Across the United States, and indeed throughout the world, there’s passionate debate about how to best prepare teachers and ensure all students are taught by highly-qualified educators.
In “The Struggle for the Soul of Teacher Education,” Ken Zeichner, Boeing professor of teacher education at the University of Washington College of Education, delves into the current controversies and conversations over teacher education and offers his vision for a new, more socially-just model of preparing teachers.
While traditional, university-based teacher preparation programs have been the dominant model in the U.S. for the past 50 years, in recent years a number of alternative, often fast-track, teacher education programs have sprung up. Too frequently, Zeichner argues, neither of these models live up to their stated commitments to social justice.
The key to changing this, Zeichner writes in his new book, is moving toward a new form of community-based teacher education where universities and other program providers, local communities, school districts and teacher unions share responsibility for the preparation of teachers.
“The Struggle for the Soul of Teacher Education” offers specific examples of this new model of teacher preparation in action and challenges teacher educators to consider how the field can better prepare culturally and community responsive teachers. Contributing to the new book are several UW College of Education alumni and students: Cesar Sandoval-Pena (PhD ‘15), Kate Brayko (PhD ‘12), Marisa Bier (PhD ‘09), Michael Bowman (PhD ‘15), Lorena Guillen (PhD ‘16), Kate Napolitan (PhD ‘16) and Jesslyn Hollar (PhD student in organizational and policy studies).
Zeichner recently answered questions about his latest book, including why a community-centered approach to teacher education is essential to a more just educational system, what preparation programs can do to move toward this new model of teacher education, and how to overcome barriers to enacting community-centered teacher preparation.
What’s at stake in this struggle for the soul of teacher education?
The struggle for the soul of teacher education is part of the larger struggle for teaching as a profession and for the survival of public education in the U.S. The question is whether we as a society are committed to supporting strong public schools that provide all students access to fully prepared, capable and experienced teachers. Currently we are moving further toward two different teacher education and education systems—one for communities highly impacted by poverty and another for wealthier communities in which the least prepared and least experienced teachers teach almost exclusively for a short time in public or charter schools within communities highly impacted by poverty.
Why do you see a community-centered approach to teacher education as so necessary?
Research has consistently shown that strong positive and reciprocal connections between teachers and their students’ families and communities are necessary for successful schools that provide a high quality education to all students. It is important for teacher education programs to partner in authentic ways with the local communities in and for which they prepare teachers. These partnerships, if they genuinely incorporate community perspectives and expertise into their teacher education programs, will lead to the preparation of “community teachers” who will work with and for the communities in which they teach and who see themselves as a part of broader efforts within particular communities to achieve greater justice and prosperity.
Currently, the lack of genuine engagement of the diverse perspectives of local communities in the preparation of the teachers has led to the perpetuation of a missionary zeal among many new teachers who go into schools to try and save students from their communities rather than build on the assets, funds of knowledge and expertise in these communities. It also has perpetuated the ways in which racism has been damaging to many teachers’ relationships with students and families of color. Teacher education reform and education reform generally cannot lead to meaningful and lasting change without partnering with the communities we are supposed to serve.
How can teacher educators start moving toward this new way of preparing teachers?
Teacher educators can start moving toward more community responsiveness by initiating an ongoing dialogue with local community members (i.e.,community leaders, community-based educators, parents, business leaders) about their perceptions of their public schools and the teachers of their children, and about their hopes and dreams for their children’s education. They also should get to know the schools and communities in which they prepare teachers. Local community members need to be brought into the process of preparing the teachers of their children, and teacher educators need to work hard to make their involvement genuinely collaborative.
What are the big barriers to putting this new vision of teacher education into practice? What needs to happen to overcome those barriers?
The biggest barrier that I have seen is the difficulty involved in bridging the culture and power divides between the professional educators and social entrepreneurs who operate programs and K-12 educators and local community members. Both college and university teacher educators and the social entrepreneurs who have recently opened teacher education programs have designed their own teacher education programs with varying amounts of input from K-12 educators, and without much input at all from local communities. Even when they have involved them though, the hierarchies of knowledge and power have been maintained that place community members, and sometimes K-12 educators, in second class roles where they participate as “guests” in learning experiences for teacher candidates that have been conceptualized and designed by others. The hardest thing to do in this work is to transcend these colonial relationships and achieve genuinely collaborative partnerships that are characterized by mutual trust and benefit.
This is an instance where the lack of resources is not the major barrier to making teacher education programs more responsive to the communities they serve. You do not need a big grant to sit down with diverse groups of local community members and listen and be responsive to their perspectives about the work that we are doing as teacher educators and how we can do a better job of preparing the teachers of their children. You also do not need a big grant to employ school-based teacher educators to help bring community perspectives and expertise into the process of preparing teachers.
I strongly believe that college and university teacher educators have knowledge and expertise that are important to the preparation of good teachers, but that we do not have all of the knowledge that is needed by novice teachers. College and university teacher educators and the social entrepreneurs who have recently entered the work of teacher preparation must find ways to help the teachers they prepare strategically access the knowledge and expertise that K-12 educators and parents and local community members have to offer new teachers.
What can be done to provide this community-centered approach to teacher preparation in a way that is financially feasible at scale?
As I stated above, I do not believe that getting a big grant is necessary to engage local communities in the teacher education process. In fact, a big influx of temporary external money is probably going to make it more difficult in the long run to sustain community engagement in teacher education. Local community members should be included on advisory committees that monitor the ongoing development of programs, participate in co-planning and teaching learning activities for teacher candidates, and in the ongoing improvement of teacher education programs. It would also be helpful to have a permanent staff position of community-based teacher educator as part of the program leadership team who can help coordinate community engagement.
Although community members should be compensated for this work, the resources needed should be able to be obtained by pooling the resources of the teacher education programs, the participating school districts or charter networks, and community-based organizations. Doing this work on a small scale has been the norm. Being able to engage communities in the large programs that prepare hundreds or even thousands of teachers each year is a big challenge that no one has figured out yet. This will require policies that require stable funding from state and federal sources similar to the ones that are provided in some other countries that have performed well on educational equity and in the U.S. for other fields like medical education.
Ken Zeichner, Boeing Professor of Teacher Education
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