Although there has been some improvement in teacher preparation programs over the last three decades, intensive practice in classrooms under expert supervision — something that is central to the Finnish model — does not necessarily happen for all teacher candidates in the U.S.. Most have a requirement of at least observing in classrooms, but the really hands-on experience comes at the end of the program with Student Teaching and can last 6-16 weeks, depending on the institution. Prior to that first, in-depth experience, most of what teaching candidates learn can be largely theoretical: research, unit building, developmental stages, and so on.
A 2016 article from the Hechinger Report cited an interesting teacher prep program at the Relay Graduate School of Education in which teacher-candidates are taught to connect the dots between the science of education and the practice of teaching. What was interesting is that the article gets at the heart of a major problem in teacher education: there are literally reams of research out there on educational practices but what actually filters into teaching programs may be outdated or just plain wrong, or so abstract that it cannot hope to impact what happens in the classroom.
Here’s how the director of the Relay Program wants to see all teachers prepared for the classroom:
“First you need research that is basic and has been tried and tested in classrooms. You need [graduate] faculty that actually know the basic science and how to implement it. You need materials like a video to reinforce how it would happen in a real….classroom. And lastly, you need structures that let teachers practice and get feedback in a low-stakes setting.”
What she’s talking about is hands-on, real-world instruction, in which everything learned in the classroom is relevant and applicable in the student teacher’s world and the student teacher has ample opportunity to practice new skills prior to the high stakes environment of a real classroom full of real children who don’t necessarily get a second chance at 2nd grade or 6th grade or whatever. The article doesn’t state this, but it’s not hard to make this leap: teachers who are taught in this way are more likely to go on to teach in this way, and that is a tremendous benefit for students.
At CMSi, we are very big on hands-on, real-world instruction for students — research demonstrates over and over the improvement in retention when children learn in ways that are engaging, relevant and applicable to them in their everyday lives. But many, if not most, teachers come from programs that follow the sit-‘n-git model of information acquisition. All the modeling they see involves the teacher as lecturer, dispensing knowledge while students passively absorb it.