As a lifelong elementary school teacher who took a five-year break from teaching children to work as a full-time assistant professor of education, I am very familiar with the conversations and concerns around the disconnect between teacher education and K-12 schools—because I’ve lived it. Having seen the gap firsthand, I have many ideas about how to close it. All of these center not only on bringing more practicing teachers into higher education (like I did), but also doing the opposite: bringing more teacher educators into K-12 schools.
The somewhat tired trope of the “Ivory Towers” of academia notwithstanding, Departments of Education tend to be filled with professors who are years, sometimes decades, removed from actual classrooms in real K-12 schools. Most college faculty do make substantial efforts to be present in schools, especially if they have students who are doing teaching practica or student teaching. They are, however, almost exclusively engaged in supervisory or evaluative tasks, and almost never in the actual work of teaching of K-12 students, like planning curriculum and actually teaching lessons.
The result of this paradox is that future teachers are trained by professors who are experts in education but are no longer technically practitioners. The result can be teacher training that is overly theoretical and light on the practical concerns and the day-to-day realities of classroom teaching. Many new teachers are surprised by the complexity of the job, and many report feeling under- or even ill-prepared by their teacher preparation programs.
If I am to be completely honest, I need to acknowledge that as my time out of the classroom grew, I could feel that my college teaching, while solid (I think), became more and more theoretical and less and less grounded in my lived experience as a classroom teacher. I also felt that the credibility that I had with my students diminished in direct inverse proportion to the time that I spent as a professor. In fact, when I decided to return to the classroom (to teach kindergarten, no less!), I spent an anxious summer truly wondering if, after five years, I still had my teaching “chops.”
To avoid this disconnect, and also curb the anxiety I felt when I did eventually return to K-12 schools full-time, I’ve come to believe that every teacher educator should return to teach in a classroom once every five years—not as a visitor or supervisor, but as a full-fledged, honest-to-goodness teacher in their area of expertise or experience.
This arrangement would surely be a win-win. K-12 schools would benefit from having a teacher join their school community who is well-grounded in educational theory and the research literature around teaching (and could very easily be tapped to do in-house professional development). Teacher Educators would benefit from a renewed understanding of the quotidian realities and goings-on of a classroom and school, which they would bring back to the teachers-to-be that they teach. Additionally, a subtle advantage of this plan would be that all teacher education faculty would need to continue to be licensed teachers.
As for the colleges and universities that would need to fill a teaching position in the absence of their faculty member, there is always a ready supply of “visiting faculty” who would gladly accept a year-long faculty appointment, which is a very welcome addition to a C.V. or resume.
Like K-12 teaching, teacher education is a complex and nuanced endeavor, and one that similarly does not change quickly. Bringing teacher educators back into classrooms and back into teaching children would surely be a step in the right direction.
Jake Knaus is currently a second-grade bilingual teacher at Burroughs Community School in Minneapolis and a teacher policy fellow with MinnCAN. His passions in education are literacy and social justice, and he strives to bring those complementary perspectives to his classroom every day. He is adamant about the fact that every student deserves a great teacher, a wonderful school and the opportunity to fulfill their greatest potential.
The MinnCAN blog allows Minnesota students, teachers, administrators, parents and advocates to share their thoughts on key education issues. Blogging fellows' and guest bloggers' views and opinions are solely their own.