Teachers and Teaching, excerpts

by Edward J. Meade, Jr., 1930-1994

In a lecture in 1985 to the Education Writers Association, Edward J. Meade, Jr., offered a look back over the previous three decades of teaching in America and a view ahead over the next decade. As that decade now draws to a close, Meade's comments on teacher preparation and on school university partnerships remain as important as when he made them. He said in part:

"Two basic assumptions undergird my remarks. One is very simple: Teachers have been and will continue to be central to education in schools. I think the recent spate of reports about schools, however many you wish to count, and regardless of their specific recommendations, acknowledge the centrality of the teacher as the key to improvements we're going to make in schools. The second is related; namely, that changes in curriculum, more knowledge about learning, and the increased use of technology for teaching and learning also will underscore again the importance of the teacher.

"Recently, I was asked by the National Commission on Excellence in Teacher Education to examine many of the reports about schools and see what they said about teacher education. . . . There was very little in them about teacher education in any direct sense. So, I examined what they said about teachers, what they assumed teachers to be like, to learn whether in some collective sense I could find that information and relate it to teacher education. . . .

"In summary, my analysis of the reports revealed eight factors related to teachers: (1) a teacher is, first, a well-educated person; (2) he or she ought to be an intellectually curious person; (3) he or she should have mastered the knowledge about the subject or subjects he or she is expected to teach; (4) a teacher ought to be knowledgeable about the American society: its history, its political, economic and social systems, and about the place and role of education in it; (5) a teacher should know about children­how they develop, how they learn, and the contexts in which they live; (6) a teacher should 'coach' or 'manage' learning and be a decision-maker in the pedagogical sense; (7) a teacher should be a continuous learner; and, finally, (8) a teacher should be able to have a career in teaching, one that is varied and rewarding.

"Currently, there is much ferment about the preparation of new teachers for the schools. . . . Clearly, we will need teachers who know what is needed to be known and learned, who will know students and how to help them learn, and, therefore, who will be able to teach effectively.

"At the very least, the colleges and universities that prepare teachers will need to view the preparation of teachers as a priority and use all their best intellectual and professional resources to do so, and not rely only on those in their education departments. Also, schools and school systems will need to be more actively engaged with higher education in the preparation of new teachers. No longer should schools take their share of responsibility in this regard in a casual fashion. If clinical training is essential to preparing teachers, a I believe it is, then the schools need to be more formally arranged and prepared to be a partner (perhaps the dominant partner) in this aspect of teacher preparation. We will need arrangements in the schools that foster clinical training, and we will need teachers in the schools who have the capacity and the time, and the support, to work with those being trained to teach.

"Further, once a person is inducted into teaching . . . the responsibility of college or university is not finished as is currently the case in most instances. Higher education, as much as the schools, has a responsibility to nurture those beginners so that they will continue to grow academically and intellectually as well as pedagogically. After all, school teachers and college professors are, in many ways, engaged in the same business. They are peers, and the collaboration of both­during teacher preparation and after it­ought to strengthen both schools and colleges.

"Where does this all lead to for teacher preparation? Does it lead again to the M.A.T.? Perhaps. Does it lead to teacher preparation taking longer? I think so. I don't see how we can meet the demands for academic, intellectual and professional competency along with those for solid clinical training in just four years. After all, we now assume that four years of education in the liberal arts is the minimum for someone to be 'well-educated.' Teachers for America's future need to be that and more, much more. They need to be the best we can find­as well-educated as any first-rate college graduate who has a sensible 'mix' of knowledge of content­the real and fundamental stuff of the fields in which they will teach­along with that knowledge which undergirds a teacher's craft, and with clinical training on a par with the best now offered by other humanserving professions.

"Still, all of this kind of preparation will be of little consequence unless the schools in which these new teachers teach are, themselves, places that are stimulating and arranged for learning­ not only for students, but also for teachers. Clearly, one aspect of that is more intellectual or academic autonomy for teachers. The fact that many teachers are not allowed to participate in the selection of instructional materials for the students they are expected to teach is wrong, plain wrong. The fact that many teachers are restrained in how they teach by having to conform to prescribed­no, mandated­styles of teaching wrought by excessively rigid curricula is wrong, just wrong. The fact that accountability by teachers has become more important than trust in teachers is wrong, just wrong. We need teachers in schools where there are opportunities to grow, to have a career, and to be rewarded accordingly as teachers who continue to teach, rather than having them seek growth and reward by leaving teaching.

"For this society to find such a talent for teaching, to educate and train it for teaching, and to allow it to properly serve the children and adolescents in our schools is no small task. It will require a new vision, a new understanding, and a new commitment by all of us."

Back to Table of Contents of the Summer 1994 Issue of On Common Ground

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