I am not the only one who is critical of Teacher Education in the U.S. The U.S. Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, has sounded the alarm (as posted on Fri, Oct. 30, 2009 in The Philadelphia Inquirer): more must be done to prepare future teachers, especially those sent to failing urban school systems...Future teachers must be as adept at managing a classroom as they are at preparing a lesson plan....Duncan citing (2006 report by former Columbia Teachers College President Arthur Levine) that 61 percent of educators believe they were inadequately prepared for the classroom....that most of the nation's 1,450 teachers colleges are doing a mediocre job, at best, of preparing future teachers.
But, specifically, what is wrong with teacher education in the United States?
The short answer? The curriculum that prospective teachers are put through. Teachers need less training in: Piaget, Erikson, Maslow, or the history/philosophy of education, nor even better methods courses for teaching, e.g., the Pythagorean Theorem.
They need more help with classroom management and classroom disruptive behavior.
In 2007–08, 34 percent of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that student misbehavior interfered with their teaching. Student verbal abuse of teachers was up to 12% and non-verbal disrespect as high as 18%. (National Center for Educational Statistics, Indicators of School Crime and Safety, US Department of Education, 2010)
Classroom disruptions lead to nearly two million suspensions a year! (Daniel Macallair, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, 2005)
More than 1 in 3 teachers say that they have seriously considered leaving the profession - or know a colleague who has left - because student discipline and behavior became so intolerable. And 85% believe that new teachers are particularly unprepared for dealing with behavior problems. (Teaching Interrupted, Public Agenda, May 2004)
These classroom disruptions do not just hurt our schools. They also
fuel truancy, youth crimes, gang recruitment, family dysfunction, drug
abuse, teen pregnancy and suicide.
What is wrong with teacher education for so many years
that it has not helped teachers with what they really need?
- Most teacher education curricula
taught in our nation's colleges are loaded with too much abstract theory
and too little realistic practical help. Courses in the history and
philosophy of education, learning theory, and child development do help
reframe teachers' perceptions of students' learning, but they do little
to help teachers with their priority need: what to actually do in
the classroom on the spot. There is a training gap between giving
teachers informed perceptions, and actually helping them with what specifically
to do for over 6 hours a day, 180 days a year. Even the usefulness of
subject methods courses only help get across the subject matter, IF
the teacher can control his class. Teachers want effective classroom
management to be a priority in their education. It is not.
- This is because teachers have little to no say regarding the courses
they must take. Instead, professors of education have most of this power.
And, most education professors tend to select theoretical courses they
are comfortable teaching, rather than teach to the priority of what
their students need. In many institutions, if the course offerings were
more about what teachers really needed, many of these too theoretical
professors would be out of a job. Many cannot teach the priority of
what these teachers need. Professors vote for curricula that more secures
their jobs, than that which would really help the jobs of those they
are supposed to help. Some education professors, assigned to train K-12
teachers, would, themselves, fall apart in front of a real K-12 classroom.
- Teachers are handcuffed to this professorial-chosen curriculum in
order to get college credit, to get salary increments. They dare not
buck the system or ask too many reality questions in their education
classes that are "off the ivory tower curriculum" for fear
of getting a low grade, no credit, and, thus, no salary raise.
- Why don't we have more education professors who can teach the priorities
of classroom management? Because their training is too conceptual.
Unfortunately, teaching (and classroom management) is not just
- It is a Performance Art. It is not like learning chemistry
formulas. Nor is it like learning what a car needs and then fixing
it, no matter how good the (lesson) plan. It is also not like
learning Math concepts and then plugging them in.
Instead: teaching is more like learning the game of tennis: first,
how it is played; then actually practicing how to play it, with coaching;
then, learning the strokes; until these become instinctive; and finally
performing these skills interactively, with other players, on
Yes, it involves learning to reframe one's perceptions, as does a trained
counselor listening to his clients; thus, educational psychology is
useful. But, like the counselor, one must learn the appropriate responses,
how to use one's personality, one's authentic responses in order to
help. Notice: "responses", "how to use…" performing!
Or, teaching is more like playing jazz piano: where you learn concepts,
practice reactions (e.g., learn to hear the chords), and then perform
these responses spontaneously, interacting with the other musicians
in such a way that you play with honest feeling in order to make "music"
Or, it is like learning lion taming! where you learn and practice spontaneous
decisions, using your feelings, personality, intuition to deliver the
appropriate, correct reactions when confronted with the myriad of responses
of those to be trained - when that door opens, without having too much
time to think.
