Early this year, while most teachers were still enjoying a well earned break, the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards released a damning report about teacher training.
In short, the report found that many university courses:
- Fail to adequately prepare future teachers with the practical skills they need to teach well.
- Mislead future teachers by promoting unproven theories, while ignoring the research on what works best in schools.
Given the huge impact that teachers have on students’ success (or otherwise), the magnitude of insight cannot be overstated.
Finding 1: Too Much Theory & Not Enough Practice
The report found that teachers in training are overburdened with theory and starved of the practical skills they need to teach well.
These practical skills include essential expertise, such as how to teach a child to read, how assess students’ progress, and how to get your class behaving well.
Some universities are continuing to defend the theoretical nature of their courses. This is despite:
- Teaching unions supporting the call for more practical teacher training
- Research revealing that practical training is the only factor that has a large impact on students’ subsequent results (i.e. the students taught by these future teachers)
- The high rate of teachers quitting the profession in their first few years of teaching
Yet it is clear that the nature of teacher training must change so that new teachers are equipped with the practical skills that they need.
Finding 2: Peddling Snake Oil While Ignoring The Evidence
A great deal of the teaching that occurs in schools is driven by personal philosophies and blind adherence to unproven theories about learning – and this has been caused by universities indoctrinating teachers-in-training. (See 6 Misleading Myths In Education)
The reality is that some approaches to teaching have far more impact than others – and teachers-in-training should be taught this.
Many teachers are surprised when they are told that a lot of traditional approaches to teaching, such as direct instruction, practice and phonics have more impact on students’ results than some of their progressive alternatives such as whole language, inquiry learning and giving students’ control over what they learn.
Doctors don’t have a belief in penicillin, penicillin works. Phonics works, full stop.
President of NSW Board of Studies
Yet, this is not a traditional vs progressive debate. Many progressive approaches, such as nurturing warm relationships with students, teaching students meta-cognitive strategies, and having students work cooperatively, have more impact than some traditional strategies such as ability grouping, repeating students and teaching test taking.
Teacher training needs to educate would be teachers about what works best, regardless of its theoretical underpinnings. If you are interested in finding out more about works best, these short but potent articles are worth reading: Principles of Effective Teaching In Plain English and Top 10 Evidence Based Teaching Strategies.
What Is Needed To Improve Teacher Training
Not too long ago, I was talking with a friend (who went through my initial teacher training with me) about whether these types of reviews into teacher training make any difference. After all, this review is simply the last in an extensive list.
The answer depends on what action gets taken. With both politicians and unions on board, action is possible. Yet, any move to act will be hindered by opposition from universities and the complex relationship that exists between universities, state governments and the federal government.
It would be a shame if the momentum was lost. We can but hope, wait and see.