For some teachers, the beginning of the year represents another in a long string of years in education; but for others, it is the first few weeks of what might be a long career. By this point in October, for many of these new teachers, their entry into education is not going as they expected it would.
Too many new teachers experience something like this: hired for their first teaching job, they go to work trying to make do with what – to the best of their knowledge – is best practice, but it ends in disaster. They are the unwitting victims of teacher training schools and programs across the country.
Teacher preparation is the faulty foundation upon which poor classroom practice is built. Attending these programs is, for many students, akin to a sort of indoctrination. One major problem lies in the fact that students are not given more than one alternative with which to shape a teaching philosophy. They are merely inundated with a progressive approach reaching backwards to education figures like William Kilpatrick, Paulo Freire, and Jean-Jaqcues Rousseau instead of receiving a grounding in cognitive science, content expertise, or developmental psychology.
Unfortunately, many of the ideas of these figures have, through the prism of teacher education, led to permissiveness in the classroom and a “student-centered” teaching style which places young people in charge of their own education.
In order to become a teacher, I had to complete just two semester-long courses in content methods, and a general teaching course. In addition to these courses, I completed a semester of student teaching, evaluated by a university professor. Thousands of graduates across the country each year receive similar training, and this isn’t even to mention the radical ideology college students are confronted with on American campuses.
A succinct summary of the theory behind a lot of classroom practice can be found in the guiding text for one of my methods courses: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. On pg. 17 of the book, in figure 2.1, the authors, Jacqueline Grennon Brooks and Martin G. Brooks, compare traditional classroom environments with so-called “constructivist” ones. Here are a few of the comparisons:
- While a traditional classroom values “strict adherence to fixed curriculum,” a constructivist classroom is more interested in the “pursuit of student questions.”
- In a traditional classroom, “teachers generally behave in a didactic manner, disseminating information to students,” whereas a constructivist teacher “generally behave[s] in an interactive manner, mediating the environment for students.”
- Traditional teachers “seek the correct answer to validate student learning.” Constructivist teachers “seek the students’ points of view in order to understand students’ present conceptions for use in subsequent lessons.”
Notice the shift in expertise and authority from the teacher to the student. If you want an explanation for the phenomenon of adults everywhere in our culture capitulating to the expressed desires of teenagers, in everything from a refusal to participate in class in prosocial ways to a demand their new “gender identity” be respected, look no further than this shift.
New teachers, the best advice you may receive is this: you are the adult in the room, so act like it. Ultimately, you have the authority to set behavioral standards in a classroom. You are the one with expertise in your subject matter (if you’re not, you should be). You are ultimately going to be held responsible for what goes on within the walls of your classroom, so you better start owning it, sooner rather than later. You need to proactively create the classroom environment that you’d like to work in for your career; if you don’t, you’re not likely to experience the promised joys of teaching which likely attracted you to the role in the first place.