not, it’s about the fact that we don’t understand what we should be doing in schools. Without putting words in mouths, school should be about enabling access to ideas and disciplines as well as providing motivation and feedback as students practice their interests. It’s about acknowledging that you can’t make anyone learn — people have to want to learn on their own — and they can’t do that when they’re bored out of their minds or memorizing crap for a test that they don’t care about and are going to forget the next week. School shouldn’t be about satisfying needs of corporations or enabling people to get a job UNLESS that is what the students (not their parents, mind you) want.

    If you want ed schools to take part in a shift in the nature of US education, fine. But they’re not going to do that by coming up with ever-more arcane ways to evaluate people or eliminating tenure. Universities tend to be staid places — they aren’t the place to start a revolution unless that revolution is led by the students themselves.


    • Sorry to be confusing (or confused). You sound as if you have read my book, The Influence of Teachers, which makes many of your arguments. As I wrote, I think that schools and colleges of education are endangered species–with good reason–but all of them are not going to go away. We have 3 million teachers (One of every 100 Americans), and they and their replacements need training.
      These are my suggestions for changes. Maybe better suggestions would be ‘copy Finland’ or ‘copy South Korea,’ but I leave that to others.
      Right now we have a vehicle, one that can be made to work (and is, in some places). Therefore there no need to overturn everything, which is to me a form of cursing the darkness. And that’s rarely if ever helpful


      • I agree with incremental change. But I guess that I don’t believe in teacher training. I went through teacher training — it wasn’t helpful. Would some of the things that you suggest be motivational. Yes! Would they be interesting? Yes! But I don’t see them as game changers or necessary.

        Schools (and the public that creates and administers them) need to take responsibility for training their teachers. Period. This isn’t a job where one can really learn in any setting other than the real one. And there isn’t anything, other than a lack of funds, preventing putting every student who wants to teach in a school to work with more experienced teachers as they learn. And really, there isn’t even a lack of funds. Think about it. If kids didn’t have to go to ed school, they wouldn’t have to pay back loans to ed schools. So perhaps they would accept reduced salaries as they learned, which is what they’re doing when the have to put some of their salary toward repaying loans. I think it’s called an apprenticeship — they used to do those, right?

        We get: better training, more teachers working with kids, less administrative BS, less money being paid in interest to banks. I’m trying to see a downside…

        Ed schools could still exist, but they don’t need to be in the teacher training business. They could be research institutions, though I don’t think they have really proven their value in that endeavor either, but we can hope.


  3. Johh — here is an alternative list that I think works better than yours —

    The nineteen postulates first published in 1990 (Teachers for Our Nation’s Schools) and then revised in 1994 (Educational Renewal: Better Teachers, Better Schools) imply about five dozen conditions necessary to robust teacher education programs. They imply also specific responsibilities for both individual institutions and agencies as well as necessary collaborations. A twentieth postulate, which pertains to strengthening and sustaining teachers, was added in September 2000. An “unpacking” or discussion of the implications of Postulate Twenty is available here. Below are the revised postulates published in Educational Renewal, plus the newest one.

    postulate one
    Programs for the education of the nation’s educators must be viewed by institutions offering them as a major responsibility to society and be adequately supported and promoted and vigorously advanced by the institution’s top leadership.

    postulate two
    Programs for the education of educators must enjoy parity with other professional education programs, full legitimacy and institutional commitment, and rewards for faculty geared to the nature of the field.

    postulate three
    Programs for the education of educators must be autonomous and secure in their borders, with clear organizational identity, constancy of budget and personnel, and decision-making authority similar to that enjoyed by the major professional schools.

    postulate four
    There must exist a clearly identifiable group of academic and clinical faculty members for whom teacher education is the top priority; the group must be responsible and accountable for selecting diverse groups of students and monitoring their progress, planning and maintaining the full scope and sequence of the curriculum, continuously evaluating and improving programs, and facilitating the entry of graduates into teaching careers.

    postulate five
    The responsible group of academic and clinical faculty members described above must have a comprehensive understanding of the aims of education and the role of schools in our society and be fully committed to selecting and preparing teachers to assume the full range of educational responsibilities required.

    postulate six
    The responsible group of academic and clinical faculty members must seek out and select for a predetermined number of student places in the program those candidates who reveal an initial commitment to the moral, ethical, and enculturating responsibilities to be assumed, and make clear to them that preparing for these responsibilities is central to this program.

    postulate seven
    Programs for the education of educators, whether elementary or secondary, must carry the responsibility to ensure that all candidates progressing through them possess or acquire the literacy and critical-thinking abilities associated with the concept of an educated person.

    postulate eight
    Programs for the education of educators must provide extensive opportunities for future teachers to move beyond being students of organized knowledge to become teachers who inquire into both knowledge and its teaching.

    postulate nine
    Programs for the education of educators must be characterized by a socialization process through which candidates transcend their self-oriented student preoccupations to become more other-oriented in identifying with a culture of teaching.

    postulate ten
    Programs for the education of educators must be characterized in all respects by the conditions for learning that future teachers are to establish in their own schools and classrooms.

