During my undergraduate program I sat alongside other to-be-teachers, and wondered how some of them would make it. There were a few in my classes that I would never want teaching my kids. Yet--these people managed to gain acceptance into the College of Education and then managed to earn a teaching degree despite their massive degree of incompetence. I wondered over and over again, why are we passing these people through the system? I knew then as well as I know now that it's a money game. I know that many school districts (especially in my rural area) are desperate for teachers...no matter their competence level. But there HAS to be a change. We cannot keep passing inept people through education colleges.
In some institutions, the training of teachers also needs to change.* I had two excellent education professors in my undergraduate career. Both of these professors--Ken Mumm and Dr. Susanne Bloomfield--made me think, gave me experiences I needed to become the teacher I am today, and challenged my idea of quality teaching. The others tended to present watered down information from a textbook, weren't in the business of challenging students, and simply seemed to be collecting a paycheck or waiting for tenure. I didn't sense the passion for education. We need education professors who have spent time in the trenches of public education, who have first-hand experience working with students. We also need to create better partnerships between universities and public schools. I spent too many hours simply observing a classroom (some of this observation time was valuable) and received no hands-on experience working with students and teachers until I took matters in my own hands and signed up for my substitute teaching certificate. Without my substitute teaching experience, before student-teaching, my total time in action in a classroom was 45 minutes. 45 minutes. That's pathetic. How am I to even know if teaching is what I want to do with that sort of time? How am I to know if I'll even be any good at teaching after spending only 45 minutes teaching students about Frankenstein? Colleges and universities need to develop partnerships with schools so that pre-service teachers can get their hands dirty early in their education. Learning must be authentic. And for learning to be authentic, we must go beyond observing in a classroom or being told what to expect from a professor who may not have any experience teaching in a K-12 setting.
Finally, we must figure out a way to retain quality teachers. I've written several posts about this topic, and I still haven't found a good answer. I honestly don't think it would take much. When I think about what would keep me teaching in a district or in public education in general, here's what I want: freedom (within reason) in my curriculum and content delivery, support in my professional development pursuits, focus on students and not numbers, minor recognition of a job well done, fairness in teacher and extracurricular assignments, high expectations for both students and teachers, and a supportive environment. Is this too much to ask?
The problems of education will be around for a long while. But instead of waiting for superman to come save us (like the documentary implies), we must take action.
*Please note my use of the modifier, some. I know of many colleges and universities that have fantastic teacher training programs. However in other post-secondary institutions, there is room for improvement.