Everyone loves a teacher, and yet all too often teaching is undermined, labeled as a profession that requires only a dab of common sense and an ounce of patience. Many consider teaching a profession they can fall back on if they end up miserable after years of working in a more lucrative field. Not only do these perceptions of teaching fail to honor the work and devotion educators dedicate to their craft, but they undervalue the system of teacher education. Let us not forget that just as law and medicine require practice and thorough training, teaching requires the same degree of application and specialization.
Last spring, I had the opportunity to take EDIS 5023, a Mentor Teacher Training Course offered through the Curry School. It was through this experience that I began to consider the implications of a larger, more complex issue regarding new teachers: How does viewing education as a profession that requires thorough training and practice affect teacher retention, and in turn, how can teacher training programs be improved to ensure that mentees are provided with sufficient practice and feedback?
At the heart of it, teaching necessitates an ability to understand perspectives outside of oneself and enter into differing “ways of being.” Knowing how to answer a math equation, for example, is not the same as being able to understand why a student solved the same equation incorrectly. Nor is teaching only about knowing content; it is about finding ways to make the content relevant, understandable, and accessible to a diverse group of learners.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, teaching goes against the virtue of being oneself. As teachers, we are forced to suspend aspects of ourselves to avoid acting in self-interest. As highly educated professionals who are expected to be perceptive, knowledgeable, adaptive and selfless, this job is clearly not one that just anyone can do.
It is no surprise, then, that many teachers switch careers within the first five years. But would retention rates improve if education was more honored, revered, understood in society? How then would teacher preparation change? How would education programs adopt opportunities to implement better training? Perhaps it is only when classroom teaching is viewed as specialized work that the resources to prepare teachers with relevant opportunities for practice will exist.
As we continue to provide novice teachers with the tools to be successful, let us not forget that they are valued, respected, and important. The future of teacher education begins with us.
In this blog series, we share contributions by outstanding classroom teachers who completed the Curry School’s Mentor Teacher Training Program, funded by a grant through the Virginia Department of Education. The Curry School partners with local school divisions to deliver a graduate course at no cost to their highly recommended teachers. The course focuses on ambitious, evidence-based coaching and mentoring practices that facilitate high-quality teaching practice. While enrolled in the course, these mentors refine their practices while developing the skills of future teachers’ in their classrooms. In this post, mentor Gwendolyn Page shares her perspectives about the course and about the ways in which reframing teacher preparation strengthens our profession and improves the ways in which we serve preK-12 students.