Teachers Trained Very Well to Teach Very Poorly

I was stunned how poorly I was trained at University. I completed a Bachelor of Teaching at a major Melbourne university, but experience has shown that my degree was not worth more than a roll of toilet paper.

My training did not prepare me for how to teach and what to do in certain highly pressurised situations. This is because my course was high on theory and propaganda and low on practical teaching opportunities. It was those fleeting teaching round experiences at other schools that I was able to observe other teachers and begin to form my own teaching style.

In a recent article, Christopher Bantick blames poor training on our teacher’s lack of subject knowledge:

For a generation there has been a significant decline in scholarship in the nation’s classrooms. Education degrees do not prepare undergraduates adequately in subject knowledge. The result is that many teachers entering Australian classrooms clutching their bachelor of education scrolls simply do not have enough academic depth to teach with any scholastic authority.

I personally felt like I was drowning in “academic depth”. I wanted more practical experience … far more!

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7 Responses to “Teachers Trained Very Well to Teach Very Poorly”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    I trained for 2 years as a primary/small schools teacher at a state teachers college. While I don’t think it was adequate I think it was better than what is available today that takes 4 years. When they brought in 3 year training, it was merely the same courses, dragged out for an extra year. The only advantage was that there was more practice teaching. However, our 2 year course prepared us for all aspects of our job, including how to prepare a chalk board. Even today, when I have a casual day, I still prepare a chalkboard before starting a class. When state teachers colleges were subsumed into universities everything became more academic. Teachers college lecturers were mainly ex teachers with years of practical experience. Now if university lecturers are any good at training teachers, why do so many of them teach so poorly? Because they are academics and have never been teachers.

  2. mshyland Says:

    I agree. More practical experience is a must. I’m not big on theories, so all of my education theory classes just annoyed me. Where’s the experience? Why are we talking about different ways to get a point across instead of actually doing it? Why are we talking about good classroom management instead of trying it?

  3. Jason Preater Says:

    I am a secondary teacher and did my teacher training at the Institute of Education in London. There was a fair bit of theory, but I think that is important. After all some of the other topics that you have covered, such as bullying and special needs, require a minimum of “theory” which you don’t just pick up through life or work experience. Teacher training was a good way of entering teaching. It was well-supported practice that made it work, like wading in from the shallow end rather than diving in off the high board. It is certainly true that I was pretty incompetent for my first couple of years as a teacher, and had to learn through experience, but that is not the fault of the teacher training course. All of my tutors there were experienced teachers themselves.

    • John Tapscott Says:

      A lot of teachers today have no idea how to prepare a chalkboard. Interactive whiteboards have now made chalkboards obsolete. Or have they.

      I did not mean to appear to be disparaging theory. For the sake of validity, theory has its origins in practice and is tested by practice. In my experience I have encountered a lot of politically inspired theory that does not stand up in practice. I am meeting this kind of theory much more these days, perhaps because it’s more prevalent, or perhaps because I am more able to recognise it.

      State mandated syllabuses increasingly appear to be written by people who have very little idea of what constitutes valid educational theory. If they did we would not be having so much material requiring abstract thinking skills from children who are at an age when their thinking skills are more in the concrete realm.

      I have watched grade 2 teachers attempt to teach concepts, via experiments that are phony, and expecting children to describe properties of materials in abstract terms of which they have no understanding. When the children don’t get it the teacher gives them the answers as if getting the right answers are the point of scientific experimentation. My point is that the syllabus the teachers are following is wrong.

      This sort of syllabus results from being written by people who don’t understand the theories concerning the cognitive development of children. Let’s not waste our time in maths developing number concepts through play and through exploration with concrete material, let’s get straight to algebra by grade 4. Let’s do statistics in grade 1. Honestly, there are so many cockamamie requirements masquerading as rigor in many state mandated syllabuses that one wonders if they were written by teachers at all, let alone well trained and experienced teachers.

      I could go on citing instance after instance but let me make a confession. For the major part of my career I have tended to pay only lip service to the state mandated syllabuses. Why is that? My first question in taking responsibility for a new class is, “What do these children know?” followed by, “What can these children do?” The answers to these questions provide the next question, “What is the next step?” That is when I look at the syllabus. Invariably and increasingly there are a number of steps that must be taken in the learning lives of the students before they are able to learn at a level which is required by the syllabus. Is it because the children are backward? More often it’s because they have been “taught” at a level beyond that of their cognitive development to cope with.

      “Accelerated learning” is a great idea for students that are cognitively advanced. For the bulk of students it’s a recipe for being left behind. Do syllabus writers understand the lasting damage that is created by requiring children to learn material beyond the scope of their cognitive development. The it all comes down to technique. If your children aren’t progressing you are using the wrong techniques.

      I know of no techniques for teaching children to walk before they can crawl. It’s a matter of physical development. To attempt to do so may put the child in danger of becoming crippled. Why do we put so many children at risk of becoming educationally crippled by attempting to teach them concepts too advanced for their current level of cognitive development?

      Don’t tell me this isn’t happening. I am confronted with the spectre of educationally crippled children every time I enter a classroom. As you examine the educational continuum through the grades you are confronted by grade 8 with a large cohort of switched off students for whom education has become a drudgery that somehow must be endured. It manifests itself as increasing behaviour problems, increasing truancy.

      When are we going to understand, as a society, that education is not merely a process of sorting and grading?

  4. kedavis99 Says:

    I was fortunate in that I attended a university that placed a high priority on time in the classroom (Southeast Missouri State University). I had spent over 100 hours in the classroom preparing and teaching lessons before I ever student taught. My last semester before student teaching I spent one full day and one half day every week in a third grade classroom as well as three full weeks in that room. in my time teaching I’ve had several “observers” come to my room but nothing like the program I was part of.

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