TEACHERS FOR OUR
By John I. Goodlad
Jossey-Bass. 427 pp. $21.95
THE 1980s witnessed a parade of scholarly reports on public education. John Goodlad, author of one such report (the 1984 A Place Called School) now turns his attention to the manner in which the U.S. prepares people to teach in public schools. What he reports in Teachers for Our Nation's Schools is, painfully, what those of us who have been through teacher education have been saying for, lo, these many years: Teacher education courses are "Mickey Mouse," programs are second rate and most real learning about how to teach kids occurs on the job.
If you didn't believe us, just read this book. If you did believe us, but felt sheepish about drawing on mere anecdotes from your teacher friends to argue the point, you now have the full force of a nationwide study supported by Danforth, Ford, MacArthur et al., researched by whole teams of scholars, loaded with data and authored by the former dean of education at UCLA.
But Goodlad does plenty more than just fill in the spaces between the anecdotes. He elaborates with clear insight the history that has brought teacher education to its present deplorable state and, because of the breadth of the study, speaks with more authority on the subject than anyone else. So, as I tell my ninth graders when I really want their attention, you, listen up.
According to Goodlad, teacher education in the United States is today where medical education was in 1910. That was the year Abraham Flexner reported (in a study analogous to the present work) that medical education needed to end the practice of merely apprenticing generally educated students to practitioners and, instead, tie medical education more closely to universities and on-going medical research. Teacher education, claims Goodlad, finds itself at the same crossroads today.
So why has teacher education remained stuck at a kind of medieval stage of development (applying leeches, bleeding out bad humors etc.) while medicine, law and other professional programs have kept abreast of the modern world. Because, says Goodlad, departments of education have lost sight of their primary mission -- to educate future teachers -- and have been sucked into the reward system of higher education, which values research over good teaching.
While this is a lamentable fact in arts and sciences, it is catastrophic in teacher education where good teaching is not just a means but the end. Here the medium truly is the message; and, as Goodlad reports, the message that education students get from their professors is "Do as I say not as I do." While expounding innovative instructional strategies, they rely in their own practice almost exclusively on lecturing. It's not just bo-ring (what my students charge when I lecture too much), it's hypocritical.
Other institutional forces have also worked against good teacher education programs. Drawing on case studies from the 29 sites (universities and colleges) on which this research is based, Goodlad reports that numerous institutions, many of them former normal schools, experienced growth during the 1950s and '60s as they strove to become universities and then universities of note and along the way naturally tried to downplay their origins as teachers' colleges. The presence of a teacher education program on campus came to be seen as a kind of liability. Consequently, less money was made available for teacher education, piling fiscal woe onto already severely diminished self-esteem within the department.
Can this kind of problem be fixed? Goodlad's answer seems to be both "Maybe" and "It must be." Boards of trustees need first to get their priorities straight, placing teacher education front and center in the institution's statement of mission. Second, within the department of education itself, teacher training must become top priority with a fully dedicated budget and faculty group. This will probably mean rethinking the value system within the program to reward good teaching above research. Education professors must be exemplars of teaching practice -- very much a full time commitment.
Teachers for Our Nation's Schools should be read by all persons of influence in higher education, especially trustees, presidents and education faculty. If we're lucky, this study will do for teacher education what Flexner's did for medical education. If it does not, we're in very serious trouble.
James Nehring teaches at Bethlehem High School in Delmar, N.Y., and is the author of "Why Do We Gotta Do This Stuff, Mr. Nehring? Notes from a Teacher's Day in School."