    postulate eleven
    Programs for the education of educators must be conducted in such a way that teachers inquire into the nature of teaching and schooling and assume that they will do so as a natural aspect of their careers.

    postulate twelve
    Programs for the education of educators must involve future teachers in the issues and dilemmas that emerge out of the never-ending tension between the rights and interests of individual parents and interest groups and the role of schools in transcending parochialism and advancing community in a democratic society.

    postulate thirteen
    Programs for the education of educators must be infused with understanding of and commitment to the moral obligation of teachers to ensure equitable access to and engagement in the best possible K-12 education for all children and youths.

    postulate fourteen
    Programs for the education of educators must involve future teachers not only in understanding schools as they are but in alternatives, the assumptions underlying alternatives, and how to effect needed changes in school organization, pupil grouping, curriculum, and more.

    postulate fifteen
    Programs for the education of educators must assure for each candidate the availability of a wide array of laboratory settings for simulation, observation, hands-on experiences, and exemplary schools for internships and residencies; they must admit no more students to their programs than can be assured these quality experiences.

    postulate sixteen
    Programs for the education of educators must engage future teachers in the problems and dilemmas arising out of the inevitable conflicts and incongruities between what is perceived to work in practice and the research and theory supporting other options.

    postulate seventeen
    Programs for the education of educators must establish linkages with graduates for purposes of both evaluating and revising these programs and easing the critical early years of transition into teaching.

    postulate eighteen
    Programs for the education of educators require a regulatory context with respect to licensing, certifying, and accrediting that ensures at all times the presence of the necessary conditions embraced by the seventeen preceding postulates.

    postulate nineteen
    Programs for the education of educators must compete in an arena that rewards efforts to continuously improve on the conditions embedded in all of the postulates and tolerates no shortcuts intended to ensure a supply of teachers.

    postulate twenty
    Those institutions and organizations that prepare the nation’s teachers, authorize their right to teach, and employ them must fine-tune their individual and collaborative roles to support and sustain lifelong teaching careers characterized by professional growth, service, and satisfaction.

    Source: Goodlad, John I., Educational Renewal: Better Teachers, Better Schools (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994), pp. 72-93.


  4. John. Your post reflects well the need for us to transcend the current debate over teacher education (is it the way Whatsthematter U does its hodgepodge coursework and student teaching for its grads or the way Teach for America does its narrow training regime for its itinerant recruits so they can raise student test scores?). THANKS. Unfortunately, a number of your readers are stuck in the 20th century arguments over the teaching and teacher education.

    Schools and the teaching profession must (and will look) very differently in the years ahead. And as a result I believe our model for the future of teacher education must include the following fundamental building blocks of “Teaching 2030″ where you can read more about these ideas:

    The Essentials:

    1. Identify and prepare teachers for and from the communities they will serve;
    2. Require a deep understanding of development in children and applying that knowledge to children, their families and communities to classrooms (in and out of cyberspace)
    3. Ensure grounding in subject matter, skill in teaching to diverse learners, and proficiency in determining why students know what they know:
    4. Requires extended clinical training where recruits are assessed on what they can do before they teach independently;
    5. Fosters expertise in curriculum and assessment that prepares students for a global economy and our nation’s evolving democracy;
    6. Prepares teachers as leaders for their teaching colleagues as well as their communities; and
    7. Assembles evidence on the effectiveness of graduates in terms of their influences on the students and families in their care.

    Not all teachers will have this expertise or time to use it. Other professions create a range of generalists and specialists. We should do the same. To do so, here are some strategies, tools, and even policy approaches (more deeply described in a paper I did for NCATE):

    1. Universities and school districts as well as non-profits will share resources in preparing future teachers — and some partner will focus on training some specialists or generalists, but not others;
    2. Undergraduate teacher preparation will continue to be built on a sound liberal arts education — and then a teacher candidate will choose to enter various tracks of professional preparation, each one readying one for different roles and responsibilities;
    3. Teacher education will be cohort based – with new recruits prepared to teach as a team;
    4. All teachers being prepared for high-need schools would be required to serve in an extensive internship in a community-based organization in order to develop knowledge of students and families in the context of how and where they live;
    5. All new recruits for a teaching career also will be expected to serve in an extensive internship in a virtual teacher network, where they also learn specific skills in using multi-user virtual environments to educate students anytime, anywhere as well as how to specifically spread expertise with teaching colleagues;
    6. Pedagogical preparation will be built on a mixed use of live and digitally recorded “lesson studies” where teams of candidates learn to critique teaching and assess student learning using emerging technologies;
    7. Each teacher education candidate will have a unique program of learning with common tasks to accomplish;
    8. Passing performance assessments, not seat time in college courses, will determine when teachers are ready to teach independently – and in what schools and under what conditions;
    9. Teaching responsibilities will be assigned on the basis of what you know and can do as an independently practicing teacher (identified through performance assessments) and one’s proven knowledge and skill as well as performance drives differential compensation;and
    10. All new teachers will work under the supervision of a team of master teachers, who after looking at evidence, determines who does what when and under certain conditions.

    So let’s start looking forward 21st century tools, jettisoning the archaic and dysfunctional debates over 20th century policy approaches of today.


  5. Thanks, Barnett, for this thoughtful post. I should have emphasized your #2, the importance of child development. Jim Comer has been a national leader on this point, and we would be well served to pay attention to what his successes have shown: teachers must know more than the basics of child development. I wrote about this in my previous post.


    • It is important for teachers to understand child development. But really the knowledge of child development may be more important to those who design and lead schools than to the teachers themselves. When you stick a teacher in a room with a bunch of textbooks (or computers, or whatever…), a set curriculum and standards to be covered, you have already taken away most of the power of teachers to use what they know about child development to help kids as they grow and learn.


      • Amen
        We seem to have a trust-free (or trust-deficient anyway) system. I miss Ronald Reagan’s “Trust but verify” approach. That’s what we need in education..


  6. I am a tenured faculty member and an educational evaluator whose work links evaluation results to policy in my home state. I am thrilled to see this comprehensive list. if anything, i would put evaluation higher on the list. By this I do NOT mean NCATE-style “evaluations.” Enough said!


  7. It’s upsetting to see so much awe and import given to the mystique of teaching and so little to the mechanics, and it’s the mechanics which are changing everything. As your recent posts show, collegiality is critical, and yet so many of these comments stress the regulatory and hierarchical nature of teacher ed one might think they’d be called Cardinal instead of Dean. My favorite story about the failure of that kind of colleague is actually pretty old. Columbia’s commencement – like most big universities – is a process of deans introducing those eligible for degrees and the President recognizing them. One year, when Larry Cremin, before he was President of TC, sat with the history department of which he was a member, the Dean of the School of Library Sciences introduced the first Ph.D. in Library Science. One of the historians, now thankfully lost to history, nudged Cremin and said, “Hey, they finally got one worse than yours.”

    Do not sanctify the hierarchy of education or it will kill itself in onerous ritual increasingly undermined by a 9 year old with a smart phone. The task of teaching is to inspire that 9 year old (or any age), and that does not require the superstructure these notes suggest. It does, however, require the mutual respect of all participants. Any teacher education program that achieves THAT would be truly innovative.


  8. As one of the teachers who co-authored Teaching 2030 with Barnett, I heartily AMEN his comments above.
    John, do you really think having inspirational speakers come to grad schools will make that much of a difference? If anything, teacher candidates and teacher educators need to get out more–into the real world of public schools (urban AND rural).


  9. Inspirational speakers do work, quite well. Yet beware the inspiration. TED Speaks need not be copied live, but, rather, find others. In the first grad course I taught – “Foundations of Education” – I asked the faculty what they meant. With lots of disparate answers, I chose a few nice books – like Postman & Weingartner’s (then new) Teaching as a Subversive Activity – and asked my grad students (numbering 70, in a large, windowless auditorium, what they thought the course SHOULD cover. Like my peers, they answered everything. So, it became a laboratory, and every day was different, distinct, and unique, with only a common point of reflection at the end.

    My best “guest speaker” was 12 years old, the child of teachers, who, with increasing confidence, taught the grads what he thought teachers should be like. Smart but not outrageously precocious, he taught them to listen to him, to observe, and to ask good questions. Pretty salient, and, out of the mouths of babes, it taught more than Mark Hopkins ever could.


    • I want inspirational people, not inspirational speakers, and I want an intense core course that would open minds. this, and a ton of work in real schools with teachers who understand that schools cannot be ‘answer factories’ but must help students formulate questions and separate wheat from chaff in the 24/7 flood of information (and misinformation) that envelops them.
      Maybe that’s a dream, but what’s the alternative?


      • John, speaking of possible alternatives: What is your assessment of the plan for redesigning teacher education as more clinically [real school based] put forward by the NCATE Blue Ribbon panel about a year ago? Disclosure: I was on the Panel. I thought the recommendations were highly promising, but I don’t know that they’re getting much traction in the political and policy world. Also, curious to know your reactions to the teacher ed changes taking place in Tenn. which seem to line up with your vision.


  10. I’m a bit surprised at some of the negativity in these comments. John, I think these are all fine suggestions. I would look more in the other direction: there can be no real reform of teacher education until schools do a better job of hiring (or NOT hiring) teachers – and demanding more than minimum certification. I have been stunned to learn how often teachers are hired without having seen them teach either a demo class or virtually; that is absurd and has to change. I also don’t understand why more districts in a region don’t band together and establish demanding credentials for all would-be hires. My point is a simple one of incentives and disincentives: as long as schools don’t use their key piece of leverage the schools of ed. have no real incentive to do the kind of shake-up you discuss. There isn’t much incentive for the schools to act on your or other recommendations (I agree with Renee: the NCATE findings were fine) until and unless the hiring demands change.


    • I wish I could remember who it was who described the entire process as one in which everyone holds their nose/close their eyes before proceeding: Ed Schools hold nose and close eyes while accepting applicants; school districts hold/close when hiring; accrediting agencies hold/close when reviewing Ed Schools, and so on.
      That may be harsh but it’s uncomfortably close to the truth.


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