- Training teachers in this Performance Art is very important
because without it, or with just theories for reframing perceptions,
teachers will fall back into just teaching the way they were taught!
And, some of these teachers have had some really bad teachers,
- Since teaching is a Performance Art, then we must face the
uncomfortable fact that the most powerful tool in the classroom is not,
e.g. the blackboard or even the computer, but the teacher's personality.
That is why Johnny can be a brat in period 3, then an angel in period
4. He did not change when the bell rang, his teacher did!
- This is an uncomfortable fact for some because this means that
good teacher training requires teachers to look at their feelings,
not just their attainment of cognitive knowledge, or methods. A math
teacher who knows his math, even many good methods for teaching it,
still falls apart if he cannot manage his class. And he cannot if his
personality's interactive-responses, his performance, creates
an adversarial relationship with his students.
- Thus, teachers need to look at their over-reactions, biases, inappropriate
responses, displaced anger, and miscalled discipline problems. They
need to learn how to correct these, practice appropriate responses:
fairness, how to keep track of promises, warnings, systematic rewards,
be properly assertive, and identify the causes of correctly identified
disruptive behaviors. For a very few, this art of teaching comes naturally.
Unfortunately, these few "naturals" know very little about
why what they do works, nor how to transfer what they do naturally to
- Thus, we need to analyze what is "natural" for some, and
turn these intangibles – into tangible, trainable, transferable
knowledges and skills for new teachers and troubled veteran teachers.
What are some of the crucial skills of this performance art? Here is
one, which is also another reason why it is so difficult to train teachers:
- Congruence. We have not been able to help teachers with the
performance art of teaching because you cannot just tell teachers what
to do, e.g., when Johnny does
x. If a teacher does not
respond congruently, authentically, is not being herself,
real, honest,… whatever she tries, will be ineffective.
Carl Rogers: "When a person delivers a message that does not really
match his/her feelings, that person is being incongruent".
For example, a teacher who yells: "I am NOT angry with you!!"
is being incongruent. Or, who looks bored while saying: "The civil
war was very important." Or, seems really not to be behind the
rule: "If you call out again, you will, ah, get, ah, an assignment,…soon."
In other words, an incongruent teacher is phony; he has not really figured
out how he feels, or what he really believes in. He seems to be acting
like the TEACHER, from some kind of
tape recorder in his head. Instead, we need to, and can, train teachers
NOT how to be the TEACHER, but how to
incorporate their real selves into their teaching so that they can be
professionally person-al. Real, authentic, self aware, congruent teacherpersons
tend to have more rapport with their students. Congruent teachers have
fewer discipline problems. When someone tries to be a class clown in
this congruent teacher's class, the other students tend to say to this
class clown: "Hey, cool it, she is trying to teach us something!"
We need to train teachers at being congruent, that helps establish
this rapport with students. We need to help them with how to put their
real person into their teacher, and how to practice
this. We can.
- Thus, we cannot train teachers in classroom management by just giving
them a recipe of what to do when…. If we have them do what is
incongruent for them, the students will see they are wearing a "mask"
and will try to rip off this phony masked set of responses. One of the
key causes of disruptive classroom behavior is when a teacher is incongruent
regarding: classroom rules, warnings, promises, subject matter delivery,
and his general interaction with his students.
How can we help teachers with the specifics of what to do in the classroom
and at the same time, support their congruence?
- We need to give teachers guidelines for effective rules, and
suggested procedures for
homework, warnings, rewards, handling cursing, but, not tell them
exactly what to say or do. Then, we need to give them training exercises
in these areas, exercises where they can find the responses that feel
right for them, and then practice these, within helpful guidelines.
We need to help them practice, simulate and role play these tailored-to-themselves
suggestions, so they may be effective and still be themselves. We can.
- Also, school administrators need to be mindful that they should not
ask teachers to
enforce rules that their teachers feel incongruent with. Thus, they
need to allow teachers to participate in the formation of school rules.
Or, at least, they need to take the time to explain to teachers the
rationale behind such rules in order to enlist the authentic backing
of the school's staff. Furthermore, they need to go out of their
way to back teachers' rules in their classrooms, assuming that the teachers
are "correct", before declared guilty by a complaining parent.
- Training good teachers is also difficult because of what I call:
"the picture problem": When a teacher asks me, "Prof.
Seeman, how should I handle a class clown?!" my response first
is to ask: "Is he funny?" With my answer, this teacher looks
at me questioningly. Why did I answer that way?
