I came into teaching ten years ago via “alternative licensure” through a program sponsored by the state and a major local university. As part of the program, I received only tiny bits of compressed instruction in educational psychology and pedagogical theory. I was never a student teacher, working under the supervision of a veteran educator. In fact, I had never set foot in a classroom as a teacher until I interviewed for my current (and first) education job.
Ironically, I began my career with a higher salary than most of my cohort of novice teachers because of a happy coincidence: I had earned a Masters Degree in Botany prior to embarking on this new career. My nearly complete lack of preparation notwithstanding, I earned a reward for an achievement that had very little to do with my effectiveness as a classroom teacher.
I learned over those first few months, and the decade since, that there is one truly effective way to train an educator: experience. I was lucky enough to have a supportive team that taught me more than any course could have. I developed a sense for what is normal when it comes to adolescents and what to do when things go wrong. What I learned about my students helped me to be a better teacher.
As a result of my “upbringing”, I am a big proponent of on-the-job training for teachers. I have seen first year teachers struggle, not so much with their content as with their classroom management and assessment skills. And, I have learned much from veteran teachers who know the ropes. While advanced degrees, particularly in education, can be helpful, they are no replacement for good, old-fashioned, classroom experience. Despite Matthew DiCarlo’s recent lukewarm assessment, those of us in the classroom see the benefits of experience every day.
That’s why it’s so disconcerting to see major school systems, like New York City, hiring superintendents who have absolutely no public school experience (not even as students or parents). It’s worse than school leaders who left the classroom before mastering teaching, because these corporate-minded leaders lack fundamental understanding of our vocation. Along with the effect that current economic conditions are having on class sizes, the direction of our school reform efforts appear to be in jeopardy.
How do we help those with the power to effect change that this is not the way to do it?