In Defense of Teacher Education
In the superintendent debate on Wednesday night between Ellen Weaver and Lisa Ellis, Weaver made a sarcastic comment about how future teachers need more in class experiences, and they do not really gain much from something they learned in a third year pedagogy class. This was part of the larger discussion about alternative certification and allowing those with content experiences to come into the classroom as teachers without going through a teacher education program.
This has been quite the trend throughout the nation, but particularly in states like South Carolina that has seen a large scale teacher shortage. I understand that this may be a necessity at times, especially in high shortage areas. However, it should not become the default way of entry into the teaching field. When it does, students suffer. The reality is that knowing a subject area well does not automatically prepare you to become a good teacher. The skills you need to know about science, math or history are far different than knowing how to work with a group of 30 ninth graders on a Friday afternoon and actually get them engaged with the content.
Unfortunately, the rates of turnover and drop out for teachers in alternative certification programs are higher than those who go through traditional teacher education programs. These alternative route teachers are often very overwhelmed. since they do not have the training they need to actually go into the classroom. What this usually means is that this poor schools in more low income areas get non certified teachers who tend to have much higher turnover rates, and the students suffer because of it.
Perhaps it was not surprising that Ellen Weaver made such a comment since she is not an educator and seems to have a level of disdain not only for teacher education but for public education in general. I hope as a state we realize that education is a profession, and it takes training and practice (which is why we have practicum and student teaching experiences). It is not just a job anyone can do. To treat education as a serious profession, we have to avoid allowing those with very little background in education like Ellen Weaver to be the ones that control it in the state.
Teacher education is being attacked across the nation. Some college students begin to see as a nonviable option because you can go into teaching now with almost any degree. In the end, this dynamic means that our students, particularly those in the poorest schools, are going to suffer with teachers that are going to be less prepared and less likely to stay in schools. This is not to degrade teachers that have gone through alternative certification programs. I have known many great ones that have gone this route. However, as a whole, this is not the path forward for vibrant and healthy South Carolina schools. We need to have well trained educators, and we need to have leaders at the Department of Education who actually understand education and are void of the dismissive and disdainful views of those like Ellen Weaver to teacher education and by extension to public education in general.