Because when this question is asked, we all think of different class
clowns, different kids. Similarly, with the question: "What do
you do when a kid just does not listen to you?!" Notice, with this
question, we are all picturing different kids, different situations,
different causes for this situation. So, in teacher education we need
to first clearly picture what it is we are working on, the
causes, the context, what happened before, not just give advice, perhaps,
to the wrong picture. This is why in-the-field student teaching,
at the end of most teacher education curricula, is more effective than
teaching theories to teachers.
But we do not have to wait for this in-the-field experience. We can
do this training right in the college classroom. We can role play and
simulate the specific problem, diagnose possible causes of the disruptive
behavior, and help teachers practice congruent, effective responses.
A troubled teacher can show us how Johnny responds when she does
Then, we can teach her guidelines for handling, e.g., "back-talk",
and how to follow these guidelines her way, by doing what is
congruent for her. Then, in the final semester, we can nail these skills
down more when she gets to student teaching.
For example, for me, if the "class clown" is funny, and makes
me laugh, I do what is congruent for me: I might first just laugh. Then,
I follow certain guidelines (discussed in my book: Ch. 12 A.) my
way, as a personteacher.
There are also guidelines for effective rules that teachers can
learn; and then, within them, help them to be themselves as they follow
- It is also difficult to train teachers to prevent and handle, e.g.,
discipline problems because many teachers are simply embarrassed to
talk about these problems. In faculty lounges, they talk about their
weekends, not that Johnny made a fool of them in period 3. Thus, in
order to train teachers in classroom management, we need to first help
teachers feel unalone with these problems. We need to learn how to build
a trust level in education classes. We need to help teachers find support
for, and with, each other. We can.
- We need to help teachers not with just how to handle, e.g., discipline
problems, but with how to prevent these problems. The best time
to fix a problem is before it becomes one. We need to help teachers
diagnose and locate the CAUSES of disruptive behavior, e.g., why Johnny
became a brat seven minutes into the lesson. Of course, it is not all
the teacher's fault. But, some teachers know how to channel his behavior
even before he becomes disruptive. We need to train teachers in these
- One of the causes of discipline problems that we need to train teachers
in is what I call: not making "miscalls", viz., when
a teacher calls a behavior a "discipline problem", when it
should have been labeled and handled differently. For example, if Johnny
puts his head down on his desk in the back of the room, it might be
better to call it an "education problem" and not hit it with
a "hammer". Instead, it may be better to use a "screwdriver",
e.g., let some behaviors slide for that moment, or use: "See me
after class." When Mr. Smith stops his lesson and yells to this
student: "Hey, what are you doing sleeping in my class?!"
– Mr. Smith is usually more disruptive to his own lesson than
the student. Futhermore, his "miscall" does not "help"
the student by reprimanding him in front of the class. We need to train
teachers in about 15 typical "miscalls", and what to do instead
of making these.
- One more point: I mentioned we need to teach more than just subject
matter methods. But even in teaching "subject matter methods"
we need to go further. Since the personality of the teacher is the most
effective tool in the classroom, even a good Lesson Plan, chock full
of good methods, will still not do. We need to train teachers in not
just "good lesson plans" but in the delivery
of good lesson plans. The same on-paper lesson plan that is effective
for teacher A, bombs for teacher B. Jay Leno does not get paid for his
"lesson plan" of jokes written out for him. He gets paid for
his delivery. We need to train teachers in this performance
delivery, and how to practice this: timing and affective-effective
momentum, not just teach them how to make good Lesson Plans.
Stand up comics learn this art of delivery. Public speakers
are coached in this area. We need to teach this art to teachers as well.
Now, if you are not one of these professors putting teachers through
a curriculum that does not speak to the priority of their needs, fine,
don't defend yourself.
However, if you are one of these professors, spend a lot of time
in your teachers' classrooms, listen to what they need, then revamp and
supplement your teacher education curriculum, and then re-train.
Be more threatened that:
once caring teachers are now giving up all over our country and quitting;
we have fewer and fewer competent "lifeguards" for our children;
some incompetent teachers are not re-training, and just staying for the
vacations they get; and our children are in grave trouble from classes
in disarray - to school violence.
Be more threatened by these, than your concerns about protecting your
traditional professorial teaching.
Howard Seeman, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus, Lehman College, C.U.N.Y.,
author of Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems, 3rd Ed. (Rowman/Littlefield
and Instructor/Consultant at: www.ClassroomManagementOnline.com