Point of View

Fallacies, realities about teachers and education schools

November 6, 2013 

Every day when we come to work, we have the privilege of interacting with amazing young people. Many of them were among the top students in their high schools with average SAT scores above 1100 and an average weighted GPA of 4.4.

Further, they have college GPAs above 3.0, and many graduate magna cum laude. These young individuals perform a large amount of service work in the community and engage in international activities to learn more about the world around them. Most North Carolinians would like to work with such outstanding people and learn about the amazing things they are doing.

If we say we work at N.C. State, many people would wonder in what technical field we teach. But, actually, we work in the College of Education. And the wonderful people we are talking about all intend to be teachers. In fact, they are all future teachers, and the vast majority will serve schools in North Carolina.

Let us say this again: These amazing, smart and hard-working students all want to be teachers. N.C. State is a selective university, and these high-achieving students, who could choose from a variety of majors, choose to become teachers.

The current public discourse often paints teachers as ineffective, sub-professionals who likely had no other choice than to teach. These substandard professionals, the current discourse goes, need more and more accountability through testing, performance regulations and report cards to make sure they are performing their craft in an “effective” manner. After all, those who can, do; and those who can’t, teach – or so the current discourse is trying to prove. This image of a less-than-qualified student who goes on to become a low-performing professional does not match the reality we experience every day.

The current attack on public school teachers has expanded to attacking Colleges of Education. Or, as a Bill Keller recently put it in an op-ed in the New York Times: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach teaching.”

Keller called Colleges of Education “an industry of mediocrity” and specified a laundry list of what Colleges of Education, according to him, are failing to do. For example, he claimed that those who teach in Colleges of Education do not know what masterful pedagogy is, do not select bright students into their programs, do not require students to take content courses and do not provide prospective teachers with intensive practice in classrooms. Just like the statements about teachers do not match our experiences, these statements do not match the reality of our work.

All those new, innovative approaches necessary for quality teacher education are happening right here, in our programs, within our College of Education at N.C. State. The notion that only alternative teacher education programs can lead to the preparation of quality teachers is a fallacy and a fallacy we should not buy.

The most interesting part of the argument against teacher education programs in Colleges of Education is that faculty in these programs do not know what is important for preparing teachers. As if those who work in Colleges of Education were unaware of current advances in the field and lived in some odd, distant past that is out of touch with reality.

But here is the interesting part: The practices listed as effective for teacher education are coming out of educational research produced where? Well, in Colleges of Education. The claim that faculty members conducting the research and producing the knowledge that supports the innovations necessary to prepare high-quality teachers are not aware of such innovations is not only appalling, but imprecise.

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t believe in high standards for teachers and schools. We agree that becoming (and remaining) a teacher should be a rigorous process. We do not ask that quality be excused in teaching or in Colleges of Education – rather, we ask that existing quality be recognized as we continuously work to increase it. Spreading the poisonous notion that everything in current educational establishments is mediocre will only hurt our capacity to continue to entice amazing young people into this profession.

Michael Maher is the assistant dean for Professional Education at N.C. State University. Paola Sztajn is the Department Head for Elementary Education.

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