Is Teacher Education Too Theoretical?

One of the first things beginning teachers recognize is how underprepared their education preparation programs actually made them. Educators for Excellence did an incredible nationwide study capturing the views and opinions of educators from across America from new teachers to veterans, public schools to charter, and from every grade, subject, race, religion, and numerous other demographic breakdowns. Their methodology can be found here

Teachers responded with 34% or less in regards to their programs preparing them very well in the following categories:

  • Provide rigorous academic instruction
  • Differentiate your instruction to reach students at different levels in your classroom
  • Integrate technology in the classroom
  • Support the social and emotional wellbeing of students
  • Provide culturally responsive instruction
  • Effectively teach unique learners (e.g., special needs, English learners)
  • Use data to inform instruction
  • Successfully manage student behavior in the classroom
  • Understand key policy issues impacting teaching and learning
  • Engage parents/guardians in students’ learning

When looking at this list, most teachers will point out that this makes up the bulk of their real classroom responsibilities which begs the question of what is being taught in these education preparation programs? How are the day-to-day realities of teaching somehow slipping through the cracks? 

How Teachers Feel

It seems almost counterintuitive but somehow that is the reality felt by a growing majority of teachers. TNTP Teaching Fellows conducted a study that showed only 57% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that the teacher preparation they received prior to obtaining their first full-time teaching job improved the quality of their instruction or helped them be a better teacher which placed that activity at the very bottom of 11 other activities mentioned. 

Out of Touch with Reality

This trend leads to the conclusion that teacher education is becoming too theoretical and not based enough on the realities of teaching in the classroom itself. The cause of this isn’t exactly clear though. 

It could stem from the instructors of the education classes being so far removed from the actual K-12 teaching environment for however many years and slowly moving their curriculum away from those realities and more into theories, philosophies, and research. This isn’t to say that the various theories, philosophies, pedagogies, etc. are not important to teach future educators, because they are, but as they come to dominate the preparation for them it becomes a serious issue. 

A Systemic Problem

The fault might not lie entirely on the instructors but on the underlying approach of a given university’s College of Education that, in many cases, does not get teachers out into the field until their teacher assisting/student teaching semesters which are typically later in a student’s academic career. 

A paper was done by the Journal of Philosophy and History of Education [Volume 5] that underlines the history of this problem and makes the point that teacher preparation programs “must create reflective, field-based opportunities that assist preservice teachers in making connections between educational philosophies and classroom practices.”

Without direct first-hand experience in the educational preparation programs, teachers will continue to feel out of touch with the realities of the classroom when they realize all their theories and philosophies that they thought would form the basis of their educational approach are chipped away by what it means to actually be in the classroom.

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