I retired recently after having worked at preparing teachers for forty-three years. I ultimately concluded that I had chosen the wrong line of work. Why? Because my colleagues and I were trying to do teacher education right when no one of influence really gave a damn.
I spent my career at a Catholic college run by a religious teaching order. I reasoned that a school run by such an order would take pride in its teacher education program. But I failed to adequately consider that this was a liberal arts college.
In that environment the education department was Thursday's child. First-class teacher education was a second-class concern. The administration’s focus was not on the skill of our graduates but how much tuition we generated. Even when we developed trend-setting programs, no one in power could be persuaded to come and take a look. Unlike the win-loss record of our varsity basketball team, no one important really gave a damn.
Decade after decade the resources we worked with remained embarrassingly meager. The vast bulk of the ample revenue we generated disappeared into the General Fund. Very little was reinvested in properly equipping our program.
When I retired I still was teaching in a classroom that was embarrassingly similar to the first grade classroom of my childhood — vintage1946. The only difference was that the desks were not bolted to the floor and lacked inkwells. The room did not even have a bulletin board much less modern electronics.
I really shouldn’t blame college management for their unconcern. In America, indifference to the quality of teacher preparation bubbles all the way to the top. Consider that President Obama and his political hack Secretary of Education reclassified teacher interns as "highly qualified teachers." Why would they do a crazy thing like that?
So that states like California could hire thousands of rank amateurs to staff classrooms in their educational Calcuttas but still “meet” the No Child Left Behind requirement that all teachers be "highly qualified." This may have been the first time in history that rank beginners were officially declared "highly qualified." It was Orwell’s 1984 all over again! War was Peace! Love was Hate! Ignorance was Strength! Novices were Highly Qualified."
If I could start my life’s work over I would choose a career the American people really care about. On-line porn might be good, or devising ways to make napalm stick more tenaciously. The nation seems eager to invest in these sorts of things. But absolutely no one of influence gives a damn if teacher preparation is done well or not. So best leave that task to those who enjoy futility.
For more on this topic, see Cannonfodder: Preparing Teachers for Public Schools )