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What do teacher candidates learn in college nowadays?

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US. Department of Education recently published the Notice of Final Rulemaking for the teacher preparation regulations. The purpose is to bring transparency to the teacher prep programs and to provide them continued feedback so that each teacher is ready o go into a classroom. This readiness is different and more than obtaining the degree itself. According to research top performing teachers generate minimum five months of more learning opportunities for students.

It may sound a bit weird looking at the title but I am really curious. I have been interviewing teacher candidates for a long time. Over the years I have had the chance to speak with many candidates who are in school or who recently graduated. In both groups of professionals, I see a trend. No matter how many years pass and how much the field changes including requirements for teachers working with young children, the understanding seems to be remaining the same.

Here is a sample dialogue…

Q: Please tell me about some of the activities you do with toddlers. Paint me that picture I would see if I am in your classroom.

A: My toddlers know their colors, numbers, shapes and they started to learn the alphabet.

Wow! These little people are either all geniuses or the teacher thinks they are learning but actually they are just repeating and memorizing. I cringe when I hear this type of answer and try really hard to keep a straight face hiding my disappointment. Here I am sitting across from this person who has been working with children, who is also in college, or working on her or his graduate  degree or has completed a four year degree in early childhood, child and family studies, or human development or psychology. You name it. Yet, there is a big piece missing from the picture. Developmentally appropriate practice. NAEYC has brought so much attention to DAP and best practices that it is almost impossible not to know the basics of child development, expectations and how children learn the best.

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A toddler does not need to know his or her shapes or the alphabet. They do not need pictures and flash cards to memorize “green-blue-triangle-square…” Is this a big joke or are we really failing in our higher education courses? What are we teaching in these classrooms? Why are our educators focusing so much on the academics and the product? We are definitely doing something wrong. The sooner we figure it out the sooner we can resolve this issue. The sooner we resolve this issue the more I can hear a different answer to my initial question:

Q: Please tell me about some of the activities you do with toddlers. Paint me that picture I would see if I am in your classroom.

A: I am on the floor. Building with soft large blocks. I am dancing with the children to the music. We are playing the instruments. Some children are painting on the easel or the table standing. They have several colors to pick from. A couple of the children are pretending to eat fruit or the food teacher pretending to cook. I may be reading with the children. We may take turns singing and clapping. We may look at the family pictures and describe who they are and how they are feeling……….We are having a lot of fun together.

Great education interviews for the Local News tonight, including Humboldt Stepping Stones 1 yr. anniversary!:

Photo by ultramar.ink

Well, this sounds very age appropriate and developmentally expected and needed. These are the moments children get to hear a story or a song over and over again. This is the way they hear and develop language skills. Not by memorizing what a letter looks like and what it is called. This is how they naturally learn to share, take turns, play together, talk to each other and imagine.

I visited an early learning program and as I was walking by the window of the infant classroom I saw handprint turkeys with feathers on them. In fact, the teacher who was giving me the tour said “Look, aren’t they cute? Parents will love it!”. I was devastated but did not want to ruin her spirit. I went along with it saying ” Oh I see. They are colorful”. I could not get myself to say “Oh yes, they really are cute”. I took ten minutes or so to gather what and how I would say so I was honest and constructive at the same time. I ended up asking her what she wanted her babies to learn from the activity. She could not answer. She stared at my face smiling. Then I said ” maybe the texture of the feathers and the coldness and wetness of the paint?” She nodded as if she found an escape. I continued ” What a great idea! We all know it is about sensory experiences for infants and especially if you talked about how each of these materials felt, you just nailed it. How much fun it is to help babies feel it and look at you in amazement” I took advantage of the moment and tuned it into a teachable one for the teacher. I could tell she was puzzled and the wheel started turning in her head. I was happy because I accomplished my goal for that particular moment.

Image result for turkey handprint craft with feathers

Going back to my initial question, what are we teaching in higher education classrooms and what aren’t we doing quite so right? What is missing? Maybe the solution is identifying high quality programs and assigning students to observe and even work in the classroom. Allowing them to have hands on experiences before they graduate. High quality and hands on experience are the key components for us to create well trained and educated work force. Expectations and practice need to be correlated with the age and developmental level of the children.

